Category Archives: Activities

The Voices of Youth

As part of Mali Koraci’s project “Encouraging Children to Accept Differences,” training young people to deal with interpersonal conflicts, we had the privilege to teach them how to put these skills for conflict transformation into practice. On Sunday, June 3rd, Father Radivoj Krulj, the Orthodox priest from Mostar and his wife Natasha, received us in the Vladičanski Dvor in Mostar where we met with the youth from Mostar. Thank you very much to Radivoj and Natasha for their hospitality and creating a safe area where we could learn from outstanding young people from all the ethnic groups in BiH.

This mixed group of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs had previously been educated on how to deal with people with whom we are in conflict by looking in the others’ eyes and calling them by name, speaking honestly about what bothers us, and asking for what we want or need in relationship or situation. They practiced these skills in simulated conflicts with each other. In this conversation we deliberately introduced several emotionally “hot” topics: ethno-nationalism and the impact of war on children and youth.

Here are some of their thoughts followed by our reflections:

“There are too many conversations about the war.”

“A mixed environment is a guarantee that you will not speak about the war and such things. If you have friends from different ethnic groups, you will avoid those subjects and speak about positive things. But if you are from the same [ethnic] group, people will immediately start to talk about your ethnic and religious group, about what others did to you in the war.”

“Remembering the war prevents growth and development. It should stay in the dark place of the heart and not be mentioned in everyday life.”

“I’m not guilty for Srebrenica. I wasn’t even born. That’s not my fault and stop acting like it is just because of my ethnicity. Fuck off!”

“We hate it when they say, ‘Don’t forget.’ Because when they say, ‘Don’t forget,’ they actually mean, ‘Don’t forgive.’”

Project take-aways:

So is it worth having conversations on conflict, war and forgiveness when youth are tired of them? Why not do something else?

We believe collaborative activities are an incredible opportunity for youth to forge a new future together, without forcing youth to endure additional conversations about the past. However, there seems to be a place for healthy conversations about the past in mixed groups, because, as the youth pointed out, conversations about ethno-nationalism and the war are not happening with people from different backgrounds.

Young people are open to talking about interpersonal, family, and even group conflict. So when we are able to talk about ethno-nationalism and the war in ways that don’t try to label the previous generation’s conflict as if it is their own, then they are ready to engage with issues of nationalism and war. In fact, the children and youth we work with readily make an equivalency between nationalism and war; for them, it’s all in the same bag.

These conversations give these youth a chance to share their frustrations and create a safe space in which they can say how they feel manipulated or are made to feel guilty.  Mixed conversations give them a chance to share their experiences with those from different backgrounds and from other ethnic groups, and the youth discover that they have a lot in common. For each of them, they feel similarly that there is too much pressure to stay in their own ethnic and religious community. As they are given the opportunity to hear each other, they are strengthened in their ability to resist nationalistic narratives. They are able to build friendships with people from other ethnic groups. Young people claim that adults often want to make them feel that “you will not pass well in life if you are not in your own ethnic group and if you do not attend religious education with only your own religious group.” By learning skills to deal with conflict and by building relationships with each other, these youth are empowered to return to their schools, families, and circles as peace activists. They are strengthened to “pass well” without being forced to live in a way they don’t want to live.

Skills to Deal with Conflict

In Mali Koraci’s training for children about how to deal with interpersonal conflict, “Encouraging Children to Accept Differences,” we share several simple skills that help all of us learn to deal with conflict in healthier ways. Skills in nonviolent communication and behavior help us relate in healthier ways to family members, friends, classmates, and colleagues. These skills also provide an effective way for us to deal with larger conflicts between groups.

1) Look into the eyes of the person with whom you are in conflict.

The first step is to make eye contact. When we are in conflict with one another, we often avoid eye contact. When we manage to look at one another, we see emotions, pain, and anger, and as a result, we humanize the person across from us. We see that he or she is also just a human being who requires care.

2) Say the name of the person with whom you are in conflict.

The second step is closely related to the first. In conflict, we often say, “She’s like this!” or “He’s like that!” When we look into another’s eyes and say his or her name, we begin to draw closer together, and our reasons to stay in conflict grow smaller.

3) Indicate / clarify what is bothering you.

Sharing what is upsetting each of us in a conflict is essential so that each party can know why the conflict is happening and how we can move towards transformation. It is important to use speech without diagnosing, labeling, or judging. It is best to speak descriptively, holding to the facts.

4) Say how you would hope to resolve the conflict (what are your needs).

Without focusing too long on the past, it’s important to find a way forward together. By asking for what we need, we can help one another be more sensitive to each other’s needs in the future. Often steps #3 and #4 look quite simple: “You did that before, but in the future, can you please do this instead? Such and such a behavior would help me.” When we ask one another for concrete changes in behavior so that all of our needs are met, it becomes possible to live with less tension, frustration and conflict.

These four steps aren’t always easy, especially when we have been trained to either avoid conflict altogether or just give the “right answers” rather than share the truth of our experience about how we are bothered or hurt by something someone has said or done. However, we believe that as we learn to practice these four simple steps in our everyday relationships, interpersonal conflict and even large conflicts between groups can be significantly reduced.

Our Handbook for Islamic Religious Educators is being used in Europe

By Naida Kurdi
Aljazeera Balkans

10703510_761713077218169_4474320111234500884_nAmra Pandžo has been a peace activist for almost twenty years. She finds motivation for her peace work in faith. Over the past 20 years she has worked with a large number of people in the region to overcome the consequences of war by engaging in activities dealing with reconciliation, conflict transformation, and peace education.

Immediately after the war, she was the originator of the first network of non-governmental organizations that worked across ethnic divisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and she was also among the first to cross those divisions herself.

In the TPO Foundation survey, Amra was one of eleven women in Bosnia and Herzegovina who were recognized in their local communities as women who contributed to peace. She edited the Manual for the Teachers of Islamic Religion on the Peaceful Dimensions of Islam and co-author of the book The Peace Road, which was published in 2016. She is a member of the organizational team of Believers for Peace and on the board of directors for the widely acclaimed inter-religious choir Pontanima. She works at the American Corner of the Sarajevo Library and runs Small Steps, an association for dialogue in the family and society.

Continue reading here.

Encouraging Children to Accept Differences

From April 2016 to March 2019 and in partnership with the Mennonite Central Committee, Mali Koraci will be implementing the project “Encouraging Children to Accept Differences.” Using peace-building methods to decrease divisions between children from different ethnic groups, Mali Koraci trainers will teach tools for dialogue and mutual understanding, referencing faith as a motivation and a source of energy. Then, the children will experience direct contact with those of different ethnic groups, “the Other,” by building friendships, practicing the skills they’ve learned and celebrating their accomplishments together.

The Little School of Interfaith Bridge Building

In twelve different cities with significant interethnic animosity around BiH, religious teachers who have previously participated in Mali Koraci training programs will invite a total of 120 children to participate in a one-day session called “The Little School of Interfaith Bridge Building.” In these sessions, twelve groups of participants, each with ten children from the same ethno-religious group, will learn about the basics of non-violent communication. They will learn about steps they can take when they are in conflict with anyone, from a family member to friend or class mate.

Practical Interfaith Bridge Building

After the “Little Schools of Interfaith Bridge Building,” each group of ten children will be paired with another group of children from a different ethnic community to continue their training in six “Practical Interfaith Bridge Building” sessions. These one-day workshops will provide opportunities for these children to practice what they’ve learned by role-playing in an imaginary conflict, laughing together and building friendships with people from different communities, and discussing nationalistic messages and reasons for war and peace.

Children’s Peace Festival

In December 2018, all 120 children participants will meet together in Sarajevo to do art workshops and celebrate with plenty of music and dancing.

After three years of building friendships across ethnic and religious barriers, these religious teachers and children will be empowered to return to their schools and cities around BiH as ambassadors of change. We as Mali Koraci staff look forward to planning future joint activities together in which we cooperate with a growing movement of religious teachers and students throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina who are working to heal our society.