by Thomas Awiapo
Editor’s Note: Thomas Awiapo is, in many ways, the embodiment of CRS. Orphaned along with three brothers in an impoverished family in Ghana, he witnessed two brothers die of malnutrition, and the third run off looking for food or opportunity, never to return. Then, almost by accident, he discovered a CRS program that fed children at school, and Thomas found not only an answer to the hunger in his belly, but also his hunger for meaning. His zeal for education never abated, and from that humblest of beginnings, he continued on to eventually earn higher-ed degrees and tour both the US and abroad telling the story of the difference CRS makes in lives like his. Wherever he speaks, packed houses are riveted at his remarkable story. He currently serves with CRS in the role of global solidarity coordinator, based out of Ghana. He reports here from Côte d’Ivoire.
I had a window seat on a 777 Boeing jetliner which cruised gently along the African coast off the Gulf of Guinea, offering me just a glimpse of the beauty of nature. The gentle waves, the clouds, and the bright sky blended so well and accompanied us throughout the 45 minutes flight. We suddenly landed in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, a beautiful country I have so longed to see. I wished I had come to Abidjan just for fun but no, it was for serious matters. I was the communication assistant at a CRS training workshop for peace and reconciliation in Cote D’Ivoire.
The great 18th-century British statesman and political thinker Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” In the spirit of doing something, so that evil will not triumph in Côte d’Ivoire, Catholic Relief Service is supporting the start-up of peace and reconciliation initiatives with the Church. The first step is the Training of Trainers (TOT) workshop in peace and reconciliation in the town of Daloa for 30 Ivoirian Caritas and Peace and Justice Members. This is the beginning of an elaborate and strategic intervention to promote reconciliation, to give peace in Cote D’Ivoire a chance.
In the opening ceremony, Most Rev. Maurice Konan of the Diocese of Daloa echoed a passionate and profound message to participants: “Christ came to reconcile humanity to God, and so the whole of Jesus’ mission was one of reconciliation. His pedagogy for reconciliation was to come and live among us, get involved and work with us so that together we can find reconciliation and peace”.
He therefore challenged the Caritas and Peace and Justice Commission of Cote D’Ivoire to work hard to bring peace and reconciliation. If you desire peace and reconciliation and sincerely work for it, he appealed to participants, it will happen. Rev. Konan paused, applauded and thanked CRS for coming to live with us and work with us, so that together we can find lasting reconciliation and peace — “first of all in our hearts, communities, country and the world at large.”
The bishop concluded by entreating each participant to learn and profit as much as they could from the TOT workshop in ways that will help them become effective teachers and animators of peace and reconciliation in their communities.
The well-seasoned facilitators, Hippolyt Pul and John Katunga of CRS’s Africa Justice and Peace Working Group answered with humour and professionalism two basic questions namely: What is peace building and reconciliation? and (2) How does one engage communities in the process of peace building and reconciliation? As interesting and engaging as the workshop was I have no doubt that participants of the training will return to their various communities as skillful and effective instruments of peace and reconciliation. But having the resources to engage in peace and reconciliation activities at the parish and community levesl will be crucial.
How can we help create an enabling environment where peace and reconciliation can thrive in Côte d’Ivoire? According to Pope John Paul II, peace is another name for development. Ironically, the work of peace does not attract enough attention and benevolence, because its results don’t appear to be immediate, concrete, and tangible. If people are not fighting and killing each other in the streets and bushes, peace work is hardly worth a mention in donor circles. Nevertheless, the fact is that, without peace, there can be no development.
Any development effort not built on a peaceful foundation is like building a house on a weak base, and the fall will be mighty when heavy rains come. As Pope Francis tweeted, “The work of peace requires time and patience”.
Each single one of us has a vocation to work for peace — to promote peace in word, deed and with some resources, whenever we can.
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