Shadowing a Peace Actor: What Makes up Home and Identity?

Photo illustrating the news item

The Center for Dialogue and Conflict Transformation at LCC International University recently hosted the storytelling peacebuilding performer Raffi Feghali from Lebanon on March 20-21st.

Inviting a peacebuilding actor into a university can be risky. It offers an opportunity for engaging with questions of the heart, head and soul and uncovering what lies behind change. It evokes feelings around our identities and uncovers fears and joys- this can be risky. Yet, engaging with the tough issues of where one belongs, how one can influence community, and what makes up our choices about home is part of the critical work needed to build peace at the grassroots in societies. Where deep divisions exist, seeding hope is about resilience and repair. Yet, naming our realities clearly, both the joys and the painful ones involving homes and places of suffering where our hearts are in turmoil, leads us towards asking authentic and deep questions about the art of the possible. Building resilience and positive change is also about learning ways to communicate, explore, and understand our thoughts. Through Raffi Feghali’ s monodramatic storytelling performance of “Anatomy of a Home” the LCC community was transported into his Lebanese world and invited on a journey in the search for identity and belonging. One of love and hate. He challenged us in thought provoking ways as we laughed and cried together about why we choose places to be our home and explored the challenges of finding meaning in a home where one’s country is falling apart. One could not help but realize the impact that safety and security in our own communities have on life.

While at LCC, Raffi explored with students the various ways transformation happens as we perceive and experience life and how we engage with alternatives to conflict solutions that might be envisioned. During his visit, Varvara Liasun (a communications major, peace center volunteer, and second year student) assisted the great performer, peacebuilder, and coach. She remarks how “ These two days were really busy but I enjoyed every single minute” as Varvara had opportunities for close up conversations with Raffi over lunch, assisting in small trainings for two classes, and making the stage ready for the performance “Anatomy of Home” itself through LCC’s peace center.

In the Introduction to Communication and Media class with Ksenija Ševcova, Raffi worked with the students using ideas similar to the workshop he led at the Stories Shaping Peace Conference at LCC in 2022 from Theatre of the Oppressed. First, students were exposed to theory which for some seemed to be a little hard to understand, but then, it was time for practice. This is where the power of learning took on a new depth. Quickly, in two groups of seven, students created an image theater about the topics that they were worried about. Most of the students seemed to enjoy this part- even when it was time to leave, they stayed to give feedback and to take a group picture. In the Intercultural communication class, students were offered a similar experience. Enthusiastically, students acted out scenarios around conflicts – their ideas on bullying and new community experiences- asking themselves in what ways they might see the world differently to create new positive outcomes where conflict between people exists.

The last but the most exciting part for Varvara was working on the community wide performance on March 21st. She was a part of set up which included enacting sound system and lighting performance cues during the performance itself. “ That was basically my first experience” she says “ I was a little nervous, but it was easy to relax because Raffi is the person everyone can easily work with. Even 5 minutes before the beginning we were having fun.” During lunches Varvara shares, “we discussed ongoing topics, starting with conflicts in the neighboring countries, and finishing by sharing the experience living in the Netherlands. During these discussions I learned a lot even about the topics that I had never had interest in.” The opportunity to have several talks about life, gleaning pieces of advice for my future learning, from Raffi’s wisdom and experience was something that “ was a precious experience that I will never forget.” Raffi Feghali shared afterwards how “it was wonderful to be there again! I am already looking forward to the next one!”

Through the layers of his own journey in life, Raffi exposed again the pain of being a citizen and the choices one feels forced to make in a country where livelihoods and security are threatened from both visible and structural violence; choices that often lead to displacement. Students who could resonate easily with his questions about home and belonging gathered around him after the performance to continue the conversation. As Raffi Feghali reflected on his visit he shared “I have found out the most impactful growth processes I have gone through have been when I was a the edge of my comfort zone: not too comfortable, not too scared. So, I try to create such environments for other people in hope that would work for them too.”

His willingness to dive deep and share the threads that make up life for the many who have found themselves in this reality only reconfirms why we need to work at finding ways to make home a place of peace and belonging for all. And even more important, to find ways to repair and rebuild lives when they need to find a new place to belong to and to call home. This is not an easy task. Raffi Fegahli challenges one to take risks and ask the deeper questions. “How might you or I make home a place of hospitality and not fear- where people feel welcome and wanted and able to live fully? In what ways are we weaving in “the art of the possible” and the seedling of hope where trust needs repairing, and the beauty of home remains fragile? There are no simple answers. As a world community, how do we work at holding the social fabric of society together rather than unravel it through violence in order to build a culture of peace?

4 Apr 2023