Peace Education for Conflict Management by Local Communities in Southern Thailand

A group of young Malay-Muslim peace activists wanted to improve their knowledge and skills in the field of conflict management and initiated “Peace Education for Conflict Management by Local Communities in Southern Thailand”. They were interested in improving general awareness of peace and social transformation in the wider community of the Deep South, as well as their own understanding of the issue. The project is envisioned as a step-by-step qualification programme, with strategic support by the Berghof Foundation. Its objectives are first, to enhance the knowledge of a core group of youth leaders within the given context of a protracted conflict about to move towards some kind of transformation. Beyond this group, the project secondly systematically reaches out to the wider community, especially to leaders and multipliers within local communities. Some of the project protagonists are closely related to the Insider Peacebuilders’ Platform.

Timeframe

2013 – 2015

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Conflict Setting

In 2004, the conflict in the Deep South of Thailand re-escalated after successive governments had attempted to terminate it with strict law-and-order policies. Since then, nearly 6,000 people have been killed and more than 10,000 injured. The conflict’s origins, most researchers agree, are deeply rooted in the history of the region. The conflict between the Thai state and the local Malay-Muslim population can best be described as an ethnopolitical conflict concerning the political legitimacy of the state. At the same time, the unrest has developed a complex dynamic of its own, including a significant element of violence not politically motivated.

Relationships and trust among the groups populating the region (Malay-Muslims, Thai-Buddhists and Thai-Chinese) have suffered due to the violence and the wide-spread fear on all sides of being targeted next. In this climate of fear, a group of predominantly young individuals came together to establish a new organisation themed “Knowledge is Power”. Their background is diverse: human rights activists, lawyers, members of civil society and advocacy groups, journalists, women’s NGOs, health and trauma-healing professionals and religious and local leaders. Their “People’s College” was meant to help create a safe public space to explore avenues for conflict transformation and peacebuilding. Soon, they attracted an impressive group of young people eager to make use of the new political space in the region for learning and discussing ways forward.

Approach

The starting point of this collaboration with the Berghof Foundation was to develop a curriculum for the first training course of the People’s College. We also wanted to organise its implementation in a way that would encourage the formation of a lasting activist networks. Participants came together from approximately 30 organisations. The curriculum elaborated eight basic modules ranging from the development of the system of nation states, international politics and the political system of Thailand to the specific history of the region, conflict and peace studies, social movements, non-violence and religion.

Apart from the capacity-building element, the project also includes elements of creating spaces for public debate of conflict transformation, e.g. in the form of foras and discussion circles. The project is very much influenced by the ideas of adult evening classes (the “Volkshochschule”) and the workers’ education movement in Europe and North America: knowledge and skills are key factors for effective social and political change.

Aims & Outcomes

The project’s overall aim is to enhance the knowledge and understanding of the people in the Deep South of Thailand with respect to the current political changes in the country and region. We believe this will enable them to take a more active role in the current peace process. For this purpose, we collaborated closely with the People´s College team as well as with various resource persons from Thailand and the region to put together a first curriculum. This curriculum was implemented using a very interactive teaching and learning method, with the aim of testing the curriculum itself and ensuring its relevance for the ongoing political challenges on the ground. In the end, this approach also contributed to the creation of a more permanent faculty.

Key Actors

The project primarily addresses multipliers working in non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations and women’s initiatives, or as religious leaders, civil servants and community leaders. The groups and individual participants were interviewed to explore their interests and motivation in detail, in order to develop criteria for their selection for the first course, which turned out to be very popular. In the future, we would like to expand this group and encourage some of the initial participants to establish their own continuative education programmes.

Partners

The main implementing partner of the “Peace Education for Conflict Management by Local Communities” is the People’s College in collaboration with the Berghof Foundation, Bangkok Liaison. Other partners for the project are primarily local NGOs and CBOs who share the interest of People´s College to disseminate knowledge and empower the people on the ground in political and social issues. They include the monitoring and advocacy organisation Deep South Watch, the education-centred Yaysan Pusat Penelarasan Tadilka Selatan Thai (PERKASA), Nonviolence International South East Asia, as well as seven youth organisations and the Community Radio Network.

Funders

The project is funded by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Japan, who is also an active partner in the implementation of other initiatives related to the Southern peace process.

40 Participants in First Course on Peace Leadership

The first training course with its eight modules and 24 days of classes lasted until December 2013. The course accommodated approximately 40 participants. After the classes ended, a thorough evaluation of the first course was initiated to inform further developments of the following course.

New Course on Peace Leadership Inaugurated: “Knowledge is Power”

The People’s College inaugurated its new course on peace leadership with a seminar: “Patani Peace 2020: Knowledge Is Power”. A public forum on the Pat(t)ani campus of the Prince of Songkla University in June 2013 drew a large audience and triggered lively debate on the future of the region.