Anne Street has been a member of Northampton Quaker Meeting since 1994. She is the Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor at CAFOD (Catholic Fund for Overseas Development).
I am fortunate to be in a field of work which finds resonance in my Quaker roots. Before me both my parents did post-war relief work in Germany and one of my maternal uncles was the first pacifist in England to be officially recognised as a conscientious objector in World War Two. My paternal grandfather, also a Quaker, owned a small printing company where he printed pacifist tracts during the First World War. This lost him many customers and eventually his business folded.
All of them served as strong role models for me when I was growing up and I suppose that it is not surprising that I followed in these traditions and took up a career in international development. Initially I started working on human rights, which soon evolved to address peace and conflict issues working in Protection with refugees displaced by the liberation movement struggles in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s. Subsequently I have worked for international NGOs as a humanitarian policy advisor seeking to influence the international policy agenda in relation to conflict and emergencies.
Part of that work involves listening to local people’s concerns and trying to bring their voices to bear on the decisions made by national and international policy-makers. One example of this was some work I did on the United Nations Peace Building Commission. The PBC started work in 2006 as a result of the UN Reform process, and was set up in recognition that the UN system lacked an appropriate body to support and sustain countries coming out of conflict, despite the fact that over 50 per cent of countries emerging from civil wars during the 1990s fell back into conflict within two years of signing a peace treaty.
Through meeting with local people in the two focus countries of the PBC, Burundi and Sierra Leone, and hearing their stories, it became obvious that this kind of grass-roots reality was far from the knowledge and experience of UN diplomats and policy makers in UN headquarters in New York, who focused on stabilisation frameworks and peace building plans and analysis which were internationally driven without taking into account the views of ordinary people. Through detailed research and documentation of community experiences we were able to present some compelling evidence to the PBC’s first year evaluation hearings of the need to re-focus the work of the Commission to take greater account of community level processes. The report we submitted contained recommendations which were then taken up by influential Member States and influenced improvements in the subsequent functioning of the Commission.
More recently, in late 2009, on a visit to Eastern Congo I met with a group of women at the Women’s Sharing Centre in the Musavango 2 camp for internally displaced people. They spoke with pride about all that they had done in the last five years, despite living in frankly dreadful conditions – tarpaulin or plastic tents, barely eight foot by ten foot for an entire family. They had learnt basic literacy and numeracy, basket-making and soap production so that they would have a way of earning some money when they eventually return home to their mountain villages. They had shared psychosocial support as most of them had been brutally raped and left physically and emotionally scarred by their experiences. It was humbling to see their obvious pleasure in their shared camaraderie and their individual achievements. But best of all was the knowledge that whatever challenges they would face once back in their villages, the organisation I worked for had played a small part in making their future more secure by providing them with the skills to generate an income in what would surely be tough subsistence-level conditions.
I am mindful that there have been generations of Quakers who have stood up for their beliefs against prevailing orthodoxy, working for peace and social justice in the sure conviction that there is something of God in each one of us, and that through dialogue we can find a resolution to the differences that divide us. Although I have never been called to put my beliefs to the test in a way previous generations have done, I am fortunate to have them as my inspiration.