Peace Education & Dialogue (Rakhine, Myanmar)

„He listened to me like a close brother.“ (Muslim woman about a Buddhist man during a workshop)

„I could hear that the violence of 2012 was extremely hard for her. She misses her former friends and neighbors from downtown Sittwe. I feel deep empathy with her.“ (Buddhist woman)

Cooperation with: Peace & Development Initiative – Kintha (PDI Kintha, Myanmar)

Project Title: Shared Experience - Common Values in Rakhine: Strengthening Inter Communal Cohesion in Rakhine State through Storytelling & Dialogue

Country: Myanmar

Region: Rakhine State (Sittwe, Buthidaung, Bu-May)

Project Duration: Since September 2018 (including a full scale pilot project)

Supported by: German Federal Foreign Office / IfA / zivik

Status: on going

Project summary

The project of Culture for Peace in cooperation with PDI Kintha (Myanmar) (and inmedio berlin (Germany) until end of 2019) is designed to establish and maintain a unique dialogue process between conflicting communities.

Inter-communal violence is affecting Rakhine State since many years, relations between predominantly Buddhist majorities and mostly Muslim communities remain tense, characterised by mistrust and generally low levels of interactions. The large-scale violence in northern Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017 has strained relations further while killing in the region is still going on. The situation in 2018 has been heavily influenced by the government of Myanmar’s policy of segregation between communities and throughout project implementation of our pilot in 2018 the situation in Rakhine frequently deteriorated.
The communities suffer from a great loss of trust towards each other and towards their government. The experiences of hatred, violence and fear hinder people in everyday life to recognize the commonalities they have concerning their feelings, wishes and fears.

Accordingly, the peace process at the local level involves the different ethnic and religious groups, mainly the Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim people, to target their mindsets, attitudes and behaviours. Thus, we focus on communal cohesion through sharing of experiences in direct as well as indirect forms of dialogue. Innovation is required because direct communication is often hindered due to travel restrictions for muslim communities imposed by the Myanmar government. Our solution  for example is back and forth video and audio sharing to bridge this gap. We discuss life stories as well as experiences of how one was/is affected by conflict and the violence.

The project will help to build stable networks between young people across the divide. It will help to increase understanding and empathy towards the other community. Associated with it resilience to violence and to exploitation by violence prone actors in the region will grow and will contribute to reconciliation in a mid-term perspective.

The project consists of different components:

1. Storytelling in Conflict Transformation

During conflict, the communication space between sides becomes limited. Peoples perspectives narrow down, they can see only their own side of the events. Prejudices grow. Storytelling can be used to build trust and help the conflicting parties to see the other sides perspective as well as their own without immediately evaluate or judge it. In our project we witness that when two people tell each other a story about themselves in a sincere and open manner, they become closer despite narrowed perspective due to the conflicts. So, as part of the process towards new trust and more social cohesion people from separated communities share experiences, listen to each other and get to know each other better.

2. Training of Peacebuilders in the Communities

After a series of joint trainings about facilitation, conducting storytelling and listening sessions and learn how to interview someone about his/ her life’s or conflict story the peace builders from conflicted communities start working together in each other’s communities. This way they contribute to foster empathy and understanding towards their peers. Furthermore, they experience over and over how open minded and empathic communication
fosters social cohesion and strengthens resistance against emerging hate and conflict. Our mostly quite young participants become messengers of dialogue. They and the project help to slowly transform current mindsets and the resulting modes of thinking and behaviour, by raising awareness towards alternative perspectives and by strengthening constructive conflict resolution skills in the region.

3. Collection of interviews

Interviewing is part of the training our participants complete. They learn listening, communicating and questioning techniques that will express respect and empathy and thus help people to feel welcome and recognised. For both sides – interviewer and interviewee – those encounters can be of great value. – Being asked and honestly speak about very personal and often emotional-ridden situations or episodes of someone’s life creates a very delicate and intimate situation. A situation that requires, but more over nourishes trust in each other. People grow closer through these encounters. And moreover the most valuable episodes of the interviews – in terms of people’s peaceful handling of conflictual or challenging parts of their life – get transcribed and translated. They will be worked with in new storytelling and listening sessions. Especially for sessions in communities were a meeting of both sides cannot be realized just yet.

The project is funded by ifa/zvivik (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) with funds of the German Federal Foreign Office.