Nailing Down Peace in Sudan
By Kathryn Paik*
April 4, 2012—Peace may be written in ink, but it is built with brick and mortar—or cement, like the Sheck al Touka Mixed Primary School in East Darfur State, Sudan, a resource for children from different local ethnic groups.
“The idea to construct a school in this community came to us because children from the two tribes are not interacting with each other,” a member of the local peace committee said. “The school was selected for rehabilitation to act as a resource in the community for both the Rezeigat and Malia tribes.”
With support from the Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) built eight classrooms at the school in Abu Jabra Locality. Each classroom accommodates up to 50 Rezeigat and Malia pupils.
Before the school was rehabilitated, students studied under a tree or in a makeshift classroom made of woven-grass mats. Few Malia children attended classes because the parents of both tribes had instructed their children to not associate with one another.
But when the new classrooms were completed in 2011, the Malia parents did not want their children to fall behind and began sending them to the school. The children have no trouble interacting with each other, and the parents of both ethnic groups participate in the school’s Parent Teacher Committee.
In Adilla Locality, the peace committee there has identified another school for classroom construction. This one is attended mostly by Malia children, and the hope is that the new permanent classrooms will attract their local Rezeigat neighbor children and again bridge the tribal divide.
Peace is practical
These projects are part of a two-year program UMCOR is carrying out in East Darfur State with funding by the Darfur Community Peace and Stability Fund. About 10,140 Rezeigat and Malia households directly benefit from the program, and another 2,000 families of the Messiriyah tribe, a nomadic people, derive indirect benefits.
The program seeks to mitigate and reduce conflict among the ethnic groups by increasing equitable access to limited resources (such as schools), building the capacity of target communities to manage and resolve conflicts, and assessing areas that may require mitigation efforts.
With the understanding that building peace is a practical matter, the program calls for increasing full access to pure water sources, improving household food security, and increasing full access to quality primary education as well as promoting tolerance among youth and building the capacity of peace committees and of the communities themselves to map, assess, and resolve conflicts.
Traditionally, the mixing of cattle belonging to each of the semi-nomadic tribes has been a source of contention. To ease the conflict, UMCOR last year vaccinated nearly 120,000 head of livestock, including cattle, goats, sheep, and camels, owned respectively by the Rezeigat and Malia peoples.
“There should no longer be any point of conflict now that my cows, goats, and sheep are vaccinated,” said one Rezeigat herder. “I can now mix my animals freely with those of the other tribes.”
Dealing head on with issues that drive and escalate conflict and promoting dialogue to resolve them peacefully is also part of the program. To that end, last September, UMCOR organized a celebration of International Peace Day, and used the unprecedented event to bring tribal leaders together to share concerns and solutions to them.
“We need to change our mentality that violence is the only means of addressing disputes,” said the Rezeigat and Malia umdas, local commissioners, and other government representatives.
“Our children, mothers, and old people have suffered as a result of these conflicts. The occasion has brought together all the tribes for the first time and should foster harmony and peaceful coexistence,” they said.
And so it did. Since the event, Rezeigat people can be seen shopping and trading in Malia markets and vice versa. In addition, the Malia have received diya, or compensation, from the Rezeigat for Malia lives lost during in violent disputes in 2002 and 2006.
And this goodwill has spilled over the way violence had in the past. Now the Rezeigat people are preparing another conference with the Messiriyah people to resolve a history of violent clashes. It will provide an opportunity for the two tribes to improve relations, another goal of the program, and to agree on compensation for survivors.
Peace building among entire populations is a long and tough process, but UMCOR is seeing promising signs that transformation is happening in Sudan’s East Darfur State.
You can help the process continue with your gift to Sudan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #184385 .
*Kathryn Paik is UMCOR program officer for Sudan, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe.