- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

HARRISONBURG, Va. — The mood is upbeat at the center where Tom Fox was trained as a peace activist.

African students sing, dance and lead about 100 people to proclaim “No worries” in their native tongue as they open a summer boot camp for humanitarians.

Three months after Mr. Fox’s bullet-riddled body was found in Baghdad, relief workers, teachers and counselors continue to come to the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, each focused on easing tension in the world’s most troubled spots.

The institute at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) has trained about 2,000 “peacebuilders” in 11 years.

Four Iraqi relief workers were among nearly 200 who came to Virginia’s pastoral Shenandoah Valley for training this summer session.

The torture and killing of Mr. Fox, who was taken hostage in November, shook the peace community at first, instructor Lisa Schirch said. “It was overwhelming,” she said.

Mr. Fox wrote in his Web log that many people thought conditions in Iraq were too violent for peace work.

As risky as it is to work in a country where “a lot of people are just trying to stay alive,” peace workers have a renewed commitment to ease the strife of everyday living there, Miss Schirch said.

Mr. Fox, 54, was the only American among four members of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams group taken hostage. The others were released two weeks after his death in March.

He was the first peace worker trained at the EMU center to be killed in the line of duty.

But there have been breakthroughs.

In the Nigerian city of Jos in February, the efforts of Mennonite peace worker Gopar Tapkida defused tensions over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, church officials said. Mr. Tapkida received a master’s degree from the center in 2001.

Miss Schirch, 38, thinks the most effective peace tactic in unstable nations is to show residents how to organize.

The best way to do this, she said, is by involving them in a project that benefits everyone, such as building a water well.

Speaking with accents that circled the globe, the 20 students in Miss Schirch’s class discussed efforts to combat the abusive treatment women receive in their countries.

A psychotherapist described her work in rape camps in Serbia. A Haitian told of women who are beaten.

A Laotian said women have limited education and no say in family planning.

“I want to know what is happening with women in other parts of the world,” said Nilofar Sakhi, a master’s student who works with Iranian refugees in western Afghanistan.

Her biggest challenges, she said, are trying to reduce domestic violence and self-immolations.

Fewer than half the center’s students are Americans, many of whom are teachers or relief workers like Mr. Fox, a Quaker who lived about 75 miles north in Clear Brook.

In all, about 45 countries were represented at the six-week summer sessions.

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