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Want to Build Peace? Understanding Trauma is Key

Operating since 2007 with the mission to build local skills for peace and promote mediation worldwide, Mediators Beyond Borders International (MBBI) has long recognized that peacebuilding intersects with the field of trauma.  For well over a decade, MBBI has collaborated on various programs that enhance peacebuilders’ awareness of potential effects of trauma on affected individuals as well as on themselves, and provided a robust toolkit to be utilized in interactions with individuals who have histories of trauma.  

Leading experts – Lederach , Lange & Quinn, Reilly, McDermott and Coulter, J. Gilligan to name just a few – have urged that the role of trauma must be integrated into conflict resolution applications as well as in education of practitioners.  Why?  Because unresolved trauma leaves people vulnerable to future conflict, to passing trauma down the generations, and ultimately to perpetuating a cycle of violence.  These experts’ recommendations are supported by discoveries in brain science, and both helped shape MBBI’s belief that trauma is a barrier to trust, resolving conflict, attending school, and sustaining livelihood, the very things needed for a united, prosperous society.

Without trauma awareness and tools, peacebuilders’ efforts can be hampered and possibly contribute to setbacks or outright stalling of conflict mitigation processes via re-traumatization of the very people they are trying to assist.  Derailing of processes can also occur when peacebuilders themselves are affected by stories and behaviors that trigger their own fight, flight, or freeze responses.  Thus, existing rifts might go unaddressed even as old wounds are reopened.  Certainly, this is not the desired outcome of any process whose aim is to mitigate friction and come to a respectful mutual understanding.  The more the ADR field recognizes and has knowledge of trauma’s impact, the more it will be able to utilize appropriate approaches when working with individuals who have been affected by trauma, and to provide an overall more effective handling of conflict. 

Drawing on the expertise of its members, MBBI has continued to deepen its understanding of the roots of  trauma and its repercussions on people’s ability to make decisions, interact, and generally function. Having members who are trauma-informed peacebuilding professionals has also allowed MBBI to partner with local organizations around the world to co-create programs that can enhance practitioners’ knowledge and skills  on trauma in their peacebuilding work. 

In all its work, MBBI highlights the impact of trauma on individuals and communities and considers the implications for recovery, reconstruction, and resilience building that can ultimately lead to the healthy development of communities. 

Some examples of Trauma-Informed Peacebuilding (TIP) work within the development and peacebuilding fields includes: 

  • Helping interviewers in Kenya develop trauma-sensitive research questions. 
  • Advising the Nonviolent Peaceforce staff in South Sudan on how to incorporate trauma- sensitive approaches when defusing conflict and building teams of women peacebuilders. 
  • In South Sudan, assisting USAID and partner organization staff in applying trauma- informed practices to program development, design, as well as implementation. 
  • Helping USAID and MSI members to recognize and support staff in high-risk environments to address vicarious trauma.
  • Incorporating trauma-informed approaches into the training of peacebuilders in Sierra Leone. 
  • Increasing knowledge of trauma as part of MBBI’s Women in Peacebuilding Program.

Confronted with a great need to further peacebuilding efforts and trauma awareness, MBBI also added an online course to its Global Peacebuilding Training Institute, “Trauma-Informed Peacebuilding.” This course is available to anyone wishing to learn about the topic 

In response to the 2022 crisis in Ukraine, MBBI partnered with the National Association of Mediators of Ukraine (NAMU) and jointly worked on adapting MBBI’s  curriculum on trauma-informed peacebuilding to provide training and coaching support to mediators and dialogue facilitators, both within and outside of Ukraine.  The aim was to equip a pilot group of ADR professionals with knowledge to recognize effects of trauma in themselves and affected parties, and skills to safely navigate the impacts during mediation and facilitation. Despite the challenges of living in an environment of on-going aggressions, accompanied by blackouts and poor internet connectivity, 21 out of the 30 accepted participants successfully completed the 13-week online program.  

Want to know more?  Keep an eye out for a follow-up to this article: a conversation among facilitator trainers who collaborated on the Trauma-Informed Peacebuilding (TIP) program in Ukraine.  


Agnieszka Alboszta

Agnieszka Agnieszka is a TIP Program Coordinator with Mediators Beyond Borders. Originally from Poland, Agnieszka lived in various countries before settling in Oregon, USA. With a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in international relations, a Master’s from the California Institute of Integral Studies in philosophy and religion, and… MORE

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