A Day Without Dignity: Peacemakers in Action as Local Champions

On Monday, April 16, the blog Good Intentions, which seeks to help readers make educated decisions about charitable giving, is hosting the second “Day Without Dignity.” The event originated last year as a response to TOMS shoes “Day Without Shoes,” questioning the popular brand’s shoe donation practices and seeking to shed light on the local impact of internationally donated goods. This year, Good Intentions is highlighting the work of “Local Champions”—like Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action.

At Tanenbaum, part of our work is to seek out and recognize religiously-motivated local heroes who are putting their lives and their freedom on the line for the sake of peace and development. As locally-based peacebuilders, they empower their communities and leverage local knowledge to create change. As religiously-motivated individuals, they often have tools at their disposal that outside actors do not: far-reaching religious networks, legitimate moral authority, powerful narratives of peace and mutual support, among many others. Their work challenges the myths of how religion works in at-risk communities: as a force for coercive proselytization, or partisan agitation.
 
Religion is an often-overlooked entry point for development practices that are culturally difficult to implement. In Afghanistan, for example, Jamila Afghani and the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization (NECDO) are building a base of imams to strengthen women’s rights from an Islamic perspective. After developing materials detailing the case for women’s rights rooted in Islamic scholarship, NECDO engaged prestigious imams in Kabul to refine them. The resulting program helps imams identify the Islamic foundations of women’s rights, and encourages imams to spread those messages through khutbahs (sermons). NECDO then uses university students to monitor the messages delivered through the khutbahs by participants.  To date, NECDO has trained 150 imams in Kabul, 100 in Ghazni and 150 in Jalalabad. Jamila and NECDO have seen promising results, as well as challenges to overcome, as noted in the summary pilot report.
 
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bishop Ntambo Nkulu has been leading development in Katanga province for over 15 years. A generous and trusted leader, Bishop Ntambo implemented extensive construction and agricultural projects during and after the DRC’s tumultuous conflicts. Building churches and homes provided employment for local Katangans and stood as symbols of stability and permanence. Ntambo also arranged for the purchase and cultivation of an old Belgian farm, which became essential for feeding the thousands of IDPs who flowed into Katanga from the war zone to the north. Now a senator, the Bishop has long been an effective local partner for the Congolese government. He facilitated the 2004 Kamina peace conference, which relied on traditional practices to neutralize the Mayi-Mayi militias and pave the way for peaceful national elections in 2006. Today, Ntambo continues to lead development projects in his region, including health initiatives and services for women and children.
 
The examples are many: Ricardo Esquivia, a Mennonite strengthening communities on Colombia’s Caribbean coast; Friar Ivo Markovic, a Bosnian monk advocating for interreligious dialogue in the Balkans; Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, leader of the Embrace Dignity campaign to rid South Africa of sexual trafficking; Dishani Jayaweera, a Sri Lankan Buddhist training youth and clergy of all ethnicities for lives of interdependence and coexistence. To date, Tanenbaum has named 28 Peacemakers in Action, proven local champions who are creating change in their communities.
 
Clayton Maring and Kiersten Rooke
Tanenbaum's Conflict Resolution Team