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Common Ground Newsletter - Fall 2012

This year, we are celebrating our 30th anniversary.  It's extraordinary how much we have grown.  We currently have 600 employees, operating out of 50 offices in 30 countries.  Still our basic operating principle remains the same:  Namely, understand the differences and act on the commonalities.  What has changed is that we have developed many new ways to make this happen.  We started with mediation, facilitation, and people-to-people exchanges.  As you read through this newsletter, you will see how much we have expanded our toolbox and how we are now able to apply our tools across whole countries.  30 years ago, such an approach was no more than a distant dream.

Sharon Rosen addressing a conference at the Ukrainian Parliament about the Holy Sites Code
Sharon Rosen addressing a conference at the Ukrainian Parliament about the Holy Sites Code

HOLY SITES.   Religious differences can provide a reason – or a pretext – for violent conflict.  To us, an important peacebuilding tool is to bring together people from different faiths and to help them achieve shared goals.  Our organizational leader in interfaith work is Sharon Rosen, Co-Director with Suheir Rasul of our Jerusalem office.  Sharon has long held a vision of a global initiative to assure access to places that the world's religions hold sacred and to protect these holy sites from desecration.  With funding from the Norwegian government, she has worked closely with Norway's former Prime Minister, Kjell Bondevik, and a coalition of partner organizations to make this vision a reality.  In July, Sharon led a delegation to the United Nations to urge support for that she and her colleagues originated and successfully piloted in Bosnia.  Her presentation produced enthusiastic responses from several UN bodies and government missions.  Now, we are launching a campaign among governments for a formal UN resolution based on the Holy Sites Code.  In our view, protection of sacred places is something on which everyone should be able to agree.

NIGERIA: TOMORROW IS A NEW DAY.  Nigeria has become our largest single country program.  With funding from the European Union, the US State Department, and Chevron, we carry out peacebuilding in the Niger Delta and in Plateau State – places of intense conflict.  Despite a 2009 amnesty program sponsored by the government, there still are many Nigerians, frustrated with inequalities and corruption, who believe that violence is the only way to bring about change.  In Plateau, we carry out a wide range of activities to build bridges and prevent religious and ethnic violence.  In the Delta, we lead the consortium with to promote reconciliation, re-integration of militants, and inclusive decision-making.  Here is what we have been doing: 

  • Local Project Committees.  We have organized Local Project Committees in seven localities across the Delta.  Each committee includes leaders from all sections of the community. The committees play a key role in implementing activities and in ensuring the project's sustainability.
Training Graduates
Training Graduates
  • Trauma Healing Activities.  We are identifying the collective traumas that plague the Niger Delta, and we are organizing culturally-appropriate efforts in response.  These involve small group discussions, storytelling, video production, ceremonial events, drumming, theater, and dance.  We are also making widespread use of comic books, as we have done in other countries, including Indonesia and the DRC. We have found that comics provide an effective way to promote non-violent problem-solving in communities with low literacy levels.  
  • Training.  We have sponsored training in conflict transformation and common ground advocacy for 2,440 Nigerians, of whom 1,146 are ex-militants.  Thus, we are providing skills to strengthen civil society and to leave behind an infrastructure for peacebuilding long after the project is finished.
    Our Nigerian Boat
    Our Nigerian Boat
  • Radio Drama.  Drama is a powerful tool to inspire people and empower change.  It is especially useful in Nigeria where much of the population is illiterate.  Our programming includes Sweet Motherland, a dramatic radio series about life in the Delta.  You can listen to episodes (in Pidgin English) by .
  • Our Boat.  Much of the Niger Delta cannot be reached by road.  Thus, we recently bought a boat – our first ever such purchase – so we can implement programs all over the region.  Our staff named the boat Doumotimi, which means "peace has come to stay" in the Ijaw language.
Agus Kuncoro (center) in his award-winning performance as Agung in
Agus Kuncoro (center) in his award-winning performance as Agung in "The Team"

INDONESIA:  "THE TEAM."  In Indonesia, the UK's and Australia's foreign aid agencies are funding our dramatic TV series, "The Team" (please to see a trailer).  As is the case in 15 other countries where we also produce local versions of the series, the plot focuses on a fictional soccer team.  However, the Indonesian version has a unique twist in that it takes place inside a prison and focuses on two gangs of ethnic prisoners who are engaged in deadly conflict.  Only after their members agree to play together on a prison soccer team is peace restored.  The series is being shown across Indonesia on Metro-TV, and it has received .  It was nominated for eight awards at the prestigious Bandung Film Festival, and the male lead, Agus Kuncoro, went on to win the best actor award.   

Indonesia prison screening
Indonesia prison screening

Real Jails.  In addition to airing "The Team" on Metro-TV, we also carry out extensive outreach activities that include screenings at actual prisons, followed by facilitated discussions of the issues raised.  At Jakarta's Tangerang Prison, one inmate noted, "We are living among differences.  How can we unite and work as a team?"  Another prisoner responded, "The closeness between Agung [the main character] and prisoners brought changes into the prison.  So, if we want change, we'd better improve our relations."


Our radio audience
Our radio audience

KENYA:  RADIO SOAP.  In Western countries, radio soap opera has mostly died out.  Nevertheless, in the remote places where we work, it remains one of the most effective means for delivering social-change messages.  We made our first radio soap 16 years ago in Burundi, and we have also produced radio versions of "The Team" in six countries.  Recently, Professor Rick Busselle of the University of Washington carried out a study of "The Team" radio series in Kenya.  Here are his :

  • First, "The Team" appears to encourage political engagement.
  • Second, listening to "The Team" can also encourage discussions of issues related to politics and tolerance.
  • Third, the positive relation between engagement in the program while listening to "The Team" and the attitude toward communication and respect suggests that the more programs like "The Team" can engage listeners, the greater their potential for positive influence.

Journalism training in Madagascar
Journalism training in Madagascar

MADAGASCAR.  Earlier this year, we launched a program in Madagascar, where the social fabric is being ripped apart by political tension, economic sanctions, and a stalled peace plan.  Unfortunately, instability is often fueled by misinformation and propaganda in the media.  To remedy this, we are using a grant from the European Union to work with 24 partner radio stations to promote social cohesion.  Specifically, we sponsor trainings in common ground journalism to encourage bridge-building and problem-solving, and we also produce a radio soap opera. 



"Sangor", a novel by Ramesh Ranjan Jha

NEPAL:  A NOVEL NOVEL.  Search for Common Ground may be known for many things, but writing novels is not one of them.  However, that recently changed – at least in Nepal where we published our first novel.  It is called "Sangor," ("Come Together") and the author is Ramesh Ranjan Jha, a well-known Nepalese author.  The book is based on our long-running, radio drama, also called "Sangor," which airs in the Maithili language on 20 FM stations in the conflict-ridden, eastern part of Nepal.  The idea is to inspire young people to take leadership in supporting the country's peace process and transition to democracy.  In highly entertaining terms, the novel tells the story of Amit, a former armed fighter who renounces violence and works to overcome ethnic, caste, political, and economic differences.

Fletcher Ad
Fletcher Ad

THE FLETCHER SCHOOL.   Many of our staff are graduates of prestigious university programs in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.  Still, we were pleasantly surprised when the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University ran an advertisement in Foreign Policy Magazine, noting that an important outcome of Vanessa Corlazzoli's experience at Fletcher was that she got a job at Search for Common Ground.   

THANK YOU.  As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we also celebrate people like you who make it possible for us to carry out our work across the world.  We are profoundly grateful for the support we receive that allows us to do what we do.  In these troubled, polarized times, my colleagues and I ask that you contribute generously to permit us to do even more.  (.)



With best wishes,

John Marks

John Marks
President



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