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The Common Ground Blog is an initiative of (Search for Common Ground), an international non-governmental organization (NGO), headquartered in Washington and Brussels, whose mission is to transform the way the world deals with conflict - away from adversarial confrontation towards cooperative solutions. (more info)

Fishing for Change in the Niger Delta

March 14, 2013

By John Lynch & Stephanie Fagan

We want to share a story with you from Nigeria’s Niger River Delta.

It begins with Oyowe, a widowed fisherman from Kobe. Oyowe’s community knew him as a tireless worker whose sole purpose was to provide for his adopted daughter, Tosan. One day, while pulling up fish from the river, Oyowe noticed a gang of youth dumping toxic waste into the water. He confronted the group and reported their illegal activities to the police. Oyowe did what he had to in order to protect his livelihood and the community’s ecosystem. Sadly, this act of bravery cost Oyowe his life. In retribution for telling the police, the gang members murdered Oyowe and raped his daughter.

This tragic series of events leads us to Sissy Caro – Oyowe’s sister-in-law and now acting guardian of Tosan.  At first, Sissy wanted vengeance for the pain inflicted on her family. However, she realized that striking back against the gang would only escalate the violence.  So, she decided that real change happens when you address the root of a problem – why were boys in the community joining gangs? To find answers, Sissy brought people, families, and communities together to discuss illegal dumping, rape, and the effects armed conflict on the Niger Delta. Kids listen to radio

The surprise ending to this story is that Sissy Caro doesn’t exist. Well, not exactly. While her struggle is one that Niger Deltans face every day, Sissy is actually a character from the Search radio drama, “Day Don Break ” through our Tomorrow is a New Day project.  We learned on World Radio Day that radio moves people in the same way as TV shows and movies. Story-telling, through any format, provides us with new ideas on how to address our own problems, and shows us that we do not struggle alone.

There is more to this show than just entertainment; it’s an outreach tool that helps facilitate constructive dialogues on painful issues. Although Sissy is a fictional character, she has practical ideas about how to bring change to conflict-laden Niger Delta communities. Each week, the fifteen-minute show is followed by an on-air discussion about relevant topics addressed in the latest episode.  Local celebrities and community leaders moderate the after show and use it as a tool to reconcile problems that affect the public. “Day Don Break” is only halfway through its twenty-six episodes, but it has the potential to transform the dynamic in the Niger Delta.

The Trauma Healing Assessment adviser, clinician and local research assistant plan their movements for the day

The Trauma Healing Assessment adviser, clinician and local research assistant plan their movements for the day

Another way Tomorrow is a New Day facilitates peace  is through trauma-healing activities, in which Search sends psychology professionals into distressed communities to start a productive dialogue. The program tailors its outreach to each unique circumstance and enables the type of community healing that Sissy Caro demonstrates in “Day Don Break.” Franklin Moulin, a local participant of the Tomorrow is a New Day project said this:

If it were not for TND, I would have still been looking out for what my community could do for me rather than what I can do to develop my community.

Franklin’s experiences with the TND project have inspired him to run for local office in the Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area.

It turns out that life can imitate art just as much as art imitates life. Sissy’s problems are highly realistic and so are her solutions. The Niger Delta experienced unfathomable tragedies in the past decades. The hope is that programs like “Day Don Break” and Tomorrow is a New Day will help make positive, lasting change in the community. Click to read more about our programs in Nigeria or to listen to Day Don Break.

International Women’s Day Part III: The Young & Progressive in Tunisia

March 7, 2013

The final installment of our blog series celebrating International Women’s Day finishes in Tunisia, with two empowered young women, destined to become future leaders in their country.

You might ask yourself: Why has Search, a peacebuilding organization, dedicated decades to women’s empowerment? For one, women are key voices in the pursuit of peace. In Liberia, a group of women put the pressure on the politicians to make peace. Second, violence is not only physical action like war or domestic abuse. Ways of thinking and talking can be violent. Laws can be violent. When we seek women’s empowerment, we’re working to end violence against women in all its forms.

Take Tunisia, for example. Women played an instrumental role in the 2011 revolution. Since then, Search has been building up women leaders for peace.

National Meeting of Youth Councils in Tunisia- group photo

National Meeting of Youth Councils in Tunisia- group photo

Nour El Houda Bayou, 30, and Rania Jmii, 31, serve on Search’s Youth Leadership Councils. Both young women attended Search’s recent National Youth Leaders Meeting. The initiative brought together youth leaders of different regions, ideologies, political affiliations, and religious views for the first time at the national level. Nour and Rania were kind enough to share their thoughts how Search’s leadership project in Tunisia has impacted their lives.

How are women traditionally perceived and treated in your community?

Nour: There is no real equity and equality between men and women. Women have a lot of rights in Tunisia compared to other Arab countries, but we are not necessarily respected.

Rania: It is far from the level required… Some women are their own worst enemy; they believe that they are naturally inferior to men.

What have you learned from working with Search?

Tunisa meetNour: Before, I was very stubborn and bossy. I have learned to listen to other points of view and seek common ground.

How do you feel youth council has impacted your life?

Rania: Through this experience I realized that the disagreements, clashes, and disputes are just futile. The group’s interest is what is most important.

What is your favorite thing about being on the council?

Nour: The very strong relationships I have built with youths not only in Zaghouan, but at a national level. We share the same mind-set; we saw and felt this during the first national meeting.

Rania: The success of the first round table was just unbelievable. The number of attendees and the interest they showed… was amazing. This will remain as a special moment in my mind.

What progress have you seen since being on the youth council?

Nour: We think, we commit, and then we act. We now know where we want to go and have a strategy.

Rania: The cohesion of the group is strong and the intellectual skills have improved. We are moving really fast towards our goals.


How do you see yourself as a leader now in your community and what do you hope to accomplish?

Nour: The civil society now shares our ideas and perspectives on the different issues in Zaghouan. Our work model is inspiring new associations. We are well known and trustworthy. Our objective is to be a link between all the civil society organizations in Zaghouan and to try to efficiently work and change together.

Rania: I can convince and transform my idea into reality. For the interest of my region, especially the youth, I’m working with the youth council to improve conditions at the local level.

If there is one thing you want people to know, what would it be?

Rania: Search’s program has literally changed my life. You must believe in your full potential and what you can really achieve by committing to your values and ambition!

On International Women’s Day, we recognize women making a difference. Nour and Rania are two such women. They rejected restrictive cultural norms and took hold of their own destinies. These women are natural born leaders, and their presence on the Youth Leadership Council helps to solidify women’s place in Tunisia’s future political structure. So let’s celebrate these women! Happy International Women’s Day!!!

For more information on our projects in Tunisia click here.

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International Women’s Day Part II: In Charge in Indonesia

March 7, 2013

Strength. Confidence. Wisdom.

Three traits we would want in any leader. Three traits these Indonesian female parliament members carry in spades.

Watch the obstacles these women overcome in order to improve the lives of their constituents and increase the role that women play in the decision-making process.

These women’s achievements are testament to their intelligence and determination. Moreover, we are proud to say that SFCG’s Transformational Women’s Leadership Program (TWL) provided them with needed support along the way. Watch this video to hear their stories:

Watch the video below to learn how SFCG’s outreach and training programs inspired these women and provided female legislators with the tools that they need to succeed!

Check back tomorrow to learn more about International Women’s Day and the work Search is doing to empower women in Tunisia.  Click here to read the first part of our International Women’s Day blog series, The Art of Peace.

International Women’s Day Part I: The Art of Peace

March 6, 2013

By Alicia Clifton

This is the first part of our blog series celebrating International Women’s Day, March 8th. At Search, we work to end violence against women and empower them to be leaders for peace.  This blog series will visit women leaders around the world who are making an impact in their communities and paving a new way for the next generation of women. The first stop is Nepal:

BEFORE SFCG Training: Sunaina’s painting of a woman going to her wedding.

BEFORE SFCG Training: Sunaina’s painting of a woman going to her wedding.

Surrounded by lush forests and marshes, Sunaina lives at the base of the Himalayan mountains. She practices a revered Nepali art, called Mithila painting. Her paintings always depicted the same themes: women getting married, keeping house, and watching children. The women in Sunaina’s village are restricted from working, community events, and leadership positions. Often trapped in their own homes by society’s norms, women barely speak to others, except family members.

Two years ago, Search began training Sunaina and her neighbors to become leaders and resolve conflicts in their community. The 10-year long civil war is still fresh in the minds of many villagers.  Nepalis across the country lost their homes and family members in the war. In Sunaina’s village, we brought women together across dividing lines to learn and solve community problems.

After the training, we gave Sunaina a small grant of seed money. She used it to train other women in Mithila painting and start a cooperative to sell their work.

The change in these women is obvious in their art. 

Sunaina proudly explains the first painting she created after her Search for Common Ground training (right):

AFTER SFCG Training: Sunaina’s painting of a woman in a leadership position.

AFTER SFCG Training: Sunaina’s painting of a woman in a leadership position.

“My painting shows my dream of a woman speaking with a microphone to men, women, and children in her village. It shows that women have a vision for leadership and living in peace with all kinds of people.”

This is the first time our Nepali staff had ever seen a Mithila painting of a community listening to what a woman has to say. Not only do women in Nepal think about themselves differently because of Search’s program, they are brave enough to tell the world about it through their paintings.

Join us these next few days as we acknowledge the brave women like Sunaina taking a stand in their communities. Next stop, Indonesia!

Alicia Clifton loves growing food and going new places. She is the author of a Gender Issues article on the impact of culture on gender-based violence. Alicia has a Master’s degree in international development and conflict resolution from Emory University. She is currently the Strategic Development Coordinator at SFCG.

Meet the characters of The Team: Tanzania!

February 21, 2013


Can gender issues be entertaining?

With edge-of-your-seat drama and nail-biting suspense that make you beg for more each week, The Team: Tanzania entertains while it educates. The hope is the TV show will spark up discussion on gender issues and heighten understanding in Tanzanian communities.

Despite the existence of women’s rights laws, women are still marginalized and vulnerable in Tanzanian society. Most women are aware of their legal rights, but are unsure how to advocate for themselves in the face of heavily patriarchal norms.

The Team: Tanzania, which addresses these issues in a surprisingly captivating way, launches today on EATV in Tanzania! So let’s meet the story’s movers and shakers:

Malaika Wito: A courageous and determined secondary school teacher who sets out to empower her students by coaching the school’s female soccer team. In a place where gender division is an issue, Ms. Wito brings unity, understanding, and positive change to the community.

Upendo: Outspoken, stubborn, and strong willed, Upendo is a natural leader among her peers in Ms. Wito’s class, though her personality often gets her into trouble.  She joins Ms. Wito’s soccer team and quickly becomes their star goal keeper. Her parents are Baba Upendo and Safari.

Sophia: When she joins Wito’s soccer team and becomes their striker, Sophia is marginalized by her peers and her boyfriend tries to forbid her from participating. She dumps her dead-beat boyfriend, but can’t dump her questions about cultural norms in her family and her society. Through the series Sophia struggles both with her sense of identity as well as her roller-coaster friendship with Upendo.

TEAM0172Baraka: Upendo’s cousin who is also a member of the boy’s soccer team member. Baraka believes women and men have set roles in society and sports, and when Sophia dumps him because of these values, he turns around and sleeps with Sophia’s sister.

Waridi: Sophia’s sister who is forced into an arranged marriage after Baraka gets her pregnant. She doesn’t share her sister’s questioning attitude towards social norms. Instead, Waridi sees a woman’s value through marriage and family.

Baba and Mama Sophia: Mama Sophia is a very outspoken and strict parent, especially when it comes to keeping Sophia off the soccer team. Aside from believing that it will encourage her daughter to behave badly and act like a man, she blames Waridi’s pregnancy on the game as well. Mama Sophia dominates her husband, Baba Sophia, and what she says goes in the household.

Mr.Kalalu: The womanizing coach of the boy’s soccer team, and Ms. Wito’s #1 enemy. He strongly believes that Wito’s determination to make the girls’ soccer team a success will ruin the school and their community.

Mr. Mwaipopo: The school principal who cares about capability, not gender. He values and supports Ms. Wito’s plan to make a girls’ soccer team, especially since it will keep contractors from illegally seizing the soccer field for development.

The cast members at the premier's screening party.

The cast members at the premiere’s screening party.

Jumbe and Aunty Salome: Jumbe is a journalist along with Baraka’s father and Upendo’s uncle. He supports his niece’s drive on the soccer field, and his wife, Aunty Salome, is a close friend of the hot-tempered Mama Sophia.

Want to know what happens with all these characters? Click here to learn more!

Addressing Masculinity: the Forgotten Half of Gender Studies

February 20, 2013

girlsBy Stephanie Fagan

The key to conflict resolution is…gender!

Really? Yes. You’re joking, right? Nope. Isn’t that oversimplifying? Well, kind of.

It would be better to say that gender is a key part of conflict resolution, but the general sentiment is valid. Think about it! Gender inspires the clothes you wear, the way you speak, your posture, your thoughts, your dreams, etc.  Considering the importance of gender in your daily life, it is only logical to assume that it would play a critical role in conflict resolution.

But what does gender mean? How do we approach it? Who should we discuss it with? These questions and many more were the basis of this month’s Conflict Prevention & Resolution Forum. Hosted by Search for Common Ground, the presentation was entitled “Gender, Masculinity and Conflict Dynamics: Review of Current Practice.” Kathleen Kuehnast, the director of the Center for Gender and Peacebuilding at the US Institute of Peace, moderated the event, while the panel included:

Ambassador Seven E. Steiner~Visiting Expert, United States Institute of Peace

Maria Correia~Social Development Sector Manager, South Asia Region, the World Bank

Joseph Vess~ Senior Programs Officer, Promundo

The forum was an hour and a half of thoughtful discussion among experts in the fields of conflict resolution and gender studies. I know that not everyone who wanted to participate was able to make it to the event. So, as a conciliation prize, here are the top five things I took away from the forum:

1.       Problems are complex

Everyone in the peacebuilding field would like to achieve world peace, but unrealistic goals actually hinder progress. There is not one masterful idea that will rid the world of conflict and pain. Disputes are deep-rooted in profound cultural and political differences. We, as peacebuilders, can’t aim for a silver-bullet solution, but rather, should approach conflict resolution in a multifaceted manner.

This is where gender takes center stage. Undoubtedly, gender has a significant impact on peacebuilding. However, gender disputes and issues are not solved instantaneously. Simply putting women at the discussion table does not change socially constructed stereotypes. It does not alter the perception of the role of women in society. Gender issues are as complex as conflict itself. Practitioners must understand the depth of the problems they face and strive towards realistic goals.

 2.       Gender does not mean women

At Tuesday’s panel, Kathleen Kuehnast plainly stated:

“Gender is often seen as a synonym for women.”

Kuehnast and her colleagues expressed frustration with this mentality, which backs numerous one-sided gender outreach programs. The problem with only working with women on gender issues is that femininity and masculinity play equal parts in the gender dynamic. Thus, you cannot properly discuss one while ignoring the other. Still, masculinity is almost entirely disregarded in conflict resolution programs, thus reducing the effectiveness of these initiatives.

3.       Violence is a learned behavior

The speakers stressed that violence is not inherent to men. Children are not born with violence in their hearts nor with a hatred of others. For this reason, it’s vitally important for programs to approach the youth. If society teaches young men that aggression is the equivalent of masculinity, then that mentality becomes ingrained in the next generation. While we work to disassociate adults from this “militarized masculine identity,” it is most important to keep this perception from being passed down to the leaders of tomorrow.

 4.       Gender transformation is essential

In programs that do address masculinity, emphasis is often placed on telling men why aggression is wrong. The fault in this approach is that men are told to change their identities, without being given a proper alternative.  Outreach must go further by explaining that there are different ways to express masculinity. Otherwise, participants are likely to regress to their previous views.

 5.       Economics is a powerful force

While economics may not be my favorite subject in school, Tuesday’s panel taught me about the important role it plays in conflict dynamics. Poor economic circumstances often plague post-conflict communities, leaving many men out of work. The inability to provide for their families threatens their sense of masculinity.

Various conflict resolution programs look to empower women by teaching them job skills. However, when men are excluded from these programs, hostilities begin to blossom. Extending constructive programs on gender to both women and men can help bridge the gender divide rather than reinforce it.

To wrap up, Tuesday’s panel on gender, masculinity, and conflict dynamics was eye-opening. The role of gender in conflict resolution should not be ignored. However, we must be diligent in addressing both femininity and masculinity. Sustainable change occurs when both men and women support equality.

If you are located in the D.C. area and would like to participate in a forum, click here.  Our next forum is the Great Lakes Policy Forum 2-day Event on the Democratic Republic of Congo, February 25-26, 2013, click here to register.


Stephanie Fagan is a graduating senior at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where she studies international affairs with a concentration in contemporary cultures and societies. She believes that understanding nuanced cultural differences is essential to the peace building process. Stephanie is the new media intern at Search for Common Ground.

Why a World Radio Day? Two African Journalists Explain in Their Own Voices

February 13, 2013

Can radio really make a difference?

In the U.S., we think of Billboard’s Top 40 or ESPN Sports when we talk about radio.  We forget that in countries where the literacy rate is low and people cannot afford TVs that radio is the main form of public communication and entertainment.  Search knows the impact radio has in people’s lives, and that’s why we started the Radio for Peacebuilding Africa program. RFPA works to increase the knowledge and skills of radio broadcasters and improve the communication flow between policy makers, civil society members, and radio broadcasters.

Also recognizing radio’s potential and importance, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 13 February as World Radio Day.  UNESCO encourages all countries to celebrate World Radio Day, providing radio stations free resources and messages about the importance of radio from celebrated radio personalities. Among these are two of the winners of the 2012 Radio for Peacebuilding Africa Competition: Umaru Sanda and Ms Hortence Iradukunda, as well as several other journalists Search partners with.

World Radio Day

Umaru and Ms Hortence want to tell you in their own voice how radio has made a difference in their communities and why they celebrate World Radio Day:

Listen to Radio, My Dream by Umaru (in English)

Hi! My name is Umaru Sanda Amadu and I am a journalist with City FM in Accra, Ghana. I am the winner of the Jury’s Special Prize Category of the 2012 Radio for Peacebuilding Africa Awards, organized by Search for Common Ground. To me, radio is the best thing that has happened to humanity. I grew up in a small village not too far from Accra, the national capital of Ghana. I always carried around my own radio set, hoping that one day I would also speak on one. It gave me information about happenings in the country that I could tell to my illiterate family members and other illiterate members of my village. Many years on, my dream became reality and I now find myself almost every day behind powerful microphones in Accra. Here, I have tackled serious issues of national concern. Most important to me, recently, was a story I did to give a voice to the mainly nomadic Fulani ethnic group, which is on the verge of a conflict with crop farmers in the country. The group felt it was misrepresented in the media. My documentary brought the issue into the fore, necessitating reactions from members of society, as well as, security experts who called for urgent action to avoid conflict. My respect for radio increased when I realized that many people call our station’s hotlines with complaints that lead us to collect information for criminal cases.  That shows the confidence Ghanaians have in radio and the purpose it serves. As we mark World Radio Day, it is my belief and hope that a pause button on this phenomenon will never be pressed. Long Live Radio! Long Live Broadcast Journalism – and peace to all!

Listen to World Radio Day by Ms. Hortence  (in French)

My name is Hortense Iradukunda, and I am a producer at Radio Isanganiro in Burundi. I am the winner of the 2012 Radio for Peacebuilding Africa Awards in the Gender Category. Radio has changed my life, as well as the lives of my audience members. In 2007, when I started working in radio, I had no idea about what was happening in other countries. There were many things I was unaware of and, at the beginning, I just did radio to do something.  It took me some time to realize that the problems Burundi’s population faces are my concerns as well. I can give you an example: I produce a weekly show that generally focuses on human rights and, specifically, on women’s rights. When I started this show, I told myself this is how it should be done: I go out to the field, I report what has happened, and the show airs on the radio. But, in fact, I realized that these women should speak up and the reports should include their voices. This is how I learned about the actual problems and began to understand how I could help solve them. So, the radio is my tool to help solve issues, such as, human rights, women’s rights in Burundi, and other areas. I am really proud because I’ve seen many things change in my country since my shows first aired. That gives me great pleasure – it means that I can contribute to changing things in my country. In addition, when it comes to the audience, we receive calls after the show from people who were not aware of certain issues, from others who learned something, from women who learned about their rights, etc. This shows us that there are listeners who benefit from our shows. Therefore, radio greatly contributes to change, both in terms of the journalists who prepare the shows and the audience that listens to them.

If you are interested in learning more about and supporting our radio programs, please click on the links below:

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