The conference was organized by Naomi Enns, the director of the Center for Dialogue and Conflict Transformation. Together with her interns Jesse Diblasi and Mozaina Pulaj, they hosted many artists, scholars, and researchers who came to present on such topics as storytelling for social change, cross-cultural challenges, theater of the oppressed, etc. A volunteer, Ivan Kovtoniuk, shared: “The conference consisted of the plenary meetings, academic presentations, workshops, and evening sessions, all of which were extremely insightful and provided attendees with unique perspectives on storytelling.”
Most of the presenters came from abroad with a few locals participating as well. In an evening event two Lithuanian authors along with others presented on the topic of “Writing to Repair the World.” One of them was Laima Vincė, an author of six works of literary nonfiction, a novel, three children's books, and other works. Also, an artist and a lecturer at LCC International University, Eugenija Kungienė, presented her new children’s book. The two authors presented their work and experience of writing in the context of its relationship to peacebuilding and how literature can be a way to heal through the narratives it builds.
During the evening event “Actors Repairing the World,” Raffi Feghali an international playwright from Lebanon brought participants into the experience of building peace through theatre. Looking at how storytelling impacts peace, he commented “we are not a fixed story, yet we all have a story” and that “the power of a story is in its ability to be told in as many ways as there are humans”.
Event organizers faced an added challenge presented by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. Less than a month away from the conference, Naomi with her team needed to adapt and shift the agenda accordingly. With LCC having one-fifth of its student body from Ukraine, it was imperative that the conference gives space for exploring this horrific war by giving a voice to those affected by it.
On the second day of the conference, the organizers held a Ukrainian Vigil. Ivan, a Ukrainian LCC student, shares that “the premise of the vigil was to highlight the impact of war through sharing student stories, and to call for peace in our God-given land of Ukraine.” A guest from The Corrymeela Community, Hedley Abernethy, who participated in the litany briefly reflected on the event: “I thought it was important to be part of the litany because I think sometimes in Ireland and Northern Ireland, we feel a little bit of hopelessness and a little disconnection with what's going on in Ukraine. What this enabled me to do, and us to do as an organization, is to make that connection very real. It is also important to hear the stories of young people as well - that developed my understanding of what's actually going on. I think in this work the key thing I've learned is about how we develop different levels of understanding. And that enables us to be stronger and much more efficient when it comes to doing something about it.”
Mozaina Pulaj, a third-year International Relations and Development student and Naomi Enns’s intern, shared her insights about the conference as well. Mozaina points out that the highlight of the conference was the Ukrainian Vigil. “I think it was significant due to the current state of world politics. It was displayed as a call for peace from students who are also good friends from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. It was a demonstration that the war is impacting the lives of new generations and their mental health, thus it should be stopped as soon as possible.” The student from Albania also shares that “the biggest value in attending this conference would be the expression of peace stories through arts or means that bring people together despite their religion, gender, or background. As Fernando Enns mentioned in the conference, we must see what there is to celebrate, what the wounds that need healing are, and how can we heal them.
Students were also given the opportunity to share their stories across several workshops, many of which were led by Dr. Wendy Kroeker, Assistant Professor for Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU)and the Director of the Canadian School of Peacebuilding. Dr. Kroeker shared about her experience leading the workshops: “One of the things that have really impressed me during my time here is the willingness of students to enter into a space and share of themselves. One of the highlights was the vulnerability of students as they were sharing their stories of Ukraine. In the four workshops that I did, I asked people to tell stories in a somewhat unconventional way. They entered into it quickly and willingly and showed me their trust, which I felt honored. It shows that something is happening here. The students realized that if they put that into it, they will get something out of it. You don't always find that in university students as they tend to be reserved and stand back a little. But the students here showed that they really want to get something out of this and brought that energy and the willingness to work through the tough times.
Dr. Fernando Enns and Dr. Andrés Pacheco Lozano set the tone of the event in the plenaries by recognizing that peacebuilding is a journey we take that involves our stories of identity, power, and justice. They encouraged us to celebrate our gifts, visit our wounds that need healing, and transform injustice.
LCC would like to thank everyone who helped organize and participated in this event. We appreciate the time and effort dedicated by all toward our common purpose of protecting and restoring peace.