What would you do if you were the leader of a small community in central Africa and heard that the LRA had just attacked a neighboring village and was likely headed your way? Would you start running through the town yelling for people to evacuate? Would you try to arm the community and prepare to fight? Would you try to hold a last-minute public meeting to try to figure out what to do?
We talk a lot about the communication side of our Early Warning Radio Network—which make it possible for remote and isolated communities in central Africa to warn each other of threats to their safety. It’s important that communities have access to tools which allow them to share information that can save their lives. But even more important than the information itself is what communities do with it. That’s why we work with each community in the Early Warning Radio Network to create what we call ‘Community Action Plans’ by identifying the unique challenges and strengths within each community.
The first thing we do is work with local leaders to create a local peace committee. The most important part of peace committees is that they bring together people from all different parts of the community. Elders, young people, Christians, Muslims, cattle herders, farmers, merchants, mayors, and refugees within the community all have unique perspectives, which are important to take into account. We bring this diverse group of people together and provide training on everything from how to use the Early Warning radio to environmental protection, conflict resolution, and ideas on how to mitigate risks.
But before all that, we work with the peace committee to get to know their community through a process called community mapping. Part of this is actually creating a map of the community complete with local resources like water sources, and areas with good or bad soil, grazing areas, churches, mosques, schools, and other community gathering places. We also identify groups within the community like youth, men and women, religious groups, farmers and cattle herders. We talk with members of all of those groups about what their specific needs are, the challenges they face, and what they have to offer the community. This process helps ensure that everyone is on the same page about how the community operates together as a whole. This is the beginning of creating a community action plan, which has two main parts.
The first part of the Community Action Plan is the identification of threats to the community. Most of the communities we work with identify the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups as the biggest threat to their community. But many also often cite problems like poor water sources, drugs or alcoholism, lack of resources, or tension between different ethnic or religious groups. By identifying the specific challenges that threaten the safety and wellbeing of their community, peace committees are then better equipped to develop specific solutions that can help their community prevent violence, protect each other, and thrive.
From here, communities identify the strategies they will use to reduce the community’s vulnerability to threats. For example, many LRA attacks occur when community members are away from the town center: traveling, hunting, or working in fields alone or in small groups. To prevent attacks, many of the communities we work with encourage members of the community, especially women and children, who are particularly vulnerable, not to travel alone. Sometimes peace committees will assign members of the community to escort women and children as they work in fields or walk to a water source outside their village. Peace committees will also spread awareness among the community regarding roads and paths that are more or less dangerous to travel on.
Community Action Plans also lay out protocol for how to respond if an armed group attack occurs. Most communities organize designated evacuation areas and clear the brush around the community so the LRA can’t start fires or hide as easily. Many communities create codes through which to safely and quickly communicate in times of crisis.
Community Action Plans address non-violent threats as well. Peace committees often develop strategies for conserving environmental resources and managing water sources. For example, a few communities have created plans for cultivating fields in ways that create water-saving corridors. Other communities organize campaigns to raise awareness about the negative effects of drugs and alcoholism and raise funds to purchase medicine and supplies for medication for health centers or rebuild schools.
Every plan is different. Each one reflects the unique challenges of each community as well as the collective genius that stems from the diverse viewpoints and life experience of members of peace committees. Thanks to the Community Action Plans these committees create, communities across central Africa are becoming more independent and unified but, more importantly, they are also becoming safer. You can be a part of programs like the Early Warning Radio Network, Peace Committees, and Community Action Plans by giving to support programs that help communities protect each other and prevent violence.
Programs described in this blog are made possible with the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this post are the sole responsibility of Invisible Children and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.