American Friends Service Committee – 2015-06-17 23:44:05
Taking Away Occasions of War
American Friends Service Committee
(May 21, 2015) — For almost 100 years, AFSC has brought relief in the aftermath of conflicts around the world. Nearly all of our international programs originated in war zones or amid political conflicts, often aggravated by disasters.
Though AFSC gained respect and renown for aid interventions, humanitarian assistance and development have never been the driving mission of the Service Committee — rather, the mission has always been to make peace viable.
Rebuilding requires harmony. Reconciling warring communities takes trust. And trust takes time to build.
The pace of building peace with justice — of taking away the occasions of war — requires faith in the practice of nonviolence. Lessons from the past century have taught AFSC to concentrate on preventing violence.
Often, that means staying in a post-conflict area long after the news cameras and emergency aid dollars have moved on.
Colin Bell, executive secretary in the 1950s and 60s, summed up AFSC’s approach: “The cup of cold water to the thirsty child is not a debatable proposition. It has to be given,” he said. But to fulfill their spiritual purpose, Quakers must continue beyond aid, finding direction by asking “Why the thirsty child? Why the breakdown into war?”
Love Is the First Motion
The Quaker peace testimony opposes war and violence, compelling Friends to pursue lasting, sustainable peace. Eliminating the causes of violent conflict — such as poverty, exploitation, and intolerance — is part of practicing nonviolence.
Led by this testimony, 14 Quakers created AFSC weeks after the United States entered World War I. The organization gave conscientious objectors ways to serve without joining the military or taking lives.
Members drove ambulances and ministered to the wounded in Europe. They collected clothing and canned food to distribute to displaced people in war-ravaged France.
Donations and volunteers kept coming after the war. Though AFSC was imagined as a wartime effort, support for its approach encouraged the early members to keep serving those suffering in post-conflict areas around the world.
Thus began a longtime AFSC practice of collecting and distributing material aid. That aid peaked in the two decades following World War II, when AFSC shipped over 124 million pounds of supplies to devastated areas of Europe and Japan. Medical supplies were shipped to hospitals during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Tractors to Israel in the 1950s. Vaccines for Algerian refugees in Morocco and Tunisia. In 1948, the Emergency Material Aid Program ran five export warehouses, in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Pasadena, and Seattle.
AFSC was a conduit for a swelling amount of generosity in that period. The federal government subsidized shipping costs, and US supporters gave readily in the form of used clothing and donations. As Colin Bell said:
The efficient first aider who appears on the scene of an accident is a godsend, and is seen by others as one. For this reason, it is a tragic fact that the AFSC, a charity existing on the gifts of vast numbers of Americans, most of them not Friends, has been at its richest in funds during the aftermath of a number of wars.
We are most strongly supported when we are doing what we least want to do — namely, picking up the pieces, stanching the wounds caused by some violent breakdown in human relations. Doing that, it is easy to be everybody’s darling.
AFSC’s founders protested taking up arms because they believed that humanity could exist without violence. “They were inwardly pledged to a way of life — which, if extended through the world, would eliminate the seeds of war,” said Rufus Jones, one of the founders and AFSC’s first chairperson. In caring for others and respecting each person’s dignity, the founders were transforming enemies into allies and conflict into peaceful coexistence.
Transformative peace-building has always been the core of the Service Committee’s approach, even when humanitarian assistance is the first response.
During the Vietnam War, AFSC ran a medical project in Quang Ngai, training residents to make artificial arms and legs for civilian amputees. Lady Borton volunteered on the project, running er-rands in the town to support volunteers with medical skills.
Years later, in 1988, Lady reflected that her presence interacting with townspeople made a lasting difference. “Our effort to learn Vietnamese, our willingness to let the Vietnamese on both sides know who we were and, most important of all, our commitment to listen and to care,” she said, were more critical than the medical projects they were there to provide.
“Commitment to listen and care is no small gift,” she said. “After the Vietnam War, the AFSC commitment meant fostering a relationship during years of Vietnamese reticence. And it meant continuing projects even when funding programs in Vietnam grew unfashionable.”
Being present in circumstances such as these makes a lasting difference. In the mid-2000s, AFSC made external and internal changes to better support that investment with its limited resources. The material aid program ceased sending used clothing overseas, as shipping grew costly and material goods had negative effects to local economies.
Directors for international programs moved from Philadelphia to international regions, bringing leaders closer to people affected by decisions and allowing them to act in deeper partnership with community and national leaders.
AFSC also expanded the work of international affairs representatives who focus on building bridges. In the midst of violence and in post-conflict situations where violence could easily erupt again, they have created important opportunities for underrepresented voices to be heard. They also created space for dialogue among divided leaders.
AFSC pioneered many of the peace-building methods practiced widely among international peace organizations today, such as bridging divides, meeting pressing needs while addressing underlying conflicts, and engaging respectfully with local partners. These principles continue to inspire our work with communities worldwide.
Replace Weapons and War
American Friends Service Committee
(May 21, 2015) — We’ve all heard the argument that violence is strategically necessary. Decision-makers may believe that nothing short of force will resolve conflicts, protect their interests, or keep in place systems that protect their interests. Leaders may feel the need to avoid loss of political capital or loss of face, to project strength, protect access to resources, and prevent the emergence of rival blocks of power. People are sometimes driven to extreme action in an effort to demonstrate personal resolve.
But as a means to secure peace, war is not working. In 2012, the world directed 11 percent of its gross product — a total of $9.46 trillion — toward containing violence, with half spent on militaries. Fighting violence with violence begets more violence.
Every day, all over the world, people from all walks of life resolve conflicts without killing anyone. Most do not espouse pacifism per se; yet communities, states — even rebel groups — achieve their desired ends without violent force time and again. Experience shows that peaceful approaches to conflict do work.
It’s a simple truth, but for those tasked with responding to conflict, it can be hard to see. That’s why AFSC is actively promoting the idea that conditions for peace can and must be built without resorting to violence. And we’re starting at home, with US lawmakers.
One problem encountered in policymaking circles is that those who realize war is not working do not have models for effective nonviolent approaches. Because the US leads the world in investing in war, examples of successful nonviolent interventions are more difficult to find.
AFSC’s experiments in building peace provide some of the best evidence. Our methods include engaging with local organizations, strengthening their capacity and effectiveness, and accompanying them in their grassroots work.
At the same time, we help forge connections between these local partners and policymakers, internationally and within the United States. As AFSC pushes or US foreign policymakers to adopt similar methods, examples from our work are coming into play.
“A lot of policymakers are engaged with the peace-building community,” says violence prevention expert Bridget Moix. She is currently compiling evidence from AFSC’s work to share with influential international organizations and academic institutes working on peace. “It is a way [for policymakers] to see important work and to open more evidence-based relationships,” she says.
Evaluating the impact of peace-building programs is not easy, Bridget says — it’s something the whole field is trying to figure out. “[Peace-building practitioners] are not yet good at showing how approaches impact the larger dynamics of a country,” she says, pointing out why AFSC’s examples are so important: “AFSC’s work shows how community work is linked to broader policy and structural policies.”
As AFSC calls on leaders to put the power of governments, civil society, and cooperative international institutions toward diplomacy rather than force, we recognize how critical it is to demonstrate the effectiveness of such decisions.
Truth and Reconciliation in Burundi
Burundi is still healing from a civil war that ended in 2005. Individuals and communities are working to recover, but it is also a national effort.
To avoid falling back into conflict, the society must uncover and deal with the truth of past events. Victims’ frustrations must be heard, and perpetrators’ stories must be heard, too, if the root causes of violence are to be understood.
For years, AFSC supported government decision-makers as they considered how to forge a path to lasting peace. A turning point came at a conference on truth and reconciliation commissions (TRC) that AFSC organized in 2011.
Representatives from nine African and Latin American countries shared their experiences with building peace and stability through a TRC mechanism, which helps to address past human rights violations.
Generally, the truth is uncovered through widespread consultations with victims and witnesses. Reparations are offered, and individuals and institutions responsible for past human rights violations are named. Preventative measures are developed from a deep analysis of the root causes of conflict. And forms of peaceful conflict resolution are encouraged at the grassroots.
After three days of examining TRC experiences in South Africa, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Kenya, participants at the conference identified three elements integral to a successful commission: political will of the government, a national consensus, and a guarantee of security for victims and witnesses.
Leaders in Burundi eventually developed a draft law for a TRC in their own country, but they recognized that they were missing a key ingredient: national consensus on its content. This missing component meant risking the integrity of the TRC process — and risking the country’s fragile peace — if the law was implemented as drafted.
So in 2013, AFSC coordinated another dialogue and exchange, this time bringing members of the Burundian parliament to South Africa. There, they were able to learn how similar issues arose and were addressed when South Africa developed its TRC process.
With this understanding, members of parliament were able to revise and pass a TRC law in 2014. The president of Burundi came out in support of the law, and now, the nominating process for commissioners is underway.
Solutions found within a group’s history, knowledge, and culture are more effective at making peace last. Supporting this process with resources such as space for dialogue and exchange is one way to make peace possible.
Case Study: Linking
Civil Society and Government Internationally
Chinese communities have been partnering with AFSC since 1920, when AFSC’s humanitarian assistance program — which delivered aid to people regardless of political affiliation, religion, or nationality — established a model village near Shanghai.
While other policies seek to isolate or criticize China, AFSC facilitates dialogue and builds connections among groups affected by Chinese interests. Recently, those groups have included Chinese companies developing assets in Southeast Asia and in Africa.
In January 2008, AFSC invited influential experts on Africa from Beijing’s leading official foreign policy think tank to a study tour in Zambia and South Africa. The delegation met with African labor unions, opposition party members, local nongovernmental organizations, and policy experts. They toured Chinese factories and copper mines and spoke with local Chinese businesspeople and Chinese ambassadors.
Upon returning to China, participants urged policymakers to build relationships with African civil society groups, address local environmental and labor concerns, and expand training for Chinese businesspeople and embassy staff in Africa.
Independent of AFSC support, the Chinese delegation also invited African experts to a return visit to Beijing, where African participants could raise their concerns directly with Chinese officials and academics.
Communities need to be able to engage directly with the public and policymakers whose decisions affect their lives. As a US organization, AFSC is reluctant to speak on behalf of affected communities around the world, instead creating opportunities for people to speak for themselves — and in the process laying foundations for a more just and peaceful world.
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