This past week was International Day of Peace. Originally started by the United Nations, this day is dedicated to “strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.” In fact, this year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, an international pillar and symbol of peace.
There are many components that are associated with the idea of peace, such as non-violence, contentment, harmony, respect, and access to the basic needs of life. The Himalayan Institute’s humanitarian projects focus on these, as well as another important part of peace-building: creating effective, accountable and inclusive communities at all levels. Strong, well-intentioned, organized organizations and communities lead to justice, sustainable development, and ultimately, a more peaceful society. Our Humanitarian Division has always focused on rural empowerment, and through strategic community development, we are helping communities grow and empower themselves.
The Himalayan Institute in Cameroon (HIC) has been a leading example of building strong and resilient communities throughout the Northwest region of Africa for over 10 years. From community health centers and public libraries, to women’s empowerment programs and the school of carpentry and construction, Himalayan Institute Cameroon has continued to invest in the local community it serves. A key pillar of the work HIC does is to make sure that local community members are involved every step of the way. This means locals participate in decision making and planning processes, and local leaders manage all health centers, libraries, and other projects. When members of the community are involved at all levels of operation, it creates a stronger bond between the community and the projects, and accounts for solution-based growth designed by local leaders who truly know the needs of their people. This ultimately creates more sustainable well-intentioned and productive communities.
Strong organizations and communities are vital for long-term peace, because resilient communities are better equipped to withstand conflict. In a world riddled with conflicts on both the national and local levels, it is incredibly important now, more than ever, to build and maintain groups that are sincere, trustworthy, and well-rooted in the communities they serve.
An example of this has been illustrated in the city of Kumbo, Cameroon, where there has been ongoing conflict between the local king (the Fon of Nso) and the government and also where the main HIC community center is located. Kumbo is one of the only cities in Cameroon that locally manages their water without government control. Members of the community are loyal to their king, the Fon, and are clashing with government forces who want to control the water supply. This conflict has led to the community water supply being cut off for weeks at a time with little to no warning.
To alleviate this, our local staff worked tirelessly to build an emergency water retention/supply system to overcome the water shortage and in doing so the community has become more resilient in the face of this widespread water crisis. This shows that when a community, region, or country has good leadership and strong institutions, trust and determination, it is much easier to weather intense conflict and maintain unity in the face of difficulty.
Even though this water crisis is a result of a local political dispute, it is indicative of the changing nature of conflict in our world today. Disputes over natural resources are becoming more and more common as a result of climate change, and will only become more magnified and widespread as time goes on. Moving forward, building resilient communities and organizations will be integral in maintaining and advancing peace initiatives worldwide.
The Himalayan Institute’s humanitarian initiatives in Cameroon depend upon the love and support of our donors—the progress and development we have seen over the years could not have been possible without you, and for this we are truly grateful. Together we are creating peaceful communities in Africa and let’s together celebrate this day of peace.