Header photo: Agnès Ntumba carries a sack of corn flour and oil she received during a distribution by Communauté Evangélique Mennonite (ECM; Evangelical Mennonite Church in Congo). She, her husband and seven children were displaced from their home by violence in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. MCC photo/Mulanda Jimmy Juma
When disaster strikes, people need urgent relief. In precarious situations, necessities like food, water, shelter and hygiene can be the difference between life and death. But how relief arrives can either build peace or ignite violence.
Incorporating peacebuilding to ensure that humanitarian relief doesn’t escalate conflict is a priority for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). This principle of peace sprung to action when MCC worked with partners to distribute food during the crisis in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo).
A clash between armed groups and government forces in 2016 inflamed existing ethnic hostilities and triggered ongoing bloodshed. More than 1.4 million people fled. With many villages razed by the conflict or still unsafe, scores of people could not return to their communities.
MCC responded to the crisis by partnering with Congolese churches to provide emergency supplies to the displaced people. The churches formed local committees to distribute the food in their communities. As the pieces of the plans came together, one problem was still in the way.
It would have been all too easy for committee members to default to giving food to people from their own ethnic groups and not others, especially with the conflict still fresh in their minds. A decision like that could have easily roused fighting among the people who had just escaped violence in their home communities.
But peace in action saved the day.
Mulanda Jimmy Juma, MCC representative in DR Congo, used his peacebuilding skills to help the committee face their own biases. In the end, every member of the relief committee agreed on who should receive the food based on vulnerability and need, not ethnicity.
“The food assistance has created some kind of unity,” says Juma.
In addition to incorporating peace into the food distribution, MCC also supported trauma healing training and workshops to address the emotional wounds that burden many displaced people.
The participants learned what trauma is and how it manifests itself in destructive behaviours. Leaders created a safe space for group members to talk about their personal traumatic experiences and to grieve with each other. Then the participants talked together about how to live peacefully in the future.
“By bringing different groups of people together to plan and implement relief projects, we are able to reduce the potential for conflict and work toward peace,” says Bruce Gunther, MCC director of disaster response. “Integrating peacebuilding across MCC’s programs is such a crucial component of our work.”
That’s the power of peace in action.