Discovering Ways To Accompany Peace Leaders
Unyoke Foundation is an independent, African based, global resource organization that specializes in the inter-generational accompaniment of peacebuilders. It is a path-breaker in the African peacebuilding field, and it is led and governed by African peacebuilders.
A human thread of flourishing and aspirant young leaders — especially women — who are connected with established peace leaders as a supportive community of practice, first in Africa (rooted in African knowledge systems) and then globally.
Our mission is to accompany, nurture and link the next generation of passionate peace activists with established practitioners, on their journeys of learning how to lead towards dignity, transformation, healing and impact.
A Creative Pause
Primarily, Unyoke is a series of reflective practice retreats for a diverse and intergenerational group of international peacebuilders who value an opportunity to think and reflect alone and with peers about how to achieve deeper impact in their local contexts.
“Unyoke” refers to lifting a yoke off the necks of oxen or water buffaloes. The dialogue-based exchanges in an Unyoke process are designed as a proverbial pit stop or a “creative pause” where participants can “unyoke”, exchange their best ideas and inspire one another to take the next steps on their respective journeys.
“When peacebuilders spend quality time alone and with others to reflect, share and learn in a relaxed and beautiful environment, they will be inspired and guided towards greater excellence and impact in their respective environments because, individually and collectively, they will have clearer visions of and strategies for the future.”
Who do we serve?
We connect with individuals, institutions and organizations (inside or outside of established structures) who exercise influence in conflict transformation efforts, or who are in strategic positions in contexts of conflict
In South Africa we focus on young peace leaders and facilitators of dialogue who can make impact in their contexts and communities
In South Sudan and Liberia, we accompany cohorts of creative, innovative individuals of whom the majority are women
In general, we focus on individuals who are passionate about conflict transformation, peacebuilding and community healing, and see themselves as aspirant or current leaders in this field
What is our contribution?
Within our overall core task “to nurture transformative leadership through a qualitative process that has depth and strategic importance”, we are committed to:
Uniquely and explicitly focusing on inter-generational accompaniment of young peace-builders, women in particular
Providing mentorship and accompaniment, with a focus on the “wellness of the healers”
Inspiring and building the courage of young people to work towards a shared future
Growing in process wisdom as we hold delicate spaces for dialogue, healing, learning and reflection on practice
Creating a legacy for the next generation of peacebuilders
Co-creating with others a network and a community of practice of like-minded practitioners
Supporting and encouraging Unyoke retreat alumni to contribute to building peace and making a difference in the lives of others.
What is an Unyoke process?
The Unyoke Foundation (UF) aims to create opportunities for leaders and practitioners in the field of peacebuilding or conflict transformation to take off the yoke for a few days. The focus is on reflection and renewal; on a creative pause.
The UF is deeply aware of the stressful and complex nature of the contexts and conflicts that peacebuilders find themselves in. Peacebuilders invariably operate in contexts that are physically and/or emotionally draining. Furthermore, the dynamics of these conflicts are highly complex and fluid. Pre-fabricated methodologies, training modules and capacity building processes, despite their generic value, often fail to provide enough guidance regarding the best response to a specific situation.
In short, peacebuilders are regularly required to rely on their own analysis of the situation, emotional intelligence, and personal resilience. They must carry their own “yoke”, often under challenging personal and professional circumstances. One of the aims of the UF is to harness and nurture the wisdom, experience and capacity these peacebuilders have developed in the course of their work, and to provide possibilities for restoration and regeneration of their sense of vision, calling and courage
OUR CONCEPTUAL CORE
This concept is often used in musical circles, describing how a solo performance is supported or complemented by a variety of instruments or voices. Fellow musicians participate in producing a melodious sound, though they do not all produce the same note at the same time or with the same type of instrument.
It is also used to describe journeys where one does not have to travel alone but may have the company and support of fellow travellers for at least part of the way – for as long as may be necessary.
When applied to the peacebuilding field, it suggests that peacebuilders have a need for accompaniment by their peers.
Accompaniment removes the presumptuous notion that some know better than others; or that what has worked in one context or age applies automatically to other contexts or times.
Its core assumption is that wisdom lies in and between people.
Accompaniment is the search for mutual support from people who belong to different generations, genders or other identities.
Accompaniment is, therefore, primarily an empathetic connection between peacebuilders — a certain quality of presence, as John Paul Lederach says; creating, through deep dialogue, a better understanding of our common and individual struggles.
Accompaniment, in essence, is about the way people are present with one another, inspire one another and grow in courage as they journey together towards a shared future.
Reflections from Unyoke Alumni
I feel grateful to have come away with so much that will sustain me in the future. There are new insights, learning and questions that I intend to integrate into my ongoing work, but also new friendships, new intentions and the deep nourishment that comes from a week of living in community in a place of extraordinary natural beauty. I have new sources of hope and inspiration that refresh the deepest drivers of my work, and I feel part of a web of genuine solidarity that connects our disparate lives and situations. This truly is a gift. I offer my gratitude to Chris Spies and Nomfundo Walaza for their vision, generosity and skill in creating this opportunity. I am indebted to my fellow participants for their openness and honesty, tears and laughter, warmth and wisdom.
When I look back on my life after many years I am certain I will look at that week as one of the most important. This is an amazing space for young people to come and learn and be inspired… I am so grateful and I feel privileged to have been able to listen to each and every one of those stories. I feel energized, and I feel excited about the future. Thank you for the new friends and connections.
Unyoke created a breathing space, a hiatus from the constant motion of everyday life. A chance to pause, reflect and piece together my story. It was a process of deep internal journeying with interludes of tranquil walks, delicious meals and art classes. The thoughtfulness of the facilitators, as well as the caring of the retreat participants, held a safe space that was alive with the joy and pain of life. Our reflections enabled me to go deeper into the values that have shaped my journey thus far and that shine a light along future pathways. Unearthing the threads of my life and making them visible has given me the courage to leap into the future with open arms…Unyoke is a precious gift that I cherish as part of the evolution of myself. I have been calling the Unyoke retreat a life changing experience and I feel that the impact is so profound that it is difficult to articulate in words. Therefore, this thank you letter is just the tip of the iceberg of what I gained during the week that we spent together.
Take time to reflect, exchange, create, be inspired in a peaceful environment. Isn’t that what every peace builder should do at least a couple of weeks per year? That is what Unyoke offered us. It was an explosion of encouragement and inspiration and that still feeds me today. I am so grateful for this incredible experience!
Unyoke is still inspiring me and keeping me on track. Thank Chris and Nomfundo and thank you everyone I met there.
I travelled along way to come for it and it was worth it in so many, many ways. I am still uncovering to appreciate what it meant for me now and for tomorrow. I have returned deeply energised with many things still seeping into my skin and into my system, as it was such a beautiful and meaningful experience, which I know has established a community of new friends who will continue to be apart of my life despite our physical distances and that is such a gift.
THE UNYOKE SPIRIT
by John Ayom at Kuron Peace Village, South Sudan
Every spirit needs unyoking. It is through unyoking that you get to know your brother naked, you get to know your sister naked. You get to be naked. Not the nakedness of the body but of the soul, mind and spirit. Because building peace comes from within you, your spirit.
Through the unyoke spirit I am able to see a Murle man as my brother. Because of the unyoke spirit, I can trust myself enough to engage. Every South Sudanese needs unyoking because there are many stories waiting to be told. Many stories waiting to be discovered. And consequently, many souls needing to be healed.
Tea as a platform! Who could have thought that tea would birth Salam Junub with their flag flying high in Gurei? Who could have thought that taking tea would bring hundreds together under trees to listen and engage with each other?
As John Paul says, conflict transformation is all about building relationships, so what better way of building relationships than through unyoking? I believe fully in the unyoke process. I have seen change. I have seen impact.
When Kim, from Nuer community, can walk freely in the streets of Turalei as a brother. When Domuto can leave Mvolo to go to Turalei knowing he has a brother there. When I have the courage to engage a Murle man as my fellow brother, then I know the unyoke spirit has loosened me.
The unyoke spirit is like a flame, a gentle flame not burning but shining! A flame that is neither consuming nor unyielding. A flame of courage. The lamp on the table that gets us past a dark night.
A spirit that brings hundreds together under trees to take tea and engage
A spirit that brings hundreds together to positively explore our beautiful culture
A spirit that touches our empathy to include our brothers and sisters who are physically disabled
The unyoke spirit reminded us that indeed we are 641M: 64 children of one mother! So yes, let the unyoke spirit spread.
Let the process roll on.
Let it spread until the whole of South Sudan is unyoked and completely consumed by the peace virus!
 Editor: “Tea” refers to the Take Tea Together initiative of Salaam Junub in the Gurei area of Juba