Facilitating peace in local communities

By Maiden Manzanal-Frank, Rotary Peace Fellow

In 2015, I completed my Rotary Peace Fellowship in peace and conflict resolution at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. Peace and conflict resolution provided another layer of perspective I needed to be more adaptive and effective in my work with communities and organizations. After my Rotary Peace Fellowship, I moved from British Columbia to central Alberta, Canada, which I now call home. Shortly thereafter, I collaborated with the Centre for Peace and Justice at Burman University in Lacombe, Alberta to assist community leaders in addressing some of the issues regarding social cohesion, misunderstanding, and misinformation through dialogues, learning and education, and collaborative projects.

Central Alberta is home to small centers and rural areas with large farming communities and a long-time supplier to the oil and gas sectors for generations. With a recession that hit the province over the past few years, the slow recovery has taken a toll on small businesses, government spending, and low-income families’ ability to make ends meet. There are increasing social issues such as addiction, homelessness, mental health, and a growing lack of support services for the aged and the disabled.

During a recent podcast event with the Alberta Social Innovation Connect, a Calgary-based organization that promotes social innovation in the province, I reflected on my work thus far, building strong and cohesive communities in Central Alberta and what it takes to move the needle on collaboration and cooperation. Rural communities have the lifestyle and freedom of solitude, making it harder to bring these communities together to work on issues that can only be solved through collaboration. For example, the recent issues of homelessness and addictions have made smaller communities more vulnerable given the lack of adequate support. Community leaders tend to think about constraints and limitations when it comes to resources and overlook the abundance of assets and strengths that they can readily access. In my work with the Centre for Peace and Justice, we examined commonalities  and issues we could support and assessed what resources already existed and not to duplicate efforts.

Promoting peace in our community means forming peace partnerships, leveraging common grounds for the common good, and using creative and innovative ways to address persistent issues with people that will be affected by the transformation being envisioned. It is about changing limited mindsets, enlarging the scope of vision to encompass everyone’s ideas, and using practical wisdom that comes from working together and trusting one another. It is both a process and a journey.

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