This report on the work of Creators of Peace in Zimbabwe has been complied by Talia Smith, UK, who accompanied the CoP team on the ground in February this year. Photos by Adelaide Mhunduru.
Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution identifies gender equality as one of the nation’s core policies. Yet in reality, much work needs to be done to bring the women’s rights laws in line with the new Constitution. Furthermore, women don’t know about these laws which means they do not report violence and they don’t have the opportunity to get justice.
Damaging practices in Zimbabwe, such as forced virginity testing and marriage by abduction, reinforce women’s inferior position in society. Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with up to 50 per cent of young girls being under the age of consent in rural areas (UN Women – Zimbabwe).
Creators of Peace (CoP) is a programme of Initiatives of Change (IofC) International. One of the activities of this programme is called Creators of Peace Circles which are small, localized community gatherings of women who work through material designed to deepen their understanding of each other and their peace creating capabilities. Individual healing is one outcome of the Peace Circles but also, as importantly, the programme is designed to inspire women to look at how they live and to be effective agents for change in their families and communities, using their healing as liberation to go beyond themselves, to tackle the injustices and hurts around them.
In 2012 two women, Angie Katito and Adelaide Mhunduru, developed a calling to take CoP to their home country Zimbabwe after going to a CoP conference in Caux, IofC International's conference centre in Switzerland. In 2013 the first Peace Circle was held in Gweru, their home town and hub of IofC activities.
Angie and Adelaide have been members of IofC, commonly known as Moral Re-Armament (MRA) Zimbabwe, since the 1980s. Their conviction is now leading hundreds of women and men too, through Peace Circles, making ripples through the province.
In 2016 they delivered 11 Peace Circles and several follow-up sessions, they have another six planned before the middle of this year. 'Delivering Peace Circles gives me great satisfaction, that we can impact our community for the good' commented Adelaide, who is also a Pastor. These two extremely dedicated women love their work but are stretched by their limited capacity to meet the needs of the province. They have a great wish to spread CoP around Zimbabwe by training further facilitators to carry the work load and deliver this gift to more people.
'Family disharmony that comes from the current economic situation, is the most common issue we find women are dealing with', stated Adelaide. With Zimbabwe's unemployment at over 90%, many men are without a job so there is pressure on women to make ends meet. 'From the Peace Circle manual, our Circles tend to focus on two of the topics - ‘forgiveness’ and ‘what destroys peace’, as there are many financial challenges in communities which bring poverty, and this is one factor that destroys peace' Angie explained.
Another issue that makes CoP extremely relevant and needed in Zimbabwe is the tribal conflict. The past war caused conflict between the two ethnic groups (Shona and Ndebele). The ruling party is led by one major tribe and the minority tribe has suffered. 'There is a lot of bitterness in Zimbabwe due to the different ethnic groups' commented Adelaide. Gweru is in the middle of Zimbabwe (the Midlands province) it therefore comprises a population from both tribes. 'In nearly every Peace Circle we run there are members from both tribes that for years have been in conflict' stated Angie, as she explained how the Circles help build bridges, and sometimes friendships, between women of the opposing tribes. 'CoP is relevant to both tribes to reconcile them'.
During the last Circle, one woman commented, 'after participating in a Peace Circle, I was encouraged to apologise to someone in the village (who was in the room), he accepted and now our renewed friendship has affected the rest of our community. There is now a clear difference in our behaviours’, talking of an issue that was largely down to tribal divisions.
The two women conduct at least one follow-up session with the community to find out how the group have been since the Peace Circle and what learnings have stayed with them. Also to check-in to see if the group have addressed any of the issues that were discussed in the Circle. For example, in one Circle a woman had not spoken to her immediate family for many years. After the Peace Circle she was moved to apologise to them and this gesture restored the family's relationship, impacting a number of people.
In a recent follow-up, Angie and Adelaide found out that one participant's son and wife were going to divorce and she managed to keep them together using the skills she learned at the Peace Circle. 'Now the son and his wife are happy' said Angie happily. 'There are many, many as powerful stories'.
Word spreads quickly about the two women and the Creators of Peace programme. They have been invited back to three different communities to give Peace Circles to other members. 'Word spreads that it is a useful experience. In Ascot (a suburb of Gweru), several relationships were restored after the Peace Circle so they invited us back to run three more! The community has changed’ remarked Angie. Angie and Adelaide have at times also approached other individuals in the community to try and resolve a conflict. For example, a lady shared in a Peace Circle that she has many challenges with her daughter-in-law which affected her relationship with her son. Angie and Adelaide got the daughter-in-law and lady together to have an honest conversation and following this they were told that the situation had dramatically improved.
Angie and Adelaide have hopeful plans for the future of CoP in Zimbabwe. Their wish is to train more women to deliver further Peace Circles, and their dream is to approach the President of Zimbabwe with the methods and techniques of CoP and IofC to bring change to the country, just like team members of IofC (then MRA) did in the 1970s. They have already had a meeting with the city of Gweru councillor’s wives, hoping to reach the councillors and bring change to the city that way. ‘There was no outcome as such but we are still hoping to continue with this approach’ stated Adelaide.
These two ladies are doing remarkable work, selflessly. There are long-term outcomes for families and practical social benefits of change following Peace Circles. A number of women keep in touch with Angie and Adelaide, informing them how happy they are with their lives now after restoring relationships, months after the Circle. For example, one mother and daughter send photos of them on holidays together years later and thanked CoP Zimbabwe for getting their relationship back.
‘You have given us wisdom which brings us healing. You have enlightened us to see the right way of living. Thank you for coming to our village and bringing your gift of training’, stated the grateful chief of a village in Shurugwi.