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Peacebuilding program seeks to bring enemies together

BRATTLEBORO—Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) is a peacebuilding program at the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro.

It was founded by Paula Green, who also founded the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding in Amherst, Mass.

Both endeavors are about 15 years old. Karuna is a nonprofit that has worked on peacebuilding in dozens of countries, and also works with CONTACT at SIT, a program of World Learning.

The program offers a one-year graduate certificate in conflict transformation, as well as masters degrees in several disciplines relating to peacebuilding.

CONTACT also runs a popular three-week Summer Peacebuilding program and other courses relating to cultivating peace in specific countries.

Green explained how the three-week summer course was organized.

“The first two weeks are a core course taken by everyone and includes conflict analysis, intergroup relations and issues of identity and prejudice, strategic interventions, reconciliation and forgiveness, global and regional issues, case studies, and student presentations about their country or issue,” she said.

“Week three, electives are offered, and students have choices among training, peacebuilding and development, or gender issues in communities in conflict.”

Dozens of countries meet at SIT

Green said she was inspired to create CONTACT “[after] traveling to zones of conflict to do peacebuilding and I found myself telling one country what other countries were doing,”

“I felt like a carrier pigeon,” she said. “I decided to crate a venue for people experiencing violent conflict to talk others in conflict.”

Thus CONTACT was created.

According to Green, “We look at commonality of causes of conflict and common interventions to lessen violence.”

The program also looks at reconciliation, Green explained, to find ways for perpetrators and the victims within communities to live together in peace.

Green commented on different kinds of genocide, including the ethnic cleansing that went on in the Holocaust.

“This was not about two communities fighting,” she pointed out.

She also noted that the wholesale killing in Rwanda, when nearly a million people were slaughtered in 100 days, was led by one ethnic group, the Hutus, against another, the Tutsis.

There is passionate disagreement about the multiple origins of that atrocity, including causes relating to class warfare and to the manipulations of European colonists.

Other theories, from smoldering historic power battles relating to places of origin, to which group did what kind of farming, are also given credence by historians.

But one thing is clear: there was no secret about the intentions of the Hutus. Their message was broadcast on the radio and published in newspapers, and they stated their goal: to kill all Tutsis.

Green pointed out that the purpose of CONTACT does not concern itself with those arguments.

“CONTACT’s interest is different,” said Green. “Its purpose is to bring the groups together, to teach them how to use each other and to learn from each other.”

She believes that when people from such torn places come to the rural peace of SIT’s campus, they find a sanctuary.

“The beauty, the green, everything is safe,” she said. “It’s everything they don’t have, and they turn to each other. It changes who people are.” The successful mixing of traditional enemies at CONTACT programs, she believes, creates paths to reconciliation.

Green sees rescuing as an example of the high level of moral behavior that humans are capable of.

And she adds that students at CONTACT return to their countries and make contacts with leaders.

She thinks education and training are vital components of peacebuilding and reconciliation.

Echoing Rescue founder Leora Kahn, Green says that the courage and conscience of rescuers remains by and large undocumented.

“There’s little current literature on rescuers,” she noted. “If you were present [at a rescue] but nobody talks about it, then you’re not visible.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #127 (Wednesday, November 16, 2011).

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