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Participants learn how to solve conflicts peacefully during the workshop. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

Adjumani, 19 December 2017 – “We need our community to transform and change to a peaceful community where there should be no violent conflict,” says Bosco Geri, a 28-year-old community leader in Pagirinya, a refugee settlement in the Adjumani district of northern Uganda.

Bosco was one of the participants at a community peace facilitators workshop organized by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Pagirinya this past October. The workshop was the first of 6 that were scheduled to take place in neighbouring refugee settlements and nearby host communities.

Facilitated by members of Friends of Kids and Youth International (FKYI), the workshops provided skills, competence, and motivation for leaders to promote peace and harmony in their communities. They were particularly relevant for the settlements in Adjumani where inter-ethnic conflict among South Sudanese refugees prevails. In recent years, these conflicts have worsened due to the scarcity of resources that is brought with sharing land and social services between refugees and their host communities.

In Pagirinya, which hosts just over 30,000 refugees, the ongoing conflict is twofold. First, there are resource-based conflicts between locals and refugees. With only 600 locals in the nearby village, most of whom are entirely subsistence agriculture, the host community feels increasingly threatened by newcomers. Secondly, this particular settlement has a high level of domestic violence which is mostly fueled by perceived familial power imbalances and substance abuse.

This most recent workshop was the first step in engaging community leaders and members to reflect on the two manifestations of violence in their society, and to begin to explore solutions. At the end of the workshop, the participants designed a three-month action plan that will carry through until March 2018.

“There had been workshops on peacebuilding by other agencies in the settlement but the host community has not been invited to attend. For the first time ever [this] JRS peacebuilding workshop involved the host communities,” says a local and camp commandant in Pagirinya, indicating why this workshop was revolutionary and unique.

Beatrice, another participant was happy to have learned how to focus on the things that bring the community together, rather than tear it apart: “…the things connecting us are the schools; even if you are in bad terms, nonetheless your children still go to the same school. The market also connects us together…and youth playing football together.”

Workshop participants requested that JRS continue to facilitate community dialogue and peaceful coexistence in the region.

Reconciliation is essential to JRS’s work with forcibly displaced people, and opportunities to promote peace and understanding in diverse societies are fundamental to answering Pope Francis’s call to build communities of encounter and hospitality.