“Conflict isn’t something we should avoid,” says Cheryl Woelk, “because there are good things on the other side.”
Recently, Woelk and her husband, Scott Kim—members of Wildwood Mennonite Church in Saskatoon—served as instructors at the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) annual Summer Peacebuilding Training.
This year’s two-week session took place in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, from Aug. 9 to 21. Participants included undergraduate and graduate students, university professors from various disciplines, public school teachers, employees of non-government organizations—particularly those related to international development—and several individuals with a personal interest in peacebuilding.
Woelk taught Theory and Practice of Peace Education during the first set of classes, while Kim taught Conflict Transformation in Organizations during the second set. In between was a field trip that included visits to a museum for victims of political persecution, where they learned about atrocities committed during the Stalinist repression, and a nature conservation centre, where they were made aware of the environmental issues facing Mongolia.
NARPI is unique among peacebuilding institutes in that its training sessions take place in a different country each year. In this way, “participants can visit other countries and learn another perspective,” says Woelk. Both she and Kim see this as very important. “When [we] experience someplace new as an outsider,” says Woelk, “it somehow changes our focus when we come back home. Going somewhere . . . with a spirit of curiosity and learning, opens up all kinds of possibilities for learning.”
Kim agrees, referring to the 2012 NARPI field trip to the Hiroshima Peace Museum and Peace Park, where participants from China and Korea, who had experienced the Japanese as oppressors, were challenged to think of them also as victims of war. “Each country has its own wisdom,” he adds, “its own unique thing to offer.”
“NARPI is doing very important work in northeast Asia,” says Woelk. Those who have taken the summer peacebuilding training are “committed to looking at the past with caring and empathy, to feeling the hard emotions of past [wrongs], and, at the same time, to putting themselves fully into relationships with people who are different,” she says. “This group of people is going to make change and it’s going to be good.”
Woelk, who grew up in Saskatchewan, became interested in teaching peacebuilding while working with Jae Young Lee at the Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC). She returned to North America to earn a master’s degree in education and a graduate certificate in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, Va. This year was her third teaching experience with NARPI.
When not teaching peacebuilding, Woelk teaches English as an additional language to international students at the University of Saskatchewan Language Centre. She also coordinates Language for Peace, a program sponsored by Mennonite Partners in China, which offers resources for connecting language teaching and peacebuilding.
Korean-born Kim was also connected with KAC, where he and Woelk met. He learned about peacebuilding and about being Mennonite while in North America on Mennonite Central Committee’s International Visitor Exchange Program. Eventually, he earned a master’s degree in conflict transformation from EMU and a graduate certificate in the theology of peacebuilding from Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He says he specialized in peacebuilding in organizations because “the workplace needs to be happier and healthier.” Kim puts his peacebuilding skills to use at Rosthern Junior College, where he is employed as a residence dean.
How does an experience like teaching peacebuilding in northeast Asia inform day-to-day life in Saskatchewan? Woelk says she continues to think about peacebuilding and how it relates “to everything from family interactions to work relationships. When conflict happens I’m not afraid of it because I know that it can be worked through and on the other side of it there can be something really hopeful and beautiful.”
Participants and instructors at NARPI’s summer peacebuilding training session in Mongolia gather for a group photo. Scott Kim is on the far left, wearing a light blue shirt, and Cheryl Woelk is standing behind the banner, holding her infant son. For more photos, visit facebook.com/narpipeace or narpi.net.