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Stronger than the Storm

Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye (Nigeria), Dr. Yehezkel Landau (Israel/Palestine) and Imam Muhammad Ashafa (Nigeria)

“Only together, we were stronger than the storm.”
–    Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action, Abuna Elias Chacour (Israel/Palestine)
 
To most people, the idea of the Tanenbaum Peacemakers Network’s Working Retreat may bring to mind images of a relaxing week, with people hanging out, enjoying good food and having friendly conversations. And in some ways this is true, but it’s very far from the whole story.
 
Tanenbaum’s Retreats—like the week-long session we just held—are unique because they bring people together who stretch themselves beyond exhaustion to pursue a vision of peace. In the face of often violent conflict, they work for basic rights (often in isolation) so people can live without extremism, hatred, and violence. Together they strengthen each other.

But don’t take it from me.  After our very first Retreat in 2004, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi recognized the value of the retreats, when she told me,
I go to many conferences, but this is the first one that’s for me. Thank you.
 
Her fellow Peacemakers agree, and believe their Peacemakers’ Network supports them and their work for peace.
 
“The need to study other religions is the same as needing to know ourselves better. That’s one of the best things Tanenbaum is doing – creating opportunity where people will study themselves at the very close range…It is the dream of Marc Tanenbaum really coming true.”
– Peacemaker Imam Muhammad Ashafa (Nigeria)
 
“You feel that you have a community. And it’s a team of the same wavelength…
And they’re always there, like the stars are there. So that’s a good feeling.”
– Peacemaker Dishani Jayaweera (Sri Lanka)
 
“This work has opened my eyes to a lot of other faith traditions and their perspective and perception of peacemaking… As I learn those new things, I contextualize them in my religion and it strengthens me more to do my work.”
– Peacemaker Pastor James Wuye (Nigeria)

Tanenbaum Peacemakers Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye Prepare Nigerians for Upcoming Elections

On February 7, 2015, exactly one week before Nigerians were set to head to the polls, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission postponed the Presidential and legislative elections for seven weeks (until March 28th). Concerned that Boko Haram’s violent insurgency in the North would jeopardize the safety of voters around the country, the Commission’s Chairman, Attahiru Jega, heeded the advice of national security officials – delaying the election and announcing a “major” multinational military operation against the terrorist organization. This decision has been widely criticized both in Nigeria and abroad; some worry the postponement will delegitimize the elections and others fear an increased likelihood of election-related violence.

Despite the danger posed by Boko Haram and the challenges posed by this politically charged environment, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers – Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, Co-Executive Directors of the Interfaith Mediation Center – remain undeterred in their work. Much like their efforts prior to the 2011 elections, these Nigerian Peacemakers are tirelessly preparing Nigerian communities around the country for the election and for conducting it in a peaceful manner.

Interviewed before the elections were postponed, Pastor James discussed the unique challenges posed by Boko Haram, as well as by national ethnic tensions.

Rather than targeting Christians and pitting Muslims against Christians, Boko Haram targets “everyone,” not a specific religious group. Also, many Nigerians are unwillingly being “conscripted, and some are abducted from their families” to become members of the group. As a result, Pastor James believes the insurgents have actually mitigated religious tensions in the country.

Pastor James says that if the opportunity arises he would sit down and talk with the insurgents about their demands. He noted that, prior to the recent offensive, the government’s response to Boko Haram included “soft diplomacy,” which involved an effort “to reintegrate the young men and women who are involved in this insurgency.”

As the elections approach, Pastor James is also concerned about ethnic tensions. Nigeria’s population of more than 149 million people is made up of over 250 ethnic groups. He and Imam Ashafa are urging their fellow Nigerians to respect the election results and refrain from violence as a means of voicing any displeasure. They are focused on the role of religious leaders in the country and believe it will be critical – and, indeed, many of them have been “calling on the populace not to make provocative statements and to play by the rules of the game.”

Pastor James is proud of his homeland and remains hopeful for its future. Yet he understands the challenges that lie ahead and the great need for Nigeria’s “religious leaders to come together as they have before.”

Peacemakers provide counselling services to abducted girls

Nigerian Peacemakers in Action Pastor James and Imam Ashafa to Help Provide Counselling Services to Abducted Girls

The extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria in April. The much-publicized incident has garnered international support via social media with the “#BringOutGirlsBack” campaign. Boko Haram is Nigeria’s main perpetrator of religion-based violence, deepening the Muslim/Christian divide and threatening the right to religious freedom.

In light of these recent events in Nigeria, Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa have sprung into action alongside Family Health International (FHI) 360 and USAID. Wuye and Ashafa’s joint project, the Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, will collaborate as one of the three groups working to provide counseling services to 57 recovered girl students from the Government Secondary School Chibok who were abducted by Boko Haram in April. The search continues for the remaining schoolgirls.

The Government Secondary School Chibok girls who escaped from Boko Haram have undergone significant trauma. The Nigerian state emphasized their willingness to provide services and support to the girls and to help them find their families.  Governor Kashim Shettima has expressed his concern for the girls to be rehabilitated and back in new schools. That’s where Peacemakers Pastor James and Imam Ashafa can help.

The Interfaith Mediation Centre is dedicated to working with their partners in order to provide services, including therapy for the girls. As Pastor James describes the deeply important project, he speaks about using a faith-based approach for recovery. The Interfaith Mediation Centre will work with the state-implemented structure and use their unique faith-based approach to counseling, recovery, and conflict resolution. They remain dedicated to helping the girls and other women who are survivors of the Boko Haram abductions.