What is this thing called peacebuilding?

By Kemal Pervanic

Last Sunday we gathered in Kevljani for our third annual joint program between Most Mira & Humanity in Action. Our team is well drilled but every year life springs a few surprises on us. One participant just got a job and therefore had to cancel his attendance. Another one had a minor surgery, but was still resolved to come even if for one day only. Next year she wants to run a workshop.

Even though we run a formal program every year, we do it in a very friendly atmosphere that builds long-lasting bonds between our participants and our partner organisations. It has been no exception this year. The work is very rewarding, but the weather has been extremely hot (over 40 C) with the region suffering from the worst bout of drought in living memory. Kevljani has felt more like the tropics than north-western Bosnia—that was until this afternoon when a hailstorm broke out and lashed the parched land.

Last night we came back home after a long, hard, and sweaty day of sharing some inspiring but rather heavy stories. Flies were swarming all over the house. Sticky sweat glued our clothes to our bodies. Stefan had a short shower. Yasmine was next, and just when she was getting ready to rinse soap the water pump drawing water from the water well decided to stop. Yasmine stayed calm and she graciously washed herself with a bottle of water. And this is what peacebuilding is all about. It is about sharing stories, space, food, drink, humanity—creating empathy. It is about passion, sweating in extreme heat, swatting flies, helping your colleagues wash when with a water hose, washing your laundry by hand, and cooking food for your colleagues. It is about Samed, Kasim, Nedim and Mirnes coming to your aid with noble intentions even if they have no plumbing skills to resolve our well problem. It is about them caring about our presence in their community.

It’s about your neighbour being prepared to share his water with you when your water well is dangerously close to becoming dry. It is looking after each other when they feel tired because of sleep deprivation. It is about waiting for Smajo and his son in law, Zoran, coming to repair the water pump and Smajo recognising you from 5 years earlier because of your community work with young people. So it is about memories too. Sometimes painful ones, but often about positive ones too. This is how peacebuilding aids democracy building. It is not about comfortable hotel rooms, marble bathrooms, or restaurant meals. It is about the messy, un-planned, and sometimes trying work of building and rebuilding human relationships.

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