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Peace Building is all about creating the conditions in which a return to conflict can be avoided. At the diplomatic level, the politicians have to reach agreements that remove the cause of conflict. At the practical level at which Sarvatra operates, we have to try to support the diplomatic efforts by helping to give the people every reason to accept the change.

It may seem strange to think that anyone might want to return to or continue a conflict, but it is often the case that change is more intimidating than what is familiar. When a conflict ends, the survivors had learned how to get by during the conflict. In some cases, the conflict has gone on for so long that survival during conflict is the only thing that they do know. It may have been impossible to get educated or acquire the skills necessary for income generation during the conflict, so former combatants can suddenly feel that they have no place in society, no reason to want to see the peace succeed. In some cases, their leaders have been killed and they can feel outcast, with nothing to lose by becoming outlaws.

After a conflict, the first priority is usually the reintroduction of security and the rule of law. To achieve this, it is necessary to gain safe access through former combat zones and to provide emergency assistance to the survivors who are most in need. This often entails clearing mines, booby traps and UXO from roads and footpaths, airstrips and meeting points.

To achieve this quickly, Sarvatra can supply a full HMA capacity in which all staff are experienced professionals working in a team. But as soon as we arrive, we are concerned to be supporting the second phase of peace building, which is that of rebuilding the confidence and competence of those traumatised by war - given them a vested interest in making the peace sustainable. Whether or not the National Authorities are organised, we always involve local leaders in our decision making, explaining what we are doing and why. We hire and train local people, taking care to maintain local norms for salaries and conditions. Many of our Indian staff have known real hardship in their lives. They can not only sympathise, they can empathise - and they can often offer low-tech and appropriate solutions to the everyday problems confronting people when the traditional infrastructure has been destroyed. From digging wells and repairing irrigation systems to repairing roofs and providing simple tools - little things can make make all the difference to those on society's margins. Sarvatra does these things alongside demining and they make the demining more efficient. True liaison with local people is of mutual advantage because they warn us of problems we may encounter and help us to resolve misunderstanding before they affect our demining goals.

demining team in Sri Lanka

This demining team in Sri Lanka includes many people from the Tamil resettlement camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs). Three of the Tamil women worked as deminers for the LTTE during the cease-fire, and now they are working for Sarvatra and helping to build a lasting peace (April 2011).

Our approach to peace-building is based on humanitarian values and common sense. We know that we may not always be right, and are happy to learn by working alongside those with more experience.

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