Peacemakers are helping communities resolve differences and recover from violence in Sudan's Darfur region despite a devastating four-year-old war that has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and is continuing to escalate - writes Tim Shenk of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the North American peace church development organisation.
The Sudan Council of Churches, an MCC partner organization, is organizing workshops on peacemaking to bring together communities that often view each other as enemies.
Joseph Akwoc, Darfur project officer for the Sudan Council of Churches, recently led joint peacemaking workshops for five villages in southern Darfur. The villages included members of Arab and non-Arab ethnic groups that have been divided by the conflict between Sudan's predominantly Arab government and Darfur's rebels.
"All are playing part, are part and parcel, of the whole conflict, so we are training all of them," Akwoc says.
The groups met several times, first in the nearby town of Nyala and later in each participating village. During the sessions, which lasted several days, participants bonded by attending workshops together and eating and sleeping in the same facilities.
"It was very effective," Akwoc says. "They said, thank you, SCC, because we were not able to come together (before). ... We did not know how to talk to another."
Mennonite Central Committee provided 122,700 US dollars to another organization, Darfur Emergency Response Organization, for peacemaking projects in Darfur in 2006. The Sudan Council of Churches works in Darfur with funding from Darfur Emergency Response Organization.
The Sudan Council of Churches, an ecumenical body, is also currently working with schoolteachers, women's groups and community leaders in Darfur to identify and care for traumatized children.
One method, Akwoc says, is to give children materials to draw and paint about their experiences and then use their artwork as a basis for conversation.
"We meant by doing that to create a kind of atmosphere where we can plant into their hearts the seeds of peace," Akwoc explains.
According to Akwoc, the situation in Darfur has deteriorated badly over the last year. Both sides of the conflict are committing human rights violations, relief workers are being attacked and the Sudanese government is preventing the deployment of international peacekeepers.
Akwoc says many people are afraid that relief workers will soon need to be evacuated from Darfur and chaos will reign.
According to Akwoc, the only way to bring about peace in Darfur is to involve all of the region's communities in a dialogue about coexistence.
"This is the key to all the solutions," he comments. "Because the Darfurians, unless they ... express their opinion, their ideas about the solution of this problem, nothing good can be achieved."