Dan Shetler is currently in the final months of a three-year service term with MCC in Hyderabad, India. He serves as a Conflict Transformation Facilitator on the Conflict Transformation Team at the Henry Martyn Institute. Shelter’s home congregation is Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana.
Timothee, one of our students, tells the story of his transformation during one of our courses at the Henry Martyn Institute (HMI) in Hyderabad, India. When he first came, he thought the only way to solve the issues caused by Rwandan refugees coming across the border into his native Congo was to build a wall. But during his time in the Post Graduate Diploma in Conflict Transformation course (PGDCT) he changed his mind. Today he believes that the solution is not to build walls, but rather to build roads between the two countries. This transformation came, not out of persuasion or force, but rather through the participatory elicitive methodology that the Conflict Transformation (CT) Team uses in their workshops, classes and programs.
The CT Team works in various regions of India and South Asia that have deep religious, cultural, political and economic divides. The main areas of focus are the states of North East India (which have over 30 armed groups), Jammu and Kashmir (which has the highly publicized India-Pakistan conflict) and Gujarat (which still suffers from communal tension which has resulted in riots and massacres between Hindus and Muslims). The CT Team conducts workshops and other programs in these regions along with the PGDCT course and long term workshops at the HMI Campus in Hyderabad.
In peace building work it is often difficult to measure quantitative results as the change is often in things that don’t take place. For example, when riots don’t happen or when conflicts are settled before they become newsworthy. Therefore, what encourages me is to see the fleeting glimpses of the deeper transformation that is happening within people. For instance at the beginning of one workshop Theko vehemently condemned western feminism but towards the end apologized because he now understood its complexity and vital necessity. Or Avani who said that after the workshop she has a much better understanding of the role other religions play in peace building. These small glimmers of transformation are indicators that a larger societal change is possible.
The elicitive participatory model that the CT Team uses comes out of over a decade of praxis - reading what scholars have to say and learning from on-the-ground experience. In CT workshops participants are not beneficiaries who we teach, but rather resourceful people with whom we learn and share. HMI started a Mediation program with the help of MCC, which later expanded and adapted its work to become the Conflict Transformation program. Through the years, the CT Team has not only adapted conflict transformation models to the local context, but they have also contributed their own experience to the field.
Working with MCC and HMI has been an incredible opportunity. The CT Team’s collaborative approach has allowed me to participate in a wide range of roles that are required to make this work possible, from writing grants, to budgeting, to logistics, to facilitating sessions and finally to writing the reports. I have also had the opportunity to be mentored by some of the best facilitators in the field, and through them I have grown in my understanding of conflict transformation in the context of South Asia. Through this work I have also been able to travel to many different parts of India and build deep, meaningful relationships, from which I have learned and received much more then I can ever return.
As I think about finishing my three year term in the next two months, these relationships are the most cherished things I will take with me - bright colors to bring back to the cold gray Goshen winter. Memories of drinking coffee and having a laugh in my room every day after lunch, playing badminton and volleyball after work and pulling all-nighters to finish up team projects. And how can I forget weaving in and out of traffic on the back of a motorcycle, packing into buses and drinking an endless supply of chai on trains?
The lessons I’ve learned from these friends are not something to be left behind in India, but are just as relevant in the United States. Perhaps we also need to take Timothee’s insight and think about building roads instead of walls.
- Dan Shetler