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Image credit: Lynn Erskine
In May, as the U.S. Congress debated an expansion of its authority to intervene militarily in Somalia, our Somali partners visited Washington and Minnesota to share their innovative peacebuilding work.
Isse Abdullahi directs the Social Life and Agricultural Development Organization (SADO), which provides young people with job training and conflict resolution skills. Halima Farah Godane leads the Somali Women Solidarity Organization and recently contributed to the insightful report, Women, Conflict and Peace: Learning from Kismayo. Peace Direct brought these two leaders to Washington, DC and Minneapolis to brief policymakers, funders and NGOs on their courageous work addressing violent extremism in Somalia. It was a packed schedule.
In Washington, Isse and Halima spoke at a policy briefing on peacebuilding in Somalia hosted by Peace Direct and the Friends Committee on National Legislation; met with USAID and the State Department; dined with peace and security academics; and gave a radio interview on Voice of America. In these meetings, they answered questions about their work countering Al-Shabaab recruitment, clan meetings to empower women, and the costs of job training. It was intense and eye-opening. Congressional visits focused on their work in Somalia in relation to U.S. legislation such as the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act and The Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.
As I listened to Halima describe her peacebuilding work and Isse share his job training success (while also translating for his colleague), I felt deeply honored. Peace Direct has a unique mission and these visitors illustrated precisely why local organizers and educators are key to sustainable peace. It works. The U.S. will spend an astounding $700 billion on military expenditures next year. We instead need to greatly increase funding for the local peacebuilders.
“It was an amazing and beneficial trip for our work.” – Isse Abdullahi, Somali peacebuilder
On to Minnesota, home to the largest population of Somalis in the country, where Isse and Halima shared their peacebuilding work with local Somali groups and Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame, and enjoyed the wonderful Somali community thriving there: food, dress and music. They also spoke about their work to members of the Peace and Security Funders Group. In St. Cloud, they toured the Science and Engineering department at St. Cloud State University and discussed collaborating on a potential project.
This was the first time Peace Direct brought Somali partners to the United States, and the synergy could not have been anticipated. The meetings fostered real connections and camaraderie. Our Somali partners made a strong case for more funding, technical support and student scholarships. As they explained, the World Bank and the UNDP predict that Somalia will be dependent on international expertise for at least a decade to rebuild after years of war. For Somalis to lead their own future, as we know they can do, Peace Direct will continue to support groups such as SADO and the Somali Women Solidarity Organization.
Lynn Erskine, Washington, DC
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