As a relatively new entrant into the field of peace building through my selection into the Dialogue Fiji committee, I have always wondered why dialogue was not a popular choice for peace building efforts in the past.
The more I read of its successful applications in other contexts and situations, the more I wonder why and how this obviously successful, capacity building, solution-based approach is not widely used as the “go-to” tool for problem solving.
From where I sit, not just as someone who works in the civil society sector but as a youth, it almost seems like there is already so much knowledge on “what not to do” rather than “what to do”. Why isn’t dialogue on the top of the list of ‘Needs to Be Done to Fix This’ for communities and groups who find themselves in conflict and crisis situations?
When I think about youths and how we can effectively hear from them, I cant help but ask whether methodologies of Dialogue can be adapted, to make it more hip and in with the “crowd” while keeping to its core purpose.
The world witnessed a wave of powerful youth uprisings across the globe in 2011. While their issues were different, the feelings were similar. They were disappointed and frustrated.
They might not have been considered important before within their own countries but I'm sure, that perception has changed now. I think if the decision makers in those countries genuinely valued youths (and they should, Time magazine has said the central, underlying feature of the Middle East's crisis is a massive youth bulge), they would have realised that youths participation is critical to the ongoing prosperity and stability of their countries.
Youths are not looking for anything complicated, just the opportunity to air their fears, concerns, hear from their leaders and be able to contribute their strengths for solutions and build a future that they can look forward to.
For me, that starting point is dialogue. Furthermore, making sure the current dialogue process is youth friendly, inclusive and participatory.
Perhaps as we are exploring these, we can also consider incorporating into the process activities that allow us to tap into the creativity, optimism, passion and excitement of young people. I believe the Dialogue Fiji secretariat has its work cut-out for them for the year; these suggestions are at best recommendations towards 2013.
In summary, how do we use dialogue to contribute to the building of our nation as we move towards mid 2012? And how do we ensure that this time around (as compared to 1987 and 2000),
· youths are included,
· are capacity built and encouraged to contribute effectively,
· and most importantly begin leading Fiji into the future using a culture of dialogue and understanding.
AS our country's attention shifts to the upcoming constitutional process, the way human rights are enshrined in the new constitution is also a very important issue.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights ù Article 18: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in a community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance".
This freedom was guaranteed in the 1997 Constitution's Bill of Rights (Chapter 4, Section 35 on Religion and Belief).
Perhaps the time is right for us as a people to think deeply about the importance of religious tolerance in our country and how we can ensure that this issue that has been and maintains the potential for massive divisions in Fiji can be properly addressed in the process to develop a new constitution.
There have been many examples at the grassroots level as well on a national level of positive influence by religious groups and institutions ù social justice programmes, awareness campaigns, civic education ù the promotion of high morals and compassionate behaviour and the like.
These good deeds, however, have been overshadowed by negative actions over the past three decades ù political interference, religious intolerance, systematic attempts to impose one religion on others.
Intolerance and conflict is not limited to differences of religion (inter-religious) but also to issues such as doctrine, rituals, power and finance, within religions (intra-religious).
Sadly, this is most obvious among the wide Christian community ù the largest religious grouping in the country.
Differences of doctrine, methods of evangelism, proselytism of members of other Christian denominations (sheep-stealing), clashes in personality, power struggles and perceived or real political agendas have led to a fragmentation of the "Body of Christ" in Fiji.
Evidence for this can be seen in the formation of organisations like the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji, the lapse of the Fiji Council of Churches and the emergence of breakaway churches.
Add to this intra-religious turmoil, a lack of appreciation or tolerance of other religions and you have fertile soil for prejudice and religious bigotry ù insults (such as calling someone an "idol-worshipper") or even worse the desecration of religious of worship, and religious violence.
Living in Asia, where Christianity is just one of many world religions (in fact a minority and sometimes oppressed religion) has reinforced my view that tolerance and understanding in a multi-faith country such as Fiji is crucial to the "peace and prosperity" for which this nation searches.
The strange thing is that many of us have relatives and friends who either belong to a different denomination or religious community.
I may be an anomaly as a Methodist minister, with a Roman Catholic wife, Anglican children (including a goddaughter and godson) and relatives who are not only Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, Jehovah's Witness, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, but also Sanatani, Arya Samaj, Sai devotees, members of the Fiji Muslim League, Baha'i and agnostic.
However, pluralism within the family or extended family is becoming an accepted norm, no matter how hard conservatives fight against it.
Why then is religious tolerance practised within the family or the community, but not outside it?
For a number of years, a small group of people dedicated religious tolerance and understanding have met on a monthly basis to share what the scriptures of their faith have to say on a particular topic or issue ù from the subject of integrity to the issue of HIV and AIDS.
The group, Interfaith Search Fiji, is not about syncretism or the mixing of religions, but about creating understanding and appreciation through dialogue.
Unfortunately this small but successful model has not yet been accepted or endorsed by the main religious groups and has on occasion been criticised by fringe groups.
This however does not have to be the end of the story.
Our new constitution needs to provide a mechanism to provide a safe space for dialogue as well as provide the platform for co-operation on social, health and other issues as well as assist in the mobilisation of communities in times of natural disaster.
The seeds of religious tolerance have been planted through the recognition of significant holy days such as Christmas, Prophet Mohammed's Birthday, Lent, Holi, Easter (both Good Friday and Easter "Resurrection" Sunday), Ramadan, Eid, Diwali, etc by convention as well as by legislation.
As we begin the process of growing a new constitution (even if the seed is the People's Charter), each one of us is called to nurture this plant until it is a tree from which we all can eat.
"Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity".
* Visit Rev James Bhagwan's blog: http://thejournalofaspiritualwonderer.blogspot.com
Recognising the fear endemic around land issues in Fiji Dialogue and Peace building initiatives are necessary at the national level with key stakeholders. To this end, several land owners and tenants workshops have been conducted by CCF over the last decade.
But in the last five years, and under media censorship, open debate on the conflict over the future of land use rights and administration in Fiji appears to have simmered down.
At present the conflict over the future of land use rights and administration in Fiji is ethnically and politically polarized at the state institutional levels between those who support the Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act (ALTA) and those who reject ALTA and want native and state leases administered by the iTaukei Land Trust Board (TLTB) under the iTaukei Land Trust Act (TLTA). The advocates of the latter position were previously indigenous Fijian leaders in the former NLTB, the Council of Chiefs and government coalition of the SDL/CAMV political parties. The landowners and tenants at the grassroots have little understanding of this division at the state level.
In the CCF experience of community dialogues and civic education, one of the lessons learned is that complex problems are better resolved when there is a good understanding of the issues involved by individuals, groups and stakeholders at the primary and local level, for example with local tenant communities and the local land-owning group. Such decentralised approaches can go even further in promoting local level dialogue based on a local level capacity to deal with all the dimensions of land conflict. Such an approach may reach even further to examine local level conflict resolution mechanisms.
Fiji Council of Social Services chairman, Nemani Buresova and youth advocate, Mereoni Chung are new additions to the Dialogue Fiji Committee for 2012.
The two were elected at the Citizen’s Assembly that took place at the Studio Six Conference room on February 9th.
Nemani who has been a regular participant of Dialogue Fiji events is also a Bishop with the Latter Day Saints Church and is a respected advocate for the work of Civil Society Organisations in Fiji while Mereoni is an employee of the Citizen’s Constitutional Forum.
Mereoni holds personal interests in civil society work being a member of the Youth Coalition Fiji, Drodrolagi Movement and was a member of the Fiji delegation to the 1st Pacific Youth Festival in Noumea, Tahiti in 2006.
“The opportunity to be a member of the committee presents a chance to contribute directly to an organisation that promotes peacebuilding and national development,” Mereoni said
Fiji Times article on DF committee member, Kelerayani Gavidi -
My Special Connection with art
Dialogue Fiji secretariat staff and committee last week held a farewell lunch for program officer, Zena Sherani as she resigned to join the University of the South Pacific.
Zena who had been with the secretariat since November 2010 said she appreciated the value of networks she had developed and the knowledge and experience of effective dialogue tools and processes.
“I take this opportunity to thank you all for your continuous efforts in dialogue and peacebuilding initiatives from within your communities in Fiji,” she said in a farewell note emailed to staff, committee members and stakeholders.
She thanked the DF secretariat team for their support during her stint at DF including the numerous late nights at the office to tie up loose ends before dialogue events.
“And braving adverse weather conditions and driving in places with humps twice the size of bricks and roads which are narrow, curvy and filled with pot holes when meeting up with dialogue participants,” she said.
In her farewell note she also introduced her successor, George Nacewa and urged stakeholders to continue to provide their support to him after her departure.
George joins DF secretariat from InterfaithFiji and is not new to Dialogue Fiji having been a past participant and a 2010 Dialogue Facilitator trainee.
George said he looked forward to working closely with all stakeholders as a member of DF Secretariat to bring about positive change in alignment with Dialogue Fiji’s vision and mission.
Dialogue in Colour: A conversation with DF committee member and youth artist Kelerayani Gavidi about her painting titled Dialogue in Colour. The painting featured on Dialogue Fiji’s 2012 calendar. 8000 copies of the calendar was distributed throughout
DF: How long did it take you to come up with the concept of the painting?
The concept took me two days to finally figure out.
DF: Can you describe the painting?
Its a painting done in acrylics. The painting highlights the colourful nature of dialogue. Dialogue is an animated as well as a serious process that requires inclusiveness and openness. Various interest groups are represented by the persons sitting in a circle. They don’t just include men, there are women and young people as well. The faces looking in from all angles are members of society and the interest groups that the main characters represent. They look hopefully to the process. Will it be effective and efficient? Dialogue can be exactly that
DF: Are there reasons for the choice of colours you’ve used in this painting?
The colours are very random, They are there to show the differences in people. I wanted something very bright and very retro to capture the eyes first and then capture the interest in the obvious dialogue.
DF: How did you feel about the finished product?
I'm happy with it.
DF: Have you ever received any formal art training if not, then how did you develop this talent/skill?
I did do a few art courses but I have always had this interest even before the training. I love art!
DF: Is this the first time your artwork has been distributed nationally through Fiji Times? If so, how did you feel about that?
In the Fiji times yes, but I have had previous art pieces produced on stamps, posters and books.
DF: As a youth representative on the committee of DF, what are your feelings about the potential of using the arts to promote dialogue particularly for youths?
I think the potential is enormous and cannot be denied! Using creative arts even in dialogue will make it interesting and it will allow for greater interpretation and understanding!
DF: Any other comments?
It was a pleasure doing this art piece for DFS.
In thinking about what to say in this brief reflection, I looked up “dialogue” on the internet. There were over 80 references to the term and, in particular, to dialogue in Fiji during the past ten years. In a sense this surprised me, but really, it is understandable.
Dialogue may be a foreign word for most Pacific islanders but in essence it is the same process as “talanoa” – a concept well know to all of us who live in this part of the world.
Both dialogue and talanoa seek to achieve better understanding and co-operation across relationships. They attempt to advance knowledge and viewpoints about issues. They strive to reduce ill feeling and foster goodwill and respect. They envisage discussion in a controlled and safe arena.
Both dialogue and talanoa are positive concepts and the outcomes are usually productive. No one owns the process. But groups of people, like Dialogue Fiji, facilitate procedures so that individuals can exercise their basic human right to express themselves freely on matters that impact on their lives.
Ths is your new blog post. Click here and start typing, or drag in elements from the top bar.
Dialogue Fiji seeks to fill the following full-time positions:
JOB PURPOSE: Reporting to the Dialogue Fiji Committee, the Coordinator will be required to:
· Take lead role in identifying, researching, financing and developing appropriate actions and key opportunities of relevance to Dialogue Fiji’s goal and objectives
· Take lead role in creating, researching, planning, funding and implementation of the Dialogue Fiji Initiative which include programme management and systematic narrative and financial reporting on all activities
· Implement appropriate orientation and training for Committee, staff and volunteers
· Supervise secretariat staff and volunteers
· Facilitate the work of the DF Committee
Knowledge and Experience
· Strong communication and inter-personal skills essential
· Strong organisational skills essential
· Strong consensus building skills essential
· Experience in project management an advantage
· Ability to work independently while being a strong team player
· Ability to work in a fast paced environment requiring multi-tasking and work under pressure
· Knowledge and experience of peacebuilding and dialogue processes an advantage
POSITION: PROJECT OFFICER
JOB PURPOSE: Reporting to the Dialogue Fiji Coordinator, the Project Officer will be required to:
· Take lead role in researching, implementing and reporting dialogue activities
· Take lead role in monitoring and evaluating dialogue events
· Maintain Dialogue Fiji network
Knowledge and Experience
· Relevant academic background in social science
· Strong organisational and communication skills essential
· Ability to work in a team and independently
· Ability to meet deadlines and travel extensively
· Ability to interact with people of diverse cultures
Application deadlines and procedure:
Applicants should send a detailed CV with 3 referees and a cover letter stating (a) reasons for applying and (b) how you meet the criteria for the relevant position stated above to:
The Coordinator, Dialogue Fiji, GPO Box 14725, Suva
Applications should be received no later than Friday 27th January 2012.
Only shortlisted candidates will be contacted.
For more information visit www.dialoguefiji.com
A Message from Dialogue Fiji Committee founding member,
Mrs Suliana Siwatibau.
From its tentative beginnings in Port Vila in May 2008, Dialogue Fiji has grown into a coalescence of peoples and organisations intent on walking together in a
process of national dialogue to help steer our country to peace, prosperity and
stability. It is our hope that the coalescence will continue to expand both in
participant numbers and in geographic coverage throughout Fiji.
We see great richness in harnessing ideas, and goodwill from our multi-cultural society.
Dialogue Fiji recognises that we live in a wounded society where suspicions and rejection lie close to the surface and any coming together must be facilitated with great sensitivity. We therefore resolutely affirm basic principles of inclusiveness, creating a safe space for open exchange, trust and confidentiality.
The practical implementation of our basic principles means that we accept all views as valid – given the context. We judge no one. We separate the person from the views, opinions and actions. We respect each person’s input into the dialogue and acknowledge each contribution as made in trust and in
We have hope that people will join our process because we believe that we all have the same goal for our country no matter our differences. In the words of our national anthem – we strive for “A land of freedom, hope and glory”.
Freedom is achieved with courage. Do we have the courage to acknowledge our mistakes and the hurt we have brought upon others in our society? Do we have the courage to come together to begin dialogue and move towards forgiveness and reconciliation? We need to begin by forgiving ourselves and accepting that for each of us, the action is not the person. We can all learn from past mistakes and move on.
Dialogue has to be the beginning of forgiveness and reconciliation for our wounded society. It will not be possible if we continue to stand back in non-engagement. We invite all citizens of Fiji to search deep within themselves for the spark of compassion that recognises our common humanity and therefore our different roles in building peace for our society.
Together we can achieve our dreams.