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Sarah Blackwell is a Mennonite Church Canada Peace Education Volunteer serving in South Korea through Mennonite Church Canada’s  partner, Korea Anabaptist Center. She is in South Korea with her husband Sam, who teaches in a Middle School in Northern Seoul.

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February 3, 2012
Deborah Froese with Sarah Blackwell

Winnipeg, MAN. —   Filing, processing paperwork and managing correspondence may not seem exciting to some, but for Mennonite Church Canada Peace Education Volunteer Sarah Blackwell, these tasks provide a way to serve and to nurture peace building relationships.

Blackwell has been sharing her passion for administrative duties with Mennonite Church Canada’s partner organization, Korea Anabaptist Center (KAC), based in ChunCheon City, northeast of Seoul. Through KAC, she provided vital administrative support for the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) as it prepared for its first summer peace training classes last August.

The event, August 16-29, shared Anabaptism’s holistic perspectives of peace with 48 registered participants who came primarily came from China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan and Far East Russia, but also from India, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. They studied themes concerning peace and conflict, peace education, restorative justice, historical and cultural storytelling, trauma healing and peace building skills.

 “The first registration day we held was one of the most significant days for me,” Blackwell said.  She was able to greet each person upon arrival “…and finally got to connect a real living, breathing person with the name and application form that I had been looking at for so many months!”

During the training sessions, Blackwell worked alongside other administrative team members to set up the venues and provide a wide array of other support services.

“I connected with participants during mealtimes and snack breaks, and was available most of the time to address participant and facilitator questions and concerns,” she said.

After the training, NARPI director Jae Young Lee reflected, “It is always an exciting joy to discover people with the same vision for a peaceful Northeast Asia. I’m glad that NARPI is becoming a nest where we can build this common dream together.”

Some participants found new directions for the future through the coursework. “There was a learning opportunity far greater than what I had expected. I am determined to study more, get more experience, and become a restorative justice practitioner,” said Ayaka Naito .

After training ended, some of the participants traveled to Gangjeong Village, Jeju Island, to show their solidarity with villagers and activists who are protesting the construction of a naval base on the ecologically sensitive island. Various sites on the island have been designated world heritage sites by UNESCO.

A tour of the construction site made it clear that completion of the base would make it a security threat for the entire Northeast Asia region. Ironically, Jeju Island was designated “Island of Peace” by the former Roh Moo Hyun government during its term from 2002 to 2007.

Setsuko Mizuno of Japan shared her impressions of the tour and the training session in an evaluation form.  “There was a big impact on my thinking and studying about peace in NEA [Northeast Asia]. I was also able to deepen my understanding on the present situation in Korea regarding the “comfort women” [sex slaves] issue, the Jeju Island issue, and the DMZ,” she wrote.

Blackwell noted that she was most impacted by the visible relationships that grew between participants during the NARPI Summer Training.

“Our hope and vision during the planning process was that participants would overcome barriers of nationality, background, religion and otherwise to build positive and collaborative relationships based on peace and understanding. However, I couldn’t have even imagined the extent to which participants would bond with one another and develop deep friendships that I can see continuing over social media outlets such as Facebook to this day,” she said.