By Kate Monkhouse
Creators of Peace UK hosted a visit from Iman Al Ghafari and Ola Al Darwish who run Creators of Peace Circles in Damascus, Syria sharing inspiration of how women are supporting one another in the midst of war.
How do you prepare for peace whilst a violent conflict is still raging? This was just one of the themes that emerged during our 10-day programme in Oxford and London this month across events and visits.
The week began with a precious period of rest and recreation in Oxford, taking time just to be, reflecting with friends, enjoying nature and visiting beautiful historical sights in the city.
Our first call in London was the Houses of Parliament in Westminster where in a presentation together with Assaad Chaftari and Haidar Ammacha, representing IofC Lebanon and ‘Fighters for Peace’, Iman and Ola were able to share their distinctive and gentle approach to bringing women together from across the divides to build trust. Of the event, Iman said: ‘It was about sending a message that peace must be built by inviting all sides to sit around one table and a call to choose the tools that unite us’.
After this event, we visited the newly unveiled statue of Millicent Fawcett, the suffragette who has now been honoured in Parliament Square, representing the efforts made by women to secure the vote for the first women in the UK 100 years ago. Her banner “courage calls to courage everywhere” left an emotional impression on us as friends collaborating a century later across international divides to empower women.
Our Creators of Peace Workshop explored what qualities we can bring from our own selves and from our cultures to this process of offering leadership for peace. We uncovered some of the deeper challenges we face as we seek to transform conflicts between communities and relationships. Spending time in quiet reflection, we considered more deeply what the peace we are working for tastes, feels and sounds like.
The 20 women gathered over a delicious meal of dishes from Somalia, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria and UK that evening. We shared images that spoke to us of what peace looks like, touching on nature, food security, community support, healing, trust, journeys and forgiveness. We learned more about the work of Iman and Ola in Damascus: Creators of Peace Circles with women, men and young people, as well as gentle activities to bring women from different communities together: reading club, walking in the park and yes, belly dancing.
During a visit to St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, we explored ways to develop the programme moving forward and capturing the learning gained from all the women taking part. We appreciated learning more about People of the Earth, the refugee friendship programme established at St Ethelburga’s as a response and welcome to those coming to the UK fleeing from violent conflict in Syria.
Iman and Ola then spoke to refugee community leaders from the Somali, Eritrean and Ugandan diaspora about citizenship and peacebuilding as part of the IofC UK Refugees as Re-Builders leadership training programme.
Amina Dikedi-Ajakaiye, international President of CoP, said: ‘It was inspiring to see two ladies from this conflict country doing what they can given their situation. They demonstrated how it can be possible while the war is still ongoing to build trust and prepare for peace. This was hope-giving for us all.’
Iman Al Ghafari said: ‘This trip was meant to share hope from the middle of crises, initiatives of peace in the middle of bloodshed and lessons about the importance of peace to build humanity. And I came back with stories of making change, inspirations for more activities and ideas for building bridges and joy.’
Thanks go to all who helped make this programme possible, including IofC International, IofC UK, IofC & CoP in Lebanon and the Guerrand-Hermès Foundation.