Volume 18 Number 5
Peace, Conflict, Hakuna Matata!
01 October 2005

I notice him spreading a mat on the floor to commence his morning prayers according to his religion, Islam. From this moment on, I know that this summer in Caux will bring a new experience.

José Carlos León Vargas from Mexico took part in a month’s
course on conflict resolution at the Caux centre

4am: suddenly my roommate’s alarm starts to sound. Still in the mist of my dreams and the excitement of the first day of classes, I notice him spreading a mat on the floor to commence his morning prayers according to his religion, Islam. From this moment on, I know that this summer in Caux will bring a new experience. With a smile on my face I say good morning to Altaf, from India, and go back to sleep, hardly able to wait to meet everyone else.

From mid July to mid August, the Caux conference centre hosted the Caux Scholars Programme 2005; an intensive course on peace building and conflict transformation that helped me to understand the roots of conflict, its causes and consequences. Yet, going beyond all my expectations, the programme also built an honest and solid friendship with 20 people from 17 countries on five continents.

Monica, a Colombian living in Canada, led one of our first morning meditations. She asked everybody to stand in front of each of the other students for a short period, to break the ice among us. I had never looked into the eyes of a Nigerian, a German and an Uzbek, one after the other, until now. As some of us stated during the exercise, the colours and shapes were very different but we could all see our own image in the eyes of the other. The person we were staring at was someone like us, full of dreams, thoughts and fears.

The weeks passed rapidly, and our long list of readings, lectures and meetings with experts in conflict resolution from all over the world were interspersed with moments of leisure. Emanuel from Kenya, George, our six-foot ‘gentle giant’ from Uganda, and Maurice, an American with Jamaican roots, teach the group a beautiful song, Hakuna Matata. This phrase, which means ‘no worries’ in Swahili, becomes the official motto of the Caux Scholars 2005. To my surprise, the sentiment is much appreciated by Sushil, from Nepal.

His country is in political and social turmoil at the moment, but he promotes non-violence and a spirit of comradeship wherever he goes. Rather than a denial of reality, Hakuna Matata reminds us that there is a chance for peace and reconciliation if we approach conflict in a spirit of positive enquiry. And Vidjia, a young lawyer from Cambodia, believes that appreciation and optimism are essential to transform a conflict.

Throughout the summer in Caux I feel I am discovering more from this international group than from many of the books I read back in college. Harper, an American student of political science, runs at least 20 kilometres every day—and sometimes twice a day. I learn from her that determination is crucial and that there is no time to lose in the construction of a hate-free, fear-free society. Some days later, Lillit explains to me the history of Armenia, Syria and Lebanon, the countries where she was born, raised and lives. Talking to a polyglot globetrotter like French/Australian social worker, Christina, I find out that neither money nor possessions are the real treasure, but discovering who we are by understanding someone else. For her, life is like a song, and we have to sing it loud from the bottom of our hearts.

A bonfire up the hill above Caux lights up the night and reminds those of us who live in countries without war of how lucky we are. As a musical background, Emily performs a song she has composed. It says that the perceptions and feelings of people need to be transformed if we want to deal with the problems in our societies. Indeed, my own stereotypes towards Americans are starting to fade away thanks to Sarah, an American graduate working and teaching in Croatia, who is always cheering us up. I do not have a specific religion, but I deeply appreciate and feel her Christianity in the way she cares about people. This is the kind of leadership that our world needs, not only words but day-to-day actions.

The Caux Scholars Programme has strengthened my commitment to change, and my belief that no matter when or where a conflict arises there is still space for reconciliation and mutual comprehension. In a world in which prejudices tend to dominate, the gap between cultures can be reduced if we respect the other and share our feelings openly. After 30 days, it is time to go down the mountain and carry out this task in our own communities, for no change can be achieved if we do not walk our words and our thoughts.

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