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By Derek Oakley, Project Officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Middle East

“Until now I was without hope. This training has given me hope.”

Simple but powerful words from *Omar. NP has organized intensive workshops in the Middle East to identify civilian efforts to help communities feel and be safer. Theirs are the stories that the world rarely sees or hears about, civilians that dedicate their time and energy for one another. They provide services such as basic health care and crèches (day centers) for children to escape from the stresses of the war. Others provide psycho-social support and legal advice to victims of domestic violence, which often increases in times of war.

However, even for the most dedicated, this vital work can take its toll, emotionally and physically. There are many, like Omar, who have been exposed to constant insecurity and violence for half a decade. After such a long period, one’s belief in the value, worth and efficacy of peace efforts may begin to falter. Nonviolent Peaceforce provides time and space for people like Omar so he can return to his community rejuvenated and energized to carry on his vital work in the midst of war.

Read more: Bringing Hope to the Middle East

Shan State, Myanmar.

A few days before December 25th, violence broke out between two ethnic armed groups in the Northern part of Shan State. A girl from a local village was killed and three other civilians were injured during the conflict. Civilian monitors, trained by Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) and supported by local partner Shalom (Nyein) Foundation, responded to prevent further casualties. (Photo: Nonviolent Peaceforce trains a group of local monitors in Myanmar)

The monitors engaged both armed groups and negotiated a three-hour ceasefire to evacuate 300 civilians caught in the crossfire. They worked with community leaders from a local township, who lent them a few trucks to transport the civilians to a safe area. The monitors referred the injured civilians to local community based organisations, who ensured medical treatment. Approximately, 1,150 civilians have been displaced during these clashes and are taking shelter in monasteries and houses of relatives. During the clashes, clinics, farming equipment and civilian houses were destroyed.

Read more: Civilian monitors evacuate 300 civilians

In July 2016, the capital airport in South Sudan was targeted during an outbreak of violence. An internally displaced persons camp was temporarily erected in an adjacent location. More than 3500 civilians took shelter at the camp between July and September. Nonviolent Peaceforce regularly patrolled the camp to prevent violence against civilians.

On September 15th, Nonviolent Peaceforce was patrolling the camp, when we were approached by a Nuer man, John.* John was towing a 10-year-old boy who he had found with a group of Nuer children. The children were trying to get him to play but he was unresponsive. Sensing something was wrong, John tried greeting the boy in his native language. Getting no reply, he tried greeting the boy in Dinka and the boy immediately responded.

John realized the boy was in danger as minority Dinka amongst a large Nuer population. Tensions between Dinka and Nuer were extremely high in the capital, after fighting in July killed hundreds of civilians within days. Being a child does not exclude one from being the victim of brutal targeted violence. During South Sudan's civil war, UNICEF has reported boys being castrated and left to bleed to death, girls as young as eight being raped and murdered and children being thrown into burning buildings.

Read more: Lost Boy Brings Unity to Community in South Sudan

Until now I was without hope. This training has given me hope.

Simple but powerful words from *Omar, a participant in one of NP’s intensive workshops in the Middle East to identify civilian efforts to help communities feel and be safer. These are the stories that the world rarely sees or hears about, civilians that dedicate their time and energy to promote nonviolence. They provide services such as basic health care and crèches (day care) for children to escape from the stresses of war. Others provide psycho-social support and legal advice to victims of domestic violence, which often increase in times of war.

However, even for the most dedicated, this vital work can take its toll, emotionally and physically. There are many, like Omar, who have been exposed to constant insecurity and violence for half a decade. After such a long period, one’s belief in the value, worth and efficacy of his or her efforts may begin to falter. Nonviolent Peaceforce believes that these heroes deserve better support that enables them to carry on. NP is providing that support.

Read more: Bringing Hope to the Middle East

By Jiro O'Kada, International Protection Officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan.

The current chapter of my life in South Sudan began with the Nonviolent Peaceforce’s global partnership, a precursor to the current NP Alliance, which connected me through a member group in Japan.
I found an internship opportunity with NP headquarters in Brussels in 2012 through one of NP’s member organizations* in Japan. Before joining the team I had an opportunity to visit Nonviolent Peaceforce’s program in South Sudan, where I learned the practice of unarmed civilian protection (UCP) in the field. This experience provided me with valuable exposure to the many dedicated individuals who are striving for peace.

After this trip, I joined the program management team in Brussels, which supports the operation of country programs worldwide. As a program assistant intern, I learned about NP’s global-scale humanitarian mission first-hand by assisting in tasks such as field to headquarters communication, grant management, and training development for new field staff.

Read more: From Intern to Peacekeeper

As many of you will be seeing in the media, the conflict in South Sudan has once again escalated.

While some call what is happening now in Juba a return to war, what we know from being on the ground is that the violence of war that began in December 2013 has been ongoing. The fight for control, despite the signing of cease fires and peace agreements, has been fought in remote jungles and swamps throughout the young country. For the last few days, the nation’s capital, Juba, has been buffeted by extraordinary violence where the range of stakeholders, party to the peace process, have been engaging in a sustained battle for control of the city.

Read more: South Sudan update: in the face of danger

"The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro raised the hopes and expectations of the Bangsamoro people who had grown so tired of war."

Two years ago, the government of the Philippines signed an agreement allowing for an autonomous Muslim state in Mindanao, the Philippines’ southern-most island. This hard-won victory came after decades of civil war and years of negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the group seeking autonomy for the Bangsamoro. This agreement, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, raised the hopes and expectations of the Bangsamoro people who had grown so tired of war. The agreement was meant to be a stepping stone towards the creation of a new independent Muslim state and a historic step to finally bring to an end the political violence in Mindanao.

But the creation of the new state stalled in 2015. Without the establishment of a new Bangsamoro government, no one could run in this year’s upcoming elections. The Bangsamoro Government was supposed to be asymmetrical to the central government and to include recognition of a separate Bangsamoro identity with their own justice institutions and comprehensive governing framework. This would have guaranteed basic rights including government representation, the right of women to participate in the political process, and to protection from all forms of violence.

Read more: The State of Peace in Mindanao

If I had known about how I would be treated along this journey, I might have never left my country. Better to die under the bombs in my home than to be treated like this in Europe.

–Syrian refugee, Šid, Serbia, February 2016

In January 2016, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) deployed a team to the Balkans to assess protection needs of migrants and refugees, with a view to inform possible NP program development in the region. In particular, the team sought to understand sources of violence against refugees and migrants in order to determine how unarmed civilian protection could be used to reduce violence along the route.

(Photo 1: Adrianne Lapar and Lisa Fuller of the NP assessment team interview an Afghan
woman and her teenage daughter in a park in Athens. The women reported fear for
their security, especially at night, in their abandoned airport building shelter.)

Visiting key transit points in Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia, the team arrived during a critical turning point in the so-called “refugee crisis.” We arrived to assess protection needs, stemming from the largest mass migration to Europe since World War II, just as borders were shutting. The team witnessed firsthand how states have been struggling to cope with the massive influx: a fine balancing act between guaranteeing the rights and basic humanitarian needs of arriving refugees and migrants, and addressing the needs of their own citizens, including national security and social welfare.

Read more: Nonviolent Peaceforce Conducts Assessment along Refugee Migration Route in Europe

While international media attention mainly focuses on the brutal civil war in South Sudan, smaller “wars” are being waged across the country that also warrant attention and speak to the need for increased unarmed civilian protection. Nonviolent Peaceforce works in several South Sudanese communities to address local conflicts that have resulted in lives lost and increased violence against women. The inter-communal violence has worsened during the civil war because there is greater access to weapons, reduced resources and less attention to community development. Together, this has resulted in the militarization of localized conflicts.

Amongst the Dinka Agaar – as with many other communities in South Sudan – wealth is measured in cattle. The keeping and protection of cattle is a central concern and traditionally, this responsibility falls to boys/men known as ‘gelweng’. From a young age, families send their sons to live unaccompanied in remote cattle camps which can be home to thousands of cows. At present, one of the largest cattle camps in Western Lakes State – Marialbek – reportedly has more than 100,000 cows. These cows belong to separate families but are all kept together.

Read more: Working to Reduce Violence in Local Communities