[Juba-26th September, 2016 TCT]. In the midst of the war and violence that has engulfed South Sudan in recent times, there are individuals and groups of people that have come up with initiatives that work for building and restoring peace at the grassroots level. Among these is the Holy Trinity Peace Village, known as Kuron, which was started by Bishop Emeritus Paride Taban, the retired Catholic bishop of Torit diocese, to work for community-based peace. To maximize and expand its influence, it seeks to link and integrate itself into the Peace Action Plan being spearheaded by the South Sudan Council of Churches. It also seeks to share its practical experience of creating peace and reconciling through personal transformation with individuals and groups, by opening its doors and encouraging people. Thus, it forms an important component of the implementation of the national peace agreement signed in August 2015, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, between President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar.
According to a recent report, the peace village model can be scaled up by multiplying its effects through networking and sharing. This is done by sharing 20 words, which they believe can make lasting peace among people in South Sudan. A document seen by TCT said, “Reciting of these 20 words will make lasting peace. The words are love, joy, peace, patience, compassion, sympathy, kindness, truthfulness, gentleness, self-control, humility, forgiveness, mercy, friendship, trust, unity, purity and faith, and they are key to fundamental principles of co-existence and harmony among the people.”
Kuron Peace Experience
Here is one story of how Kuron builds peace in the community: “A child was recently killed by a commercial vehicle, which angered members of the Toposa community, who closed the road and threatened to resist anybody that came through, even soldiers. Bishop Paride and his staff drove to the road block; and after speaking to the aggrieved family, they managed to resolve the issue by finding the guilty driver and ensuring compensation for the family. Though the army had been called in, the Kuron Peace Village defused the situation before any confrontation.”
Bishop Paride says, “The hope is that each day, one will ask himself or herself which areas of a weakness a person has, then they will pray for the strength to improve in those areas. “The bishop has eight short phrases that he shares with others to help them as they improve upon these weaknesses. They are: ‘I love you; I miss you; I thank you: I forgive you; we forget, together; I am wrong; and I am sorry.’ These 28 ‘words'’ form the basis of a spirituality of personal transformation for peace and reconciliation,” he says.
“Personal transformation is what leads to lasting peace. Signed peace agreements and ‘theories of change’ have their place, but none of these will succeed without individual transformation that in itself is the basis for communal transformation,” he said.
The Holy Trinity Peace Village is now more than 15 years old, and it has been a slow journey in making peace. Bishop Paride often says he is moving like a tortoise, not a gazelle. According to the bishop, “There is no ‘quick fix’ for peace, and attempting to force the pace can often do more harm than good. It needs patience, building relationships, local knowledge and expertise, and with a local capacity for understanding the situation on the ground.” He also says each grassroots situation is unique, and time must be spent allowing local communities to discern their own appropriate processes and solutions. In many ways, the peace village can be seen as a peace laboratory for South Sudan and beyond.
The stories which emerge from Kuron may all seem like small steps that have little to do with large-scale, national-conflict dynamics. Holy Trinity Peace village's influence has stretched across Eastern Equatoria and into Greater Pibor; that is, only around 10 percent of the entire country. It has also reached the neighbouring areas of Karamoja and Turkana in Uganda and Kenya, according to the statement. With so little area of influence, the bishop's 28 words may seem attractive but unrealistic in the harsh, real world.
However, the life experience and personal spirituality of the bishop is a model for building a community of peace and reconciliation. Now, Holy Trinity Peace Village is beginning to replicate its model; but more than that, there is a realization that this is not just small-scale: it has the seeds of a strategic model that can reach out to the nation and beyond.
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A Holistic Nature
According to the statement, “The characteristic of the Kuron model is a holistic nature. It is not a development project; it is rather a peace model. A bridge, a road, a clinic, a school; these are often seen as development projects; but within the village, they become a peace-building approach. Development brings peace and more development because the two are intertwined in a virtuous circle. Neglecting either one is dangerous.”
Peace at the grassroots, with participation of the grieved community succeeds, compared to political peace that comes with individuals’ interests and position. Peace initiatives by the Church at the grassroots help people by working to understanding them, and preparing them to forgive each other. Working for peace, preparing for peace, and committing to keeping peace is the only way South Sudan can move forward.