World News Local bonds that heal after a war

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Saturday, 29 July 2023

In two countries torn by conflict, activists use empathy to bridge social divides.

For more than a year, warring factions in Yemen and their foreign backers have sought how to end nearly a decade of conflict. The civilians aren’t waiting. Yesterday 42 community groups and professional associations issued their own road map for a society built on inclusivity, equality, and rule of law. “Sustainable and lasting peace can only be achieved by welcoming reconciliation through justice,” they declared.

The moral strength of that appeal rests in the examples set by the coalition, which includes women and youth, educators and health care providers, lawyers and journalists. Through scores of small-scale projects to rebuild communities and livelihoods, the coalition is showing that empathy and compassion nurture peace and dissolve division.

“Women and civil society organizations working at the grassroots level are accepted by local communities and enjoy their trust because they are responsive to their needs,” wrote Kawkab al-Thaibani, founder of the Yemen-based She4Society Initiative, in the online journal Democracy in Exile.

Many of the projects are simple. Most arise from needs compounded by war. Ethar Farea, a young woman in Aden, developed a plan to turn organic waste into fertilizer for farming. “Having such programmes is a glimmer of hope and an opportunity for youth for the desired change,” she told the United Nations Development Program.

Projects like that are gaining new momentum. The war, which erupted between government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in 2014, severely restricted the ability of civil society groups to work. A truce brokered by the U.N. last year has gradually reopened that space. While the two sides attempt to resolve their political and economic disagreements, international development agencies have begun to empower local organizations.

Something similar is starting to happen in Ethiopia, a country that is currently caught between a stalled peace agreement and formal processes of rebuilding. In that country, several smaller factions and a neighboring army were drawn into a two-year conflict between the government and a dissident faction in the northern state of Tigray. The peace agreement called for a national process of reconciliation.

While that has yet to begin, a group called the Tigray Youth Association has begun countering conflict through dialogue with youth from other ethnic groups. With help from the U.N., it held a reconciliation and trust-building workshop in April. The African Union hosted a similar exercise last October. A youth festival in April sponsored by the United States brought 20,000 young people together from around the country.

In Yemen, a potent unifying moment came last month when the country’s under-17 boys’ soccer club made it to the quarterfinals in the AFC U17 Asian Cup. The team’s players came from across the country – and so did the nation’s response. One Yemen coach’s post-tournament reflections carried a larger message. “We are all working hard and hoping that things remain stable,” Miroslav Soukup told Deutsche Welle. “If there can be a more normal football situation, then there is potential. There is a long way to go, but we are taking small steps.”

Societies emerging from conflict often need models of courage in forming a lasting peace. In Yemen and Ethiopia, those models have already started.

ERi-TV, Eritrea - ጸብጻብ ዑደት ፕረዚደንት ኢሳይያስ ኣፈወርቂ ኣብ ዋዕላ ደቡብ ኮርያ አፍሪቃ | Reportage on President Isaias Afwerki's visit to South Korea for the South Korea-Africa Summit, held from June 3-4

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