Today I received a text message from the Young Ambassadors for Peace team in Ambon, Indonesia to say that there had been another riot in Ambon City in the early hours of the morning that had seen people injured and property destroyed. It’s a tragic irony that this message comes just days after someone questioned why we would continue to support peacebuilding in Ambon given that it is now ‘peaceful’. This blog post, written a couple of weeks ago by Helena Rijoly-Matakupan in the wake of September clashes in Ambon, is reminder that the work of peacebuilding is neither quick nor easy.
It is disturbing to realise just how similar the trigger of the violence in Ambon a couple of weeks ago was to the beginning of 1999 conflict. In both cases, it was an incident involving a public transport vehicle that created rumours and started the chain of violence. Interestingly, this time it happened on the very day when we remembered the tenth anniversary of September 11. While we cannot assume a connection between the international remembrance and the outburst of sectarian clashes in Ambon, it’s a clear reminder that wherever we are, the road to peace is long and there are no easy solutions.
The recent sectarian clashes are a sign of how fragile is the state of peace that we have. There is still much to be done, many holes to fill, many minds to be educated and many hearts to be touched. The absence of violence doesn’t mean peace. It only means that now is the time for you and me to work on patching up those holes.
There have been many ceremonies for peace and reconciliation in Ambon. There have been many trainings, seminars and conferences on peace and reconciliation with Ambonese people. But what counts, in terms of genuine peace, is the encounter and engagement between people at the grassroots level and in public spaces.
This is where Young Ambassadors for Peace (YAP) plays a crucial role in communities. YAP members are part of the community and thus their work as the spear head of peace is important. As they think and speak and live peace in their everyday life, they are making sure that peace and reconciliation continue to prevail.
YAP field coordinators and members actively voice messages of peace in their respective communities as well as cross checking information with friends on the ‘other side’. In the midst of the recent clashes, YAP members ‘crossed the border’. They sat down to have coffee and discussion with youth of other faiths to show that despite all this violence in the name of our religious groups, we are one, we cannot be fooled for the second time and that we are here for each other.
While these seem to be simple acts, they have stopped the violence going viral. These things can only be done if there is a foundation of friendship, trust and genuine change in people’s mind and hearts. This is the foundation that YAP has laid one stone at a time. At the end of each workshop we have a commitment night where we make our pledge to commit to the work of peace using the symbols of stone, wood, flowers and candles. Most of the time, in tears, we pray that we will be strong as stone to sacrifice ourselves for peace like wood burned in the fire. We pray that the flower of peace may bloom beautiful and that the candle will continue to burn to light the path to peace. 9/11/2011 is a day when all these tears and commitments were once again tested.
In faith we know everyday will be better than the day before because of peaceful people engaging in simple acts of peace. When others raise their arm to throw stones, beating up people, shooting others or burning someone’s house, we raise our hands to embrace, to shake hands and to wipe tears.
As Ambassadors for Peace we know that peace is a learning process. It’s a long road where reconciliation, trust building, trauma healing, community empowerment and forgiveness are tested over and over again with provocation, past hurt and the bitterness and hardship of life. We learn from each encounter because there is never a blueprint for peace. Movements like YAP provide a space for these encounters. It assists the lesson learning process and builds upon it. With the recent sectarian clash, we remember again how important it is to nurture this space. To do so we need to continue to empower, encourage and equip those who engage in this peace building and conflict prevention work.
This blog was written by Helena Rijoly-Matakupan, the first coordinator of Young Ambassadors for Peace Ambon. To learn more about the ongoing work of Young Ambassadors for Peace in Ambon and throughout the Asia-Pacific Region click here.
Peacemaking is again featured in our Everything in Common gift catalogue and gifts can be specified for the Peace centre in Ambon – click here