Trust-building and understanding: Igniting the peace process at the community-level
Myanmar’s Peace Process is often thought of as only a formal process which centres around high level meetings and negotiations in Nay Pyi Taw. But if it is to truly succeed, the peace process needs to take place at every level of society, most especially on the ground in communities where decades of conflict have caused so much damage. Here is where communities need to work to build understanding and support for the peace process and repair relationships between different groups.
"Our town desperately needs peace. The people need it so they can live emotionally and physically in peace, it is urgent,” said Sai Kyaw Htwe. He is from Moenyin, Kachin State, a jade producing town whose people have suffered years of conflict. Sai Kyaw Htwe belongs to the Tai-Leng Nationalities Development Party, which represents the Shan-Ni people, a minority group who live partly in Kachin state. He has been participating in a Joint Peace Fund supported project run by Remove Obstructions Against Democratization (ROAD). This project has brought him together with members of his own and the Kachin (Jingphaw) community, with whom there has historically been tensions, to learn about the peace process.
Sai Kyaw Htwe said the dialogue sessions of ROAD’s project had helped him realize they could be a way to help build trust and reach a genuine consensus on peace between different stakeholders.
The project has established a regional peace network and has conducted eight Peace & Conflict trainings and three workshops. These activities have sought to connect areas hundreds of miles apart through their common experience and have taken place in both northern Kachin state (in the towns of Banmaw and Moenyin) and Mon State, (in Mawlamyaing). In total, 225 community members had undertaken the training which covers peace and conflict awareness; constitutions of Myanmar; Myanmar’s peace process; and effective engagement in local level peace processes.
The Importance of trust building before training
Before anything is taught, participants spend the first day of the 3-day training, trust-building. Programme Director of ROAD, explained why this is important: “Building trust in the peace process is vital. We need to boost trust among participants whenever we conduct any training, otherwise they are too wary of one another to learn together on the first day of training. They just sit in silence, too uncomfortable to speak in front of one another.”
Naw Saw said that the trust-building day of any training was key, particularly in the sessions between the Kachin (Jingphaw) and Shan-Ni participants. “People start to feel very close when they are able to start understanding one another in a safe environment. Based on this understanding, they start discussing things very openly. In some cases, such as the problems between Kachin and Shan-Ni Ethnics, they start off not knowing each other nor understanding the challenges that have each faced. Yet, by the time we hold the training, they are talking face to face - they have found the ability to understand each other.”
“They start off not knowing each other nor understanding the challenges that have each faced. Yet, by the time we hold the training, they are talking face to face - they have found the ability to understand each other.”
The trainings bring together a broad cross-section of peace leaders
A total of 225 participants attended the trainings and 150 participants were involved in the workshops which gathered community leaders, decision-makers, local administrative authorized persons, women, youth and grassroots levels public. Nang Saw said they would like the project to promote the potential role of community representatives in resolving conflicts, and more effectively participating in the peace process on the ground, while the country’s top level peace process leaders are working on the nation-wide peace process.
The network held a three day peace forum in Yangon recently to bring together 80 participants of the project. Apart from those in the project areas, this event also included other trainees from Sha-Taw in Kayah State, Inn Lay Region in Shan State, Thathone in Mon State and Myitkyina in Kachin State. In addition, the Forum also included high level Myanmar representatives from political parties to present on different aspects of the formal process including U Ko Ko Kyi (Leader of Pyi Thu party), U Jimmy (Deputy Secretary of the 88 Generations Peace and Open Society) and Daw Pyone Kathy Naing (Member of Pyithu Hluttaw).
Addressing the participants at the forum, Nang Saw told them that this was just the beginning of the network this project has created. “The trainings, workshops and peace forum – all of these activities are only the beginning of your steps to participate in the peace process. You all should start working hard in practical ways once you return home, ” she said.