Mary Coffman volunteered with Shalom in September, 2010. Here is her story.
I learned about Shalom online while researching peace education organizations in post- conflict Africa. I remember being surprised that it was so difficult to find many organizations doing nonviolence trainings of peace education in communities, and so I was especially thrilled to learn about Shalom, a collaborative effort between two countries in reconstruction (Rwanda and South Africa). In some ways, my internship with Shalom began as soon as I contacted them because the Directors were so eager and open to collaborate. Via skype calls between Rwanda and Argentina, we discussed mission goals for the organization as well as funding opportunities. When I finally went to Rwanda eight months later for a one month internship in September of 2010, I felt as though I was already a part of the team.
Interning with Shalom was as great an internship experience as I could imagine. Before even arriving, Shalom staff asked me to provide them with my goals and expectations for my time in Rwanda. Based on this information, they created a rich itinerary for the work we hoped to accomplish in that short month. This included participating in the nonviolence community radio program where I presented on the concept of a national culture of peace. Also, I helped organize and carry out the annual World Peace Day celebration which represented the yearly culmination of much of Shalom’s peace and reconciliation trainings in local cooperatives. And of course I also had the opportunity to learn and dialogue about the genocide and the reconstruction processes that have taken place in the last 15 years.
My relationship with Shalom hardly ended when I flew out of Rwanda. Rather, I was even more impassioned that this small, but noble peace education organization in the heart of Africa should succeed and have the resources to do so. Back in my hometown in North Carolina, I organized a local fundraiser to educate the community on peace and reconciliation work in Rwanda and to raise funds for Shalom’s budget. I also presented on Shalom’s work in several different environments including Rotary clubs, local high schools, and a Virginia Tech conference on Peace and Prevention of Violence. I felt that spreading the word of Shalom’s great work in Rwanda was the best way for me to give back to such a beautiful and important organization.
A word I heard repeated constantly in Rwanda was “alongside.” I heard Principals, government officials, and community members use it – and I believe that it aptly describes what Shalom is doing in Rwanda – going alongside the Rwandans in their local processes for reconciliation and nonviolence. During my internship period, I was honored to go alongside Shalom.