Archive | December, 2012

Swiss Occurings

22 Dec

Dear all,

In recent months, one of my main areas of work has been connected to the COPING project. COPING is a three year EU funded research project on the mental health of children of prisoners. QUNO has been involved, alongside a consortium of nine other NGOs and academic institutions across Europe. Whilst my involvement comes at the very end of the project, I am enjoying participating in the process of making recommendations from the research findings as well as disseminating the results in and around the UN. One disturbing statistic from the research is that 25% of children with a parent in prison are at high risk of mental health problems. Key recommendations include seeing a child’s visit to see their parent in prison as a right of the child rather than a privilege of the offender. I attended the final conference of the project in Brussels in November. Whilst I was there, I was fortunate to be able to meet fellow Programme Assistants; Chris and Bethany in person at the Quaker Council for European Affairs. QUNO’s counterpart represents Quaker concerns at the European level. Look out for a guest blog post from them, coming soon to PO Box Peace!

As stipulated in my recent journal letter, another of my highlights so far, has been seeing Turkey give their first ever report to the Human Rights Committee relating to their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The issue of Conscientious Objection to Military Service featured strongly. With this and other issues raised by NGOs and Turkish human rights activists, in a prior meeting with the Committee, being subsequently put to the State by individual Committee members. Whilst the topic of the lack of recognition of Conscientious Objectors (and their subsequent imprisonment and exclusion from access to government services) has often been raised at the European Court of Human Rights, due to the language barrier and lack of general knowledge about UN processes, many lawyers and NGOs in Turkey have not been aware of the Human Rights Committee as another method with which they can hold their government to account under its international legal obligations.

Outside of work, I have been sampling wine in local vineyards, practising Tai Chi by the lake, visiting thermal baths, enjoying the snow in Quaker House garden (see below), venturing to a Christmas market in Basel and generally enjoying what this part of Switzerland has to offer. I have also been busy with different writing projects. Fellow Peaceworker Owen and I wrote a review[1] in The Friend of David Gee’s excellent book on peace and nonviolence Holding Faith, and an article I co-wrote called Genocide and settler colonialism: can a Lemkin-inspired genocide perspective aid our understanding of the Palestinian situation? [2] was published in the International Journal of Human Rights. All in all it has certainly been a busy few months!

Joyeux Noel à tous!



[1] Please note you will need to register for a free trial to The Friend to access this article.

[2] The views expressed in said article are entirely that of myself and my co-author and do not in any way claim to represent the Quaker position on the situation in Israel/Palestine.


Looking beyond the past to brighter futures

17 Dec

Dear readers,
So many exciting things have happened at HROC, since last I wrote. And the more I learn about its work, the more I admire its efforts to help individuals and heal communities.

As previously mentioned, HROC is currently running a bio-sand water filter project. What I have discovered about the origins of this project and its impact, have really moved me. It started in 2011 and is the result, of wishes expressed by HROC’s beneficiaries. They had desired to acquire new skills, to enable them to do something meaningful and constructive for their communities.

HROC’s beneficiaries have often been ostracised. Some are ex-combatants and others, are internally displaced or repatriated persons. As a consequence, they have often found it hard to integrate in their old communities or the ones they have moved to. In its bid to heal communities and build long lasting peace, HROC has always recognised the imperativeness, of reconciling these shunned groups with their communities.

Due to the extent of illnesses related to the use of infected water, HROC’s beneficiaries had felt that a project involving easy access to clean drinking water would be ideal. I found it very powerful that despite everything, HROC’s beneficiaries were willing to do something, which would benefit their communities considerably.

To date, just under150 filters have been constructed. As well as making and selling filters, beneficiaries have been to people’s homes to teach them how to use the filters properly. Communities have been greatly appreciative of their work and considered them good role models. Beneficiaries have likewise served as inspiration, for those wishing to make a difference.

Through selling filters, beneficiaries were able to set up a cooperative. On a visit to Mutaho where the latter operates, I had the opportunity of taking part in one of its Executive Committee’s meetings. As I listened to the discussions and made suggestions of my own, I was taken by HROC’s role vis a vis of the cooperative. It executed the juggling act of, advising the cooperative on how to strengthen the systems it has in place to facilitate the smooth running of its activities and at the same time, kept on insisting that its members needed to learn to take full charge of its operations. I think that HROC does the cooperative a great favour, by reminding its members that the time will come, when they alone, will be running it. This pushes members to find ways of making the most out of this venture, without having to always rely on HROC.

In addition to learning more about HROC’s projects, over the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity of visiting some of its partner organisations. Namely, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Friends Women’s Association (FWA). I have also drafted and edited donor correspondences. I have particularly enjoyed, the process of justifying how funds provided, will serve our purpose. Brainstorming ideas for new projects, has been very exciting as well.

Just recently, I was able to participate for the first time, in the basic trauma healing workshops. The beneficiaries I have been referring to throughout this entry, are individuals who have taken part in these workshops. Although I had read about what goes on, nothing could prepare me for what I witnessed and felt.

The workshop takes place over three days and during that time; there is a noticeable gradual change in participants’ demeanour. It has to be seen to be believed. They are taught about trauma, its causes and symptoms and most importantly, how to heal and help others heal too. Sessions are intermingled with games, songs and dances, to liven things up and put participants at ease. There are however also, periods allocated for sharing troubling past experiences. During these, participants often break down and need a moment to articulate what has so wounded them. On day one, it is evident that most have a heavy heart.They are generally tense and most hardly say anything, unless prompted. And yet, by day three, they have been transformed, their spirits lifted.

I was humbled as they thanked HROC, for its teachings. It was a revelation to be faced with such strength of character. They had all been through horrific situations, lost so much and some were still visibly haunted. And yet, in spite of this, they were resilient in their drive to be of healthier emotional and psychological frame of mind. What is even more touching is that some felt so comforted by what they had learned, that they vowed to relay this knowledge to their dearest and closests.

Peace be with you all



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