This week in Nairobi 20 people from around the world have gathered together under the African sun to share their experiences as peacebuilders in conflict zones. They have come from countries engulfed by war, like Afghanistan and Congo DRC, countries struggling to make peace work, like Sri Lanka and Timor l’Est, and countries threatened by the prospect of violence, like Sudan.
These are extraordinary people. The lawyer who gave up her career to return to a war-torn homeland in the Himalayas. The youth group leader from a desert village who pays his staff but not himself. The pastor who reports on guerrilla war in the African bush as a form of Christian witness.
Gather them together in one place for three days and you have a world of experience, knowledge and aspiration to share with each other. You have the smiles when people who risk their lives on a daily basis realise they are not alone. And the laughter at what has worked for some.
And then you have the unanswered questions about everything that still needs to work everywhere. How do we get the politicians to listen? How do we reach out to the combatants? How do we protect the youth? Above all, how do we persuade the international system to let the locals lead the peace?
The answers come sometimes from what other peacebuilders tell us they have done. Sometimes they come from the brainstorm sessions we hold together and record on yellow cards pasted across the walls of our conference room. And sometimes they come, in a rush that is close to tears, when someone at breakfast tells you why they must go on.
The buzz is as high as the heat. Right now small knots of people are hammering out how to measure the impact of what they do: how to know when peace is improving? They argue, they laugh, they tell stories, they touch hands.
Someone has brought five squidgy rubber balls and these go whizzing through the air, thrown and caught between us, spanning the room. Sometimes these little electrons are expected with a smile and a nod. Sometimes they surprise and shock. They carry the energy and the friendship of this global meeting. It’s a room full of flying ideas spinning across the world.