Sustained Dialogue: Solving Conflicts Among People

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I'm Steve Ember.  And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about the process of sustained dialogue that is being used in Africa and at American colleges.

Last week, we told about the work of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue.  It is helping people involved in long term conflicts begin new relationships so they can deal with issues that affect them all.  Harold Saunders is president of the organization.

Sustained dialogue is a continuing series of meetings among citizens outside government.  It involves the same people meeting again and again.  Mr. Saunders says that when the same people meet many times they develop a trust in each other and learn to cooperate to solve their own problems.

The Sustained Dialogue process is being used for an Arab-American-European dialogue.  Individuals from some Arab countries, from the United States and from Europe are beginning their third year of meetings.  The aim of this dialogue is to work together to find ways to end conflicts and move toward better relationships.

The International Institute for Sustained Dialogue is also helping citizen groups in Tajikistan, Russia and Puerto Rico.  It often works with other organizations that want to learn to use and teach Sustained Dialogue.  The IISD is also helping develop dialogues in South Africa and at American colleges.

Teddy Nemeroff has been working for two and one-half years at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, known as Idasa.  His job is Sustained Dialogue Coordinator.  He is organizing the dialogue program at Idasa to be used as a tool for building democracy and peace throughout the southern African area.

Mr. Nemeroff explains he was attending Princeton University in New Jersey when he first became involved with Sustained Dialogue.  He met Harold Saunders at that time.  After he finished at the university, Mr. Nemeroff continued work with Sustained Dialogue programs.  In two thousand three, the Institute for Democracy in South Africa decided it wanted to start a Sustained Dialogue program for southern Africa.  Mr. Saunders suggested Mr. Nemeroff could help.

Mr. Nemeroff has designed and helped organize a number of different projects since he arrived in South Africa.  He says the ideas came from either local organizations or individuals who recognized the need for dialogue and requested help in organizing them.

One Sustained Dialogue project involves young people in Harare, Zimbabwe.  It helped these young people who are in opposing political parties begin to talk to each other. The aim was to reduce youth involvement in political violence.  Fourteen Zimbabwean non-government organizations and an Italian organization are in charge of the project. Mr. Nemeroff helped design the project and provided training in the Sustained Dialogue process.

Mr. Nemeroff says young people who took part in the Sustained Dialogue now are helping mediate conflicts in their communities.  He says people who took part in the organized dialogue groups are developing plans for more Sustained Dialogues in their own communities.

The Institute for Democracy in South Africa began another Sustained Dialogue project in January, two thousand four to help farming communities in South Africa.  Mr. Nemeroff says it is helping overcome past political divisions so community members can cooperate in developing plans for economic development.  About thirty local leaders from nine villages are now trained to organize their own dialogues.  The dialogue groups have worked together to establish new economic development projects in agriculture and home crafts.

Idasa also is involved with the South African Council of Churches to help organize dialogues in local churches to discuss race relations.  Mr. Nemeroff says they have established six dialogue groups and held two conferences to help improve relations among people of different races.

Mr. Nemeroff says people he has worked with identify the process of Sustained Dialogue as a way to solve problems.  He has learned that African cultures believe it is important to reach common agreement when making decisions.  Yet, he says, South Africans find the dialogue method very different from the usual way decisions are made in official meetings.

He says it takes a while for people to see the value of Sustained Dialogue's unofficial method of problem solving.

In the future, the Institute for Democracy in South Africa is hoping to use the Sustained Dialogue process to improve relations between the citizens and the government.  Mr. Nemeroff says that Idasa also wants to establish working ties with other organizations in the rest of Africa to help deal with local conflicts.

Another project of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue involves students in colleges and high schools.  It is called the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network, known as SDCN.  The organization began in two thousand two to connect students across the country who are involved in Sustained Dialogue.  SCDN provides training for students interested in organizing dialogues and for moderators who will keep the discussions going.  There are about fifteen universities and high schools connected to the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network.

The first student dialogue took place in nineteen ninety-nine at Princeton University.  Some students went to the university officials and said they were concerned about race relations.  The officials called Mr. Saunders, a Princeton graduate.  He helped the students organize Sustained Dialogue groups.

In the nineteen eighties, Mr. Saunders and Russia's Evgeny Primakov were chairmen of the longest continuous dialogue between Soviet and American citizens, the Dartmouth Conference.  In the nineteen nineties, Mr. Saunders helped organize Sustained Dialogues in places of conflict, such as Tajikistan.  His book, " A Public Peace Process: Sustained Dialogue to Transform Racial and Ethnic Conflicts," is based on his experience with the Dartmouth Conference and in Tajikistan.

Mr. Saunders believed the Sustained Dialogue process could be a tool to help students understand individuals who were different from them.  He thought that small groups of students meeting several times a month would be able to build new relationships that could have a lasting effect.

Clark Herndonbegan working with Sustained Dialogue when he was a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  He says the university has a very active dialogue program.  In two thousand four, more than three hundred students took part in twenty dialogue groups led by thirty-five trained student moderators.  The groups discussed issues that divide students such as race, ethnic origins and religion.

Mr. Herndon now is a program director for the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network.  He says SDCN is pushing to create organizations at universities and high schools that can operate on their own.  He says there is no limit to the possible growth of the Campus Network if it has enough financial support.

Tessa Garcia discovered Sustained Dialogue as a student while trying to find a way to improve race relations at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.  Now she is a program director for the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network.  Ms. Garcia says every fall the two SDCN program directors visit all universities and high schools with Sustained Dialogue programs to train student moderators.  And in January all schools with active programs send new people to the SDSN headquarters in Washington, D.C., to be trained in the process.

The Sustained Dialogue Campus Network is working to develop ways to measure the success of the dialogues.  Mr. Herndon says evidence now of the success of Sustained Dialogue is when a student says, "I used to think this way.  Now I have a new way to think about people around me."

For more information about Sustained Dialogue for students, go to the Web site, www.sdcampusnetwork.org.

This program was written by Marilyn Christiano and produced by Mario Ritter.  I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus.  Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: Sustained Dialogue: Solving Conflicts Among People
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