Tapping Our Trans-Local Potential for Change

This post was written by Chloë Straw, Project Research Assistant.

A brightly coloured historical timeline marked the entryway to the July 13th dialogue on Human Insecurity and Peacebuilding. Listing major armed conflicts that have occurred since the 1950’s, the timeline offered a way in to the discussion as people were invited to respond to the question, “How have these conflicts impacted you?”

Before the formal storytelling had even begun, individuals used the timeline to share compelling personal anecdotes: “That was the year I left Uganda, lost my home, my citizenship and became a refugee,” one person remembered, while another simply wrote “My friends in Sudan, Burma and Thailand are suffering.”

As Prof. James Busumtwi-Sam (photo above) went on to explain, these often painful personal and communal memories form one of the important reasons why diaspora should be viewed “as a unique component of civil societies” and should be engaged in human insecurity and peacebuilding more fully. With their strong links and attachments to places of origin, members of the diaspora can bring a truly unique perspective to issues of conflict and insecurity.

The sharing of these memories is far from easy. Reading from her work, “The Things We Carried,” storyteller and poet Juliane Okot Bitek (photo above) spoke not only of the physical afflictions—the scars and injuries—that diaspora sustain in times of conflict, but of the emotional burdens they carry with them for decades afterward, such as the rejection of their own people when they return home to their villages after having fled as refugees. This experience of feeling resented and delegitimized resonated with many in the room, and the question “how can diaspora be part of the process of justice and reconciliation?” was raised.

Beyond this, participants noted that international development and conflict resolution in one’s country of origin cannot easily be understood without first understanding the impact of issues relating to immigration and settlement. And finally, immigrants and refugees living in Canada may also be justifiably concerned about their own personal security when they choose to support peacebuilding efforts back home.

Through hearing the personal stories of working to transform a culture of violence to one of tolerance in Iraq and of courageous Palestinian and Israeli youth gathering together on Canadian soil to explore their differences, it was felt that “peacebuilding can start with individuals,” as one participant commented. And of course, as with any engaged dialogue, some came out with more questions, such as that of one young participant who posed the following: “How can we bridge the gap between the diaspora and their new local communities? What are our roles as Canadians? What is my role as a student, a female, an activist?” These are questions we will continue to explore through our fifth and final dialogue, Diasporic Contributions to Development” on September 14th from 6:30-9:00pm at SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. We hope you will join us.

Read the full report on this dialogue here.

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