Living peace in Syria

When Iman Al Ghafari returned to Syria after studying in Canada, she began to run Creators of Peace Circles for women in Damascus. She talks to Kate Monkhouse about preparing for peace in a time of war.

Living peace in Canada is so different to living peace in Syria. I learnt about peace in a place where I could apply whatever ideas I wanted, where dreams can be achieved because there are no hindrances apart from oneself. I went to Canada to learn about education, but I learned about peacebuilding and integration through experiencing life as an immigrant.
When I went back to Syria, I thought, how can I apply peace? Thank God, we don’t have war! A few months later the war broke out and I found myself in a chaotic situation.

When bloodshed is everywhere and pain is spreading around, you need something to lean on. Peacebuilding is a medicine that brings faith and hope.

It is not easy to tell a person who has lost their loved ones or their fortune to think about peace. Actually, it is provocative! It is like a denial of their suffering. But you have two options, either to continue with the pain or to try to swim towards a safe beach. We need to be careful about who is ready for peacebuilding in their lives and who is not. If you raise the issue in the wrong way, it won’t create peace but resistance.

Armed Syrian rebels in the streets of Damascus 2017

Armed Syrian rebels in the streets of Damascus 2017

In IofC’s Creators of Peace programme, we identify the problems, and then as a group we discuss what we can do. We encourage people to dump out all their worries, to sort them out, look at where they don’t have any control and where they can do something. What are my responsibilities, what can I do? So, we ran some programmes in the shelters for families who had been evacuated and we also joined other charities to work with orphans. We also get war widows involved in Creators of Peace programmes to give them a chance to contribute.

Each woman has strengths and skills, but because we don’t talk about them, we tend to ignore the parts of ourselves that can create change. By sitting together and talking about what we can do, trying to find healing, we strengthen ourselves and one another. Then we can build our countries. We can start small, in our neighbourhood, a centre near to us. It expands.

When we sit together, we put our political attitudes and certainties aside. We meet as human beings and learners, as people who want to make a difference in their lives. Having this intention makes a big difference. Of course, we also try to have some fun! At the end of each programme, we have a potluck dinner and play music. Other times, we go to the park, walk together and do some yoga or meditation. Spending time together in quiet reflection is essential. We go deep into ourselves and pour out our emotions, freely and honestly. That really makes a big difference.

It is essential to have hope that tomorrow is a better day. We need to encourage one another. And to learn to be vulnerable. This is a problem in our culture, you have to be strong. Yet it is OK to be weak, because weakness can help us understand the situation around us, and we can change it into an opportunity.

I am an optimistic person. It you look back at history, you will see that after war peace comes. But you have to be ready when peace comes to be a builder. It is important to learn from war. We need to address problems before they become conflicts, before they lead us to more wars. Violence cannot make peace, violence always makes violence. We need to find win-win solutions so everyone can participate in our country and everyone is concerned about each person. I believe it is going to happen and I hope it happens soon.

It is so hard to see your country suffering. When I talk about it, I burst into tears: it breaks my heart. But it is a blessing and honour that God has given me this chance of building peace. We have two choices. Either we raise hatred and anger and excite people to go to war, or we build peace. I thank God everyday that I am used to heal people, to help people to find a safe zone where they can love each other and rebuild their lives. If we start from the person and help them build themselves, we will build Syria. That is my hope.

When you are in conflict, all you can do is build peace.

Photographer: Roger Way

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