This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Training tomorrow’s Mandelas and Tutus

Oscar Siwali and Dan Smith Derksen look on as participants role-play a peer mediation training exercise.

​Before founding SADRA in 2013, Oscar Siwali worked at the Quaker Peace Centre in Cape Town and for the Centre for Conflict Resolution, conducting workshops for audiences across Africa. He also provided technical assistance to partners and clients of these agencies. Oscar and his wife, Zandi, have three sons. Zandi worked at Rape Crisis for many years before studying for her bachelor of commerce degree at University of Western Cape.

Students trained by Southern African Development and Reconstruction Agency (SADRA) are the next generation of Desmond Tutus, and follow in the footsteps of giants like Nelson Mandela. They have become peace ambassadors in their homes and in their communities.

Four years ago, I launched SADRA with the goal of building a society that embraces nonviolence. Our nonprofit organization provides knowledge and skills to southern Africans through research and training in peaceful methods of resolving conflict.

In a violent South Africa, the significance of training young people to resolve conflicts in their communities cannot be overstated. South African schools are ranked among the most violent in the world, with more than 50 stabbings per year in our Western Cape Province alone.

We work through church renewal and leadership development, peace education in schools, active conflict transformation in communities, and election monitoring. While we work to acknowledge the importance of women’s contribution in all these areas, we pay special attention to women’s roles in peacebuilding and HIV prevention.

Secondary school students trained in peer mediation last year reported instances of using their skills to solve conflicts in their communities. One told of how he helped younger children talk through a problem with a bully. Another conducted lessons with other learners on how to peacefully defuse mounting tensions.

Part of our success is due to Mennonite Mission Network interns – Mikhail Fernandes in 2015 and Nathan Detweiler during January 2016.  [Nathan’s parents, Christine and Phil Lindell Detweiler, served with Mission Network in Liberia, Benin and South Africa.] They made an immense contribution to SADRA’s work.

Now, SADRA is pleased to work with Dan and Kathryn Smith Derksen and their two sons. Their presence moves us from one full-time staff member to three. Kathryn Smith Derksen is a peacebuilding specialist with experience in coalition building, situation analysis, and social justice advocacy work. Some of the Smith Derksens’ main responsibilities include contributing to the strategic leadership of SADRA as a whole, and in particular, to lead the Conflict Transformation in Communities program by ensuring financial viability through fundraising and effective management. They will also conduct research, and develop and conduct training interventions.

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