The pursuit for peace begins when a person speaks. It doesn’t matter their nationality, language, nor the inflection or tone in which it is presented. A voice for peace, a voice for action, is for all to partake.
Every September since 2003, four voices have come to the University of San Diego for two months to speak about their respective pursuit of peace. They’ve come from countries big and small that have experienced high degrees of strife. It is often from a place in which the struggle for some semblance of a life is hampered by fear and violence. Dreaming big and seeing good things emerge takes an extremely dedicated and determined person to rise above the obstacles.
The Women PeaceMakers Program, run by the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice and made possible by the Fred J. Hansen Foundation, is a local celebration for voices of international peace. In 2010, the four voices belong to Nora Chengeto Tapiwa of Zimbabwe, Sarah Akoru Lochodo of Kenya, Merlie Mendoza (the Philippines) and Vaiba Kebeh Flomo (Liberia). While in residence at USD, they speak to students in high school and college classrooms, participate in an annual international working conference on campus, meet with members of the San Diego community and each PeaceMaker shares their personal life story before a public audience.
But the maingoal of the WomenPeaceMakers Program is the preservation of the stories of these four voices, long after they depart San Diego in early November. That’s where Sofia Javed, Sara Koenders, Mary Liepold and Sigrid Tornquist, in 2010, perform a critical role as PeaceMakers Peace Writers.
It is the writers’ task to maintain daily contact with their assigned PeaceMaker and create narrative stories that shape everything from early childhood memories and experiences that resulted in a desire to speak up to their actual peacebuilding practices and putting a face and a name with that voice of peace.
“It’s abig responsibility,” says Javed, who is working with Tapiwa, an exiled Zimbabwe activist who resides in South Africa where she helps other displaced members of her original home country. “Everything we talk about is an insight into her voice.”
Emiko Noma, now an editor for the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, was a PeaceMaker writer in 2005 for Sister Pauline Acayo of Uganda and in 2006 for Serbia’s Svetlana Kijevcanin. Noma cherishes the connection she still has with both women.
“I maintain regular contact with both Sister Pauline and Svetlana. We e-mail frequently, at least once every couple of months,” Noma said. “I was able to visit Sister Pauline in Gulu in early 2006. Svetlana and her daughter, Dina, came to visit in San Diego in August (2010).”
The connection between Javed and Tapiwa (pictured, left to right), separated by 12 years of age, has been smooth.
“We just clicked,” Tapiwa said. “She’s a very good writer and a good listener. We also have some things in our backgrounds that help us relate well to each other. I think it’s been a good pairing.”
Evidence of their connection was apparent early in the program. Tapiwa and the other PeaceMakers were practicing speeches with the peace writers serving as the test audience. Javed said she knew right away that something was missing when Tapiwa gave her speech. Javed felt comfortable enough in the short time they’d known each other to offer some advice.
“I realized when I heard her talk that she left out the personal stories,” Javed said. “She was saying Zimbabwe this, Zimbabwe that, people are crossing the border and things are bad. I knew her story and I told her ‘Nora, where are you? Tell us about when you crossed the border and what you were feeling. Tell us when this happened to you. That’s what people want to know.’”
Later that night, Javed attended the event, the Women PeaceMakers’ panel discussion, and said Tapiwa delivered a much more detailed speech and was happy with the result.
It’s just one small way how Javed works to gather bits of information to tell Tapiwa’s story most effectively. Her early writings include a loving story of the relationship between Nora and her mother, Lillian, and the importance of their “tea time”; A section devoted to a family visit to see her father, Simon, a headmaster at a school in Guvakuva, and the delight of getting a school uniform as a present. Another story focused on a vivid recollection of violence in April 1979, written as though Javed was right there, running alongside a teenaged Nora, and capturing it all as it happened.
Future narrative stories, Javed said, will focus on Tapiwa’s business acumen – she’s a banker by trade – and how she works to help the people of Zimbabwe and those who’ve fled to South Africa. In addition to the personal stories, Javed will produce a conflict analysis of Tapiwa’s home country to expand public knowledge. Having access to Tapiwa helps Javed because she can discuss key concepts with someone who knows about it firsthand — a voice that is always in pursuit of peace.
— Ryan T. Blystone