prayer in CAR

New Peacebuilding Force in Central African Republic

Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

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A new force has emerged in conflict-wracked Central African Republic, or CAR. Its members don’t wear helmets or carry guns. They are community members facilitating dialogue between conflicting groups, promoting reconciliation initiatives and monitoring security in villages.

woman in central african republic

Marie Voto from Mboko village in the Central African Republic participated in trauma healing and peacebuilding training. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

“We want to solve the problems of our community. We want to forgive, work together and move forward,” says Mboko village resident Marie Voto.

With support from U.S. Agency for International Development through the Global Development Alliance, Catholic Relief Services and our partners have trained more than 8,000 people using support services designed to  help them address their traumatic experiences and manage difficult discussions about peace and reconciliation.

The training is offered through the Central African Republic Interfaith Peacebuilding Partnership, or CIPP, led by CRS and including Islamic Relief Worldwide, World Vision International, Aegis Trust and the CAR Interreligious Platform.

Overcoming trauma to enable healing

The path to peacebuilding often begins with healing and forgiveness. But overcoming emotional and physical suffering is easier said than done. Often, it’s not just telling the story of traumatic events, but processing all the feelings.

“My husband and I saw everything they did,” says Marie, referring to the militia that attacked their village in 2013. “I was frightened. We knew we could die at any time.”

CIPP will provide support services for the duration of the 5-year project, and empower local facilitators, through training, to continue to serve their communities.

“When you don't forgive, the story is still alive inside of you, and it can affect your everyday life,” Marie says. Instead of nurturing her anger, she is moving on with an infectious spirit of reconciliation.

By acknowledging her past and processing it, Marie is helping shape a better, peaceful future for herself, her family, her community—and eventually, her country.

“If your heart is disarmed, your hands will be disarmed,” says pastor Nicolas Singa-Gbazia, leader of Maison Prisca, a local organization that provides education and vocational training for youth.

Lasting solutions for peace

businesswomen in central african republic

CRS and partners provided a small grant to women in Mboko village so they could start a business—earning income for themselves and their families. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Many public institutions in CAR have collapsed after decades of war. Chronic unemployment has fueled conflict and crime, in a vicious cycle that leads to a downward spiral.

Some 2.5 million people need humanitarian assistance.

But “without peace, you can't do anything. Development depends on peace,” says pastor Nicolas. Peace and reconciliation are the key to better schools, better health systems and better job opportunities, he says.

CIPP supports local organizations and business associations through small grants to encourage peacebuilding and trauma healing through Central African institutions that can lay the groundwork for sustainable peace in CAR.

Religious institutions are still widely respected, and faith leaders play a key role in most of CAR’s communities. Local civil society groups, too, have been critically important in CAR, despite the challenges they face.

“Civil society in CAR is active, but has its limits. We have human resources but lack financial resources,” says pastor Nicolas.

One of Maison Prisca’s first international grants was from CIPP. The money supported peacebuilding training and trauma healing workshops for 96 people. It also improved the organization’s operational and financial management.

Since then, Maison Prisca has mobilized more than $45,000 from other international donors.

Fourteen civil society and religious organizations have been selected to receive small grants through CIPP, and 57 associations and microenterprises received funding to relaunch business activities that help people earn income, so they can provide for their families—a key step in building the foundation for lasting peace.

In Marie’s community, for example, several women received a grant to form a business—each of them responsible for selling a different item.

“We work together. With the profits, we can grow the business and loan money to each other,” says Marie. “And by working together, we not only meet our daily needs but we have peace.”