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Last updated November 24.

May 22, 2006 issue

EMU peacebuilding institute opens

By Chris Edwards Eastern Mennonite University

HARRISONBURG, Va. — Eastern Mennonite University’s annual Summer Peacebuilding Institute opened May 8 with 107 participants from 34 nations.

Nancy Beall Hedren, left, and Tin Tin Yee, an EMU student from Burma, perform the dance of the eagle and condor as part of a “Ritual of the Americas” on May 8 at Eastern Mennonite University.

Nancy Beall Hedren, left, and Tin Tin Yee, an EMU student from Burma, perform the dance of the eagle and condor as part of a “Ritual of the Americas” on May 8 at Eastern Mennonite University. — Photo by Jim Bishop/EMU

Since 1994, more than 1,500 international workers in humanitarian, conflict resolution and other peacebuilding areas have attended SPI. In four sessions spread over six weeks on EMU’s campus, they form working partnerships while studying many aspects of solving conflict.

New courses this year include “Circle Processes: Weaving Old Ways into Contemporary Contexts,” with Yako Tahnagha, a Mohawk Indian, leading an exploration of the ancient process of resolving community disputes in a circle.

SPI alumni have helped form similar institutes in the Philippines, Fiji and Africa.

“Mother Earth, Father Sun, here we are,” began the chanting of the “Ritual of the Americas” that opened this year’s SPI, incorporating the symbols of earth, air, fire and water. It was led by José María Varacela and his wife, María Gabriela, of the Saraguro tribe from Ecuador’s Andean highlands.

The couple — attending SPI for the first time — are friends of Rosario (Charito) Calvachi-Mateyko, a 2006 graduate of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. She wants to do restorative justice work among indigenous Ecuadorans and hopes the Varacelas can guide her.

The ritual, drawn from traditional stories, included a Guatemalan white flower of peace held up to a montage of the world’s soldiers and an Ecuadoran tradition of gathering mountaintop ice for healing water.

Dancers portrayed a Peruvian prophecy of a condor, representing the heart, meeting an eagle, symbolizing the head and technology. The prophecy foresees the two birds emerging from a clash of civilizations to make a world in which peace is possible.

SPI participant Khamseng “Seng” Homdouangxay, from Laos, translates for Mennonite Central Committee and works with MCC’s Global Family Project, bringing rural children into cities for education. Both Seng and Gwynneth Mudd — an Episcopal priest from Virginia Beach who works with domestic violence victims — enrolled in SPI’s Introduction to Conflict Transformation.

Participant Alan Marr, a Baptist minister from Australia, is applying SPI studies toward a conflict transformation degree. As chair of the Asian Baptist Peace Network, Marr e-mailed fellow activists when searching for such a program, and “six out of eight recommended EMU,” he said.

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