Jon Rudy kneeling and talking with participants

A Safe Environment for Diverse Peoples

From its inception, the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) has strived to create a space for people of diverse backgrounds to gather together, share and learn in a safe environment where all viewpoints are encouraged and respected. The creation of such an environment is due in no small part to the dedicated facilitators who have often had participants from divergent perspectives or come from different sides of a conflict in their countries or regions.

One such facilitator is Jon Rudy, who was Peacebuilder in Residence at Elizabethtown College in the United States from 2012 to 2019. Jon began facilitating courses with MPI in 2004. He has facilitated courses as varied as Fundamentals of Peacebuilding, Active Nonviolence, and Religion: Peacebuilding in Multicultural Society.

Jon shared his own experience in having real-life conflicts and dialogue occur in the classroom.

A Pakistani woman and an Indian woman were sitting at the same table in a training I was conducting. Being suspicious of each other on the first day, by the second day they were on speaking terms. By the third day, they were working together, at their table groups, in harmony with one another. By the end of the week, they declared together that they were tired of their countries fighting with each other and committed to peace.

Jon highlights three crucial tasks that he has observed as necessary for creating authentic human security in gatherings of diverse groups of people. These three elements, he states, are “relationships, interactions that are participatory and enhanced listening skills.”

So how are these relationships developed? Jon points out that it is in the interaction in and outside the classroom that is key to developing this first essential element.

Aside from gaining new practical skills, many participants ascribe equal value to the bonding, friendships, and solidarity that are created among peace practitioners who discover that they are not alone in the world. By learning together in classrooms and being billeted together in lodging they strengthen their commitment to peacebuilding through sharing the stories from their work with other peer practitioners. This is the relational element of MPI.

Like the women from South Asia, Jon had the experience on another occasion where an army commander and rebel soldier were able to sit down at the same table to do conflict analysis together. They came with vastly different perspectives but gained an understanding and even respect for their differences. Facilitators like Jon encourage these types of interaction because, while they honor the identities of each participant, the symbols of power and status such as military uniforms and guns are not welcome. Jon and the other facilitators ask participants to enter into vulnerability with each other, listening to the stories of pain and joy.

Jon points out that the space created at MPI is the result of the facilitators and MPI team actively working to build a community while the institute is happening.

One year, a revolutionary speaker, passionate about his indigenous movement, offended a government official from the same country. Fearing reprisals at being in the same space as the revolutionary caused conflict. Through a late-night mediation session held by the MPI facilitators, the two came to an understanding and even appreciation of the other’s position. Through demonstrating the skills in real life that these two were concurrently learning in class, a little more peace was added to the world.

Developing relationships is foundational to the other two elements of participatory interactions and enhanced listening skills. Facilitators like Jon honor the wisdom that each person brings. They guide the process of learning. Jon recognizes that “participants learn from each other while grappling with the content input from facilitators.” The facilitators and the MPI team, both in and out of the classroom, model the final element of listening and incorporating feedback.

It has been through facilitators like Jon Rudy that relationships have been built among people of diverse backgrounds and positions in order to create safe spaces for dialogue. MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Training lasts only three weeks each year, but the hope is that these new relationships, the value of participatory interaction, and listening and incorporating feedback skills last a lifetime.

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