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Building Peace in the DRC

Pastor Marcel Serubungo is World Relief DR Congo’s Church Mobilization Director. He has the challenging role of mobilising church leaders across church denominations and tribal lines to become reconciled in order to work together in serving the most vulnerable in the conflict-affected communities of Eastern DR Congo. Here he gives us a unique insight into World Relief’s pioneering work of forming Village Peace Committees (VPCs) …

Photo: Mama Pauline Kavira is one of the women leaders who attended our Conflict Transformation training in Goma

What was the inspiration for VPCs in DRC?
Our inspiration came when we saw how, at the grass roots level in the community, there were lots of conflicts. Some selfish politicians were taking advantage of those conflicts and using them to divide young people to fight their neighbours. VPCs came into being to respond to the question:“What if, at the grass roots level, we can have local structures, well prepared to deal with conflict prevention and conflict resolution at the village level?”

Have there been other contexts where it has been tried, or other countries where it is happening?
There were no other contexts where VPCs were used. We had only old people from each tribe who were dealing with conflict resolution in their own tribes. Their interventions were limited to their tribes and couldn’t involve other tribes. Our VPCs are involving all tribes without discrimination or exclusion. At the moment, we don’t know of any country with VPCs.

Can you describe how it works?
After people from different villages are trained, they come together for one day. Members from each village elect 10 respected and trusted men and women from different tribes, denominations, local structures, such as civil society members, traditional leaders and leaders of different tribes (but not governmental workers).  After they are elected, they officially start to serve in the villages. Each village that has sent people to the training will have a VPC composed of 10 people, and they will deal with any conflicts which occur in the community. Once the community is openly informed that the VPC is operational, village members who are experiencing conflicts come to the VPCs to ask for a help to be reconciled.  

In terms of organising, is this something you do on your own or in partnership with any other body or organisation?
The mission of World Relief is to empower the local church to serve the most vulnerable. When organizing these VPCs, we partner with the local church involving all denominations without exclusion. But also, we benefit the financial support from US church partners.

Can you say something about the relationship between the committees and the local church?
The local church is our main partner in the field. When we arrive in a location, we immediately contact local church leaders. The first training that we give in each place is to pastors, Christian women leaders, Sunday school leaders, Christian youth leaders and directors of Christian schools. After the local church is trained, then the training goes into the wider community.

What kind of training is given?  
The training modules comes under seven areas:

  • Conflict: gives an overview of conflict – its definition, source, nature, etc., and the skills to analyse it, before resolving and transforming it.
  • Violence: helps participants to distinguish conflict and violence. Conflict may be inevitable but violence is always bad and to be avoided.
  • Peace: enables participants to know what peace is and how to get it. They will get an understanding of different kinds of peace.
  • Communication: shows participants how to use communication in promoting peace. They will learn how to use active listening to help resolve conflict.
  • Negotiation: enables participants to know what negotiation is, its benefit and how it is effective in win-win solution. They will learn different techniques of negotiation.
  • Mediation: this module will help participants to differentiate tribunal and mediation. They will learn different mechanisms and technics of mediation to resolve conflict.
  • Reconciliation: helps participants to define what reconciliation is and how it brings parties together. 

Can you share with us a story of hope?
Mama Pauline Kavira is one of the women leaders who attended our Conflict Transformation training in Goma. The relationship between her family and in-laws was not good due to tribal differences. Her family was forcing her daughter to divorce and look for a man from her tribe. After participating in our Peacebuilding workshop, she came to realise that marriage is about love and not tribe. Then she helped to improve the relationship between the two families; her daughter was very grateful to her. Since then, the entire community are surprised to see how peaceful the relationship is between the two families. Many families are considering her daughter’s marriage as a model of inter-ethnic marriage.

What is the vision for the committees? Do you have a goal?
We now have 22 VPCs and are working in 5 provinces in the DRC. The aim is for World Relief to expand its peace-building programme to 200 villages in each of the five eastern provinces. As each VPC is represented by 10 local peace builders, that means a total of 1,000 VPCs and 10,000 peace-builders working to resolve 100,000 conflicts. As to our ultimate goal – it is to see the DRC living in peace.