Dorcas sets out to support peacebuilding processes in (post) war settings and mitigate the risk of relapsing into conflict by addressing the root causes. We also work to restore broken relationships between conflicting groups or individuals, breaking down harmful stereotypes and creating community circles.
Why it matters
We work in countries that are either currently confronted with armed conflict, at high risk of lapsing into conflict or have dealt with outbreaks of violence in the recent past. In some cases, these episodes manifest themselves on a local level only. In others, we see issues arise across multiple levels of society.
Though we exist to meet basic needs – not to be the mediator between warring factions – a growing amount of evidence shows that faith-based organisations have an important role to play when it comes to peacebuilding efforts. This is particularly relevant within certain disciplines such as intra-faith and inter-faith dialogue, education and training, advocacy and transitional justice.
Dorcas is compelled to contribute towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this case, specifically SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
Peace and stability are prerequisites for sustainable development – no community can flourish in the midst of war and violence. To aid us in our efforts, Dorcas adopts a working definition: ‘Peacebuilding is a comprehensive concept that encompasses, generates and sustains the full array of processes, approaches and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships. The term thus involves a wide range of activities that both precede and follow formal peace accords.’
“It is difficult for Dorcas to frame peacebuilding in that it has been an indirect part of our work for years”, says Joost van den Hee, consultant in the non-profit sector and one of the people involved in the implementation of peacebuilding and reconciliation as a cross-cutting theme at Dorcas. Worth noting: peacebuilding is about more than the absence of violence (negative peace), it is a means by which to restore broken relationships and address long -standing structural issues (positive peace). “This requires a continuous understanding of the root causes of violence – both structural and cultural – and how these feed into and enable conflict”, explains Van den Hee.
Dorcas works in places such as South Sudan and Syria, where internal conflict can flair up at any moment. In these countries, a more embedded approach to peacebuilding is required – one which sees us draw on the expertise of local actors and government stakeholders.
We believe in empowering communities from the ground up. Our primary focus is to reduce cultural violence through dialogue, mediation and social (trust-building activities) – work that sees us break down harmful stereotypes and build bridges between people from different backgrounds. Structural violence is also tackled – we advocate for the fundamental rights of marginalised groups in local forums and improve access to basic services.
Our peacebuilding efforts cannot be viewed in isolation. There are a number of high-level processes – political and economic reconstruction, disarmament and more – that need to occur in tandem for our interventions to be successful. Although these initiatives are beyond our scope, it is vital that we coordinate our efforts wherever possible. Dorcas places great value in our relationship with the people in power.
If we are to contribute to more peaceful, equitable societies, we must fire ensure our own practices welcome religious and ethnic diversity. We use special criteria to avoid bias during the selection process. A bottom up approach is essential. We increase the capacity of local peacemakers and involve stakeholders from different social, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Only then can we address the root causes of conflict and foster strong, inclusive and dynamic community structures.
For Dorcas, it is also crucial to implement a cultural approach. Joost van den Hee explains: “There is a lot of common wisdom in communities. While developing programmes, we work to bring forth and strengthen existing knowledge and local leadership.” Does this occur easily? “We are also incredibly mindful of the mechanisms that exist to exclude people within society. Our local teams are partners are trained accordingly.”
Dorcas programmes incorporate peacebuilding in a number of ways.
In Egypt, we establish agricultural training for women – weekly sessions where women come together to learn about agriculture and share tips with each other. Crucial to our method is to stimulate wider discussion during these sessions. Women talk about nutrition, health and hygiene but also more sensitive topics such as domestic violence and female circumcision.
Similarly, within our self-help groups in South Ethiopia, women express how the weekly group meetings help them to exchange concerns or issues they are experiencing and reduce stress. The region is increasingly plagued by drought and internal conflict so the women also save up together to build a safety net for difficult times. In these contexts, Dorcas forms strong bonds with (in)formal local leaders to seek their consent and cooperation. Their support is of paramount importance to us – not only out of respect but also to find common ground and raise sensitive topics so community members feel supported. With legal peacebuilding opportunities slowly improving, Dorcas can now engage more proactively in peacebuilding initiatives, working with local leaders to broaden access to pastures and essential services such as clean drinking water as well as encourage the participation of women in self-help groups.
“Our community centres offer a safe space for women to open up to each other, gain new skills and begin to look to the future.”
In Syria, we seek to help different groups integrate and understand each other better. We provide therapy and training. Parents learn how to support children suffering from mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder. For women, we focus specifically on protection against sexual abuse. We also help communities deal with conflicts. “In Aleppo, men participate in psychosocial support groups and women from very conservative home environments meet in community centres”, says Van den Hee. “The centres offer a safe space for women to open up to each other, gain new skills and begin to look to the future.”
Dorcas is working to increase its expertise in five key areas – Social Inclusion, Gender, Environmental Change, Peacebuilding and Reconciliation and Faith@Work. These five areas represent our cross-cutting themes and are assigned specific spokespersons who take a leading role in weaving them into our programmes in close cooperation with our country offices.
21 January 2021