“We were in a small town Altenkirchen, in a Christian youth academy of teens and adolescents who were occupied by teaching them different skills such as music, art, drama and sports. This interested me but what intrigued my gender sensitiveness most were the pictures in the academy’s gallery. It was shocking to see that they were only about girls, and girls portrayed in a negative way. There were no portraits of boys, a symbol that Germany too still suffers such rates of appreciating gender and women in general,” narrates Ms Regina Bafaki, a week after her return from the Peace Conference and workshop in Germany, organised by Eirene in October this year.
ACFODE has been in partnership with Eirene since 2009. Eirene-Internationaler Christlicher Friedensdienst usually abbreviated as simply ‘Eirene,’ a Greek word for “peace” used in the New Testament; with financial support from the BMZ, EIRENE has partnered with ACFODE to address Sexual Gender based Violence in South Western Uganda ( Kisoro district) and national level advocacy work on Violence against Women (VAW). EIRENE is an ecumenical, international peace and development service organization that supports sustainable development projects and civil conflict transformation programs in Africa and Latin America through staff and accompanying financial support, human rights initiatives, self-help groups and rural development as key projects at the center of their work.
In 2017 EIRENE celebrated her 60 years of existence. As part of the celebrations, EIRENE invited her partners from Latin America, the great lakes region, Uganda inclusive, West Africa to a 6 Days learning and sharing experience on peace work in Germany. Ms Regina Bafaki, the executive director ACFODE represented the organisation.
“My invitation was unique because while other partners deal with peace work and education directly, ACFODE focuses on gender equality through interventions focusing on gender based violence, violence against women using the approach of male and boys engagement to combat the latter,” shared Regina.
The 6 days event was held in a small town of Altenkirchen, Germany. The first three days 3rd – 5th October were for an expert dialogue meeting on peace work under the theme: “Building peace together, conditions and challenges for transformative peace education”. The remaining three days were spent on a conference dubbed “ Peace Education and Gender: Men make war but peace building requires gender relations.”
Both events were great and provided an opportunity to the diverse group of experts working on peace- and peace-education related issues to share approaches that are used in their daily work. We were also able to develop together perspectives for a transformative peace-work that prevents violence, strengthens non-violent conflict resolution and improves relationships and living conditions of people affected by conflict. They also presented with us opportunities to know each other, form networks across continents, exchange experiences and stories, have fun and to further develop our common peace work.
The conference was a hive of experts from different fields such as peace, gender, youth, media, conflict and conflict resolution.
Germany being a non-English speaking country herself, majority of the participants did not speak English even when the main language mode of presentation for the event was English. Most participants spoke Spanish, German, Chinese and French. Most of the communication was therefore through translators. This gave all participants chance to deliberate on their issues with ease.
“The conference was in English but I was only able to participate fully and effectively through the help of the translator,” narrated Ms Regina. She added that she only felt out of place outside the conference. “I would find myself limited because it’s only during such breaks that you can effectively lobby and share,” she adds.
“I would love to commend however, the high organisation of the event. We had only one main facilitator Alexander Fröde who did a marvellous job, supported by the EIRENE organising committee members.
I managed to flag ACFODE through my presentation on gender based violence in Uganda. I shared ACFODE’s approach of male engagement and model couples in addressing GBV and VAW/G. The model couple approach really thrilled the audience especially the story of Rukara Charles and his wife Alice, a couple from Kisoro district, Nyakabande Sub County.”
Living with a drunken husband, Alice almost a single mother by virtue of the nature of circumstances that surrounded her then, and a sole bread winner for the impoverished family, had relentlessly hoped that one day her husband would change to be the man she could call a husband. Charles’ family depended on the little money his wife made from the sale of tomatoes in a make shift market while the house head drunk his life and responsibilities away. Not until ACFODE’s intervention in the couple’s life, did joy and peace which had become dreams so far from reach in the Rukara home, return.
Charles only hit his turning point after ACFODE’s tireless intervention into his life. The latter later agreed to ACFODE’s requests to join the couple trainings that the organisation had initiated in the district. Charles could not bring himself to accept this, however, after turns of convincing, he ceded and decided to attend one of ACFODE’s sensitization trainings on negative practices that belittle women and girls in the home. Charles left the training a transformed man and quit the alcohol bottle for good.
According to Ms Regina, fellow participants could not believe the amazing turn in the lives of the Rukara couple. In fact, the local Germany National TV asked for an interview with her and Eirene herself took up the story as her campaign flag for sourcing funds for future projects of promoting women’s rights.
“The story put us in the lime light and gave us visibility and for me this is vital. Despite the language barricade, after my presentation, I had people from different nations approach me and inquiring for details about this couple. The greatest gain of having this is that it gave me a platform to share about ACFODE’s work and in the end, people were able to appreciate mainstreaming gender into peace building work,” says Regina.
“I also came back convinced that as an organisation, we would have to consider taking on refugees and mainstream this with gender based violence work because the workshop simply opened my eyes to the unique suffering of refugee women and girls.
Also worth mentioning from the conference is the recognition of media in our work. All participants recognised that media is key in fronting advocacy work. Members also pointed out the shrinking space for civil society organisations (CSOs) to engage in peace work and peace education especially in present day.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to brainstorm on strategies to go about this challenge but it was a take home for us as an organisation and the CSO fraternity in general.”
A day after our arrival, we had been hosted by the Executive Director Eirene, Ms Anthea at Eirene house. After the conference, I spent a night at Eirene house because they provide accommodation for their guests and I managed to catch a train to Klon the next day with the help of a Ugandan young man who stays at the house. To my joy, the volunteer is one of the beneficiaries of the ACFODE-Eirene volunteer programs. He makes craftwork and teaches the German youth these skills. He shared that one needs special skills to sell and survive among foreigners.
As part of learning and networking, I visited a few places in Germany. Among others was the Klon Cathedral, the biggest Catholic Church in Germany. I visited the Germany parliament and the remains of the Berlin wall.
I also managed to reach Medica Mondiale headquarters. Medica Mondiale is a women’s organisation that supports work against VAW/G- Violence against women and girls. They, Medica Mondiale, have in the recent past, supported our work on gender based violence against women and girls in the district of Apac, Uganda. Particularly monitoring implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.
Also, in Berlin, I visited the University of Freie particularly the gender equality department and shared with them our work. They were impressed. But I was more enthralled by their approach. The gender department at Freie, ensures that every department in the university has a gender equality officer who are paid officers.
I visited KAS headquarters in the west end of Berlin. It took me over 30 to 40 minutes to reach. There I was able to meet Marion, the head and or programs manager in charge of Africa region. She was particularly interested in the inter university youth debates that ACFODE usually organises and the tracer study being conducted by ACFODE to ascertain the benefits from the close to three decades of KAS/ACFODE partnership.
The day of returning was very long. I had 6 hours on a fast moving train from Berlin to Frankfurt.
On the train, I was challenged by an old woman in her 80s who while we all sat sleepy and exhausted, she knit away a woollen sweater. That’s was very strategic and quite a useful way of spending a whole six hours on the train.
Outside the train, one could see a lot of very green forest cover something that I did not expect to find in such a country.
The Germans use wind as a source of power and there was no traffic jam at all. People use public means, I hardly saw people moving out of their personal cars. They use trains and trams.
All in all, the trip was a great learning experience and shall forever look back at all the great memories created in Germany.
In a special way, I would love to appreciate Eirene, first, for the opportunity and in particular, Vanessa, one of my staff and technical adviser for the EIRNE/ BMZ funded project for the job well done. Prior to my departure, Ms Vanessa had mapped out my entire journey, including site visits and persons to contact. She had prepared a litnary for me and this guided all my movements beyond the conference and workshop,” concludes a happy Regina.
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