by Amy Potter Czajkowski
I am deeply grateful for the invitation to join the Catalyst for Peace staff. I have had a number of consulting and other relationships with CFP over the years, but I’m now officially on board. I love working for an organization grounded in values and led by a strong sense of vision and purpose. CFP embraces whole people and whole systems peacebuilding and has been pioneering in developing processes and systems grounded in the expectation that ‘the answers are there’ – the critical resources for peace exist right in the middle of the places most impacted by violence and crisis – while at the same time identifying helpful and vital roles that can be played by allies who don’t live in the immediate situation.
As such, I feel like I can, and need to, bring my whole self to the work I do. My roles of mother, stepmother, friend, gardener, wife, teacher, community member and spiritual seeker are vital parts of who I am and lessons and perspectives from these roles, in addition to my more obvious professional experience, are part of what I’m able to bring to my work. As someone who will be engaging as an outsider, my ability to connect with human beings as a human being is critical rather than as someone who leads solely with a professional identity. The call to both individual and professional growth is a welcome challenge.
Just after I officially joined the staff in June, Libby and I went to Sierra Leone. I had not been there for a number of years, since early in the development of Fambul Tok. Libby, John Caulker, (Director of Fambul Tok) and I went off the beaten track to visit the village where Ebola had first crossed the border from Guinea. I didn’t know this was THE village where Ebola had come into the country. The purpose of the visit was to observe how a new Peace Mothers group was getting started, in a section where Fambul Tok had been piloting a new process, facilitating people-and-community-led post-Ebola recovery. A group of Peace Mothers had just formed in that section (a collection of several – in this case 17 – villages). Women representatives (and some men too) from every village in that section had come together to see what they could do collectively to help their communities recover from Ebola and become stronger. The Peace Mothers meeting was giving the women – most for the first time in their lives – a space in the public sphere to share their voices and exercise their leadership. I could relate to them. As a women, I have experienced the challenge of finding and sharing my voice, especially in the public sphere. I have worked with women from many parts of the world through my work at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, watching the transformation as they finally found a place where their voices were invited and their unique participation was framed as critical in the work of waging peace.
In this small village, as in other settings I have experienced, I sat in awe of the capacity that is there in women (but not limited to women) that goes untapped because an invitation is not there. Too many limited cultural, structural, political and historical realities crowd out the space. What was especially important about this Peace Mothers meeting in this village was that until someone gave me a tour of the village and showed me the houses, now vacant due to Ebola deaths, I would have never known what occurred in that place – ground zero for Ebola in Sierra Leone. The participants in the Peace Mothers meeting were vibrant, alive, actively participating in an astonishingly democratic process. They were identifying their individual and collective (as a group and larger communities) strengths and resources. They were engaged, laughing, and constructive. After a vigorous discussion of possible projects, they agreed on a soap-making enterprise. Some of the women and communities had ingredients, others had soap-making knowledge and ideas for ways to use other resources to buy the ingredients they were missing. There were no external financial resources given to this group. What they were given was an invitation and a respectful process offered from Fambul Tok staff who embodied the perspective that each person there was a worthy human beings participating in a larger, connected effort of healing and restoration to which they all belonged.
CFP has been a partner in developing this way of working and processes that invite wholeness – a whole person and whole community bringing their best. It has not been a simple formula. It has been a hard won and still evolving process that has required that the leadership of CFP and Fambul Tok insist on values leading – and finding ways to mobilize planning and activities around the values at every juncture. This process has also been grounded in a deep reliance on spiritual values and resources that offer a vision of wholeness and connection even when situations seem visibly broken.
There are many factors that I’ve experienced that take focus away from connection, wholeness and full recognition of resources: organizational survival, orientation towards ego and accomplishment (no matter the ends), structural limitations, reporting requirements, unrealistic timeframes, unhealthy competition that limits the best of what people have to offer, long histories of inequality and power imbalances… I could go on. And yet, there are ways that people can come together, share their best, invite other’s best and together, find creative ways to move through challenges and draw on their own and collective strengths.
I am thrilled to be working with the visionary staff at CFP, and to be standing in a space carefully and lovingly constructed by CFP founder, Libby Hoffman. To this space, I’m bringing my experience with peacebuilding, evaluation, program design and a passion for the personal transformation and systems changes required to draw on the best of our human and earth community. Together, we will be identifying and exploring new (and old) ways of creating space for conversations, planning and reflection that identify the practices and structures that support the many forms and sources of positive contribution. My grounding and experience is in connecting visions with practical ways to move into them, and I am looking forward to applying those skills to my work at CFP.