AKRON, Pa.—The first, annual Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) Summer Training, designed to equip participants with peacebuilding skills to use in their home communities, took place, Aug. 16-28, in Seoul and Inje, Republic of Korea (South Korea).
The 50 participants, including instructors, represented eight Asian countries, Canada and the U.S. This shared experience also allowed participants to build support networks between peacebuilding organizations and initiatives.
Leading the courses were experienced practitioners and academics in peacebuilding, with varied cultural and academic backgrounds and experiences. The courses provided practical training in peacebuilding, using activities based on participants’ experiences.
Jae Young Lee, director of NARPI and peace program coordinator for the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC), saw the need for such training after he studied peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
“Northeast Asia has a long history of military exercises, but a rather short history of peace education. In this region, ‘peace education,’ ‘conflict resolution/transformation’ and ‘frameworks for conflict prevention’ are still new terms,” he said. “Therefore, NARPI is a small but important effort to transform the region’s culture of militarization into a culture of peaceful co-existence and cooperation.”
The vision for NARPI became reality when Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Northeast Asia granted seed money to its partner, KAC, to build a regional network of interested individuals and organizations. MCC provided $30,000 for meeting, training and administrative costs in 2011, plus $22,000 for individual scholarships.
MCC workers, Sri Mayasandra, Asia peace coordinator, and Rod Suderman, representative for Northeast Asia, served on the steering committee. Mayasandra is from Pune, India, and Suderman, who serves with his wife, Kathi, also an MCC representative, are from Saskatoon, Sask.
In addition to coursework, NARPI students participated in a field trip to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), an area separating the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea.
The trip began at the House of Sharing, a museum and home to former "Comfort Women" – survivors of sexual slavery by Japanese military personnel during the Asia-Pacific War of 1932 to 1945. Participants learned about the DMZ’s history, as well as current issues related to the divided Korean peninsula.
Next year, NARPI Summer Training is tentatively planned to take place in Hiroshima, Japan. Future venues would rotate around Northeast Asia.