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Campus & Community

BYUH peacebuilding alumni return to share their experiences of building peace in the field

A group of Proclaim Peace conference participants and attendees all wearing purple and white orchid leis gather on the outdoor terrace of a building for a group photo.

Professors Chad Ford and David Whippy, of the Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts, said it has been their dream for the past seven years to bring BYU–Hawaii peacebuilding alumni back to the campus to share how they are building peace around the globe.

The Proclaim Peace Conference was their dream come true when seven graduates returned to report and share.

A group of people standing listing to Chad Ford speak at a microphone during the opening dinner of the Proclaim Peace Conference.

Ford admitted his bias, saying he was looking forward to the praxis, or practice in action, portion of peace session the most. Ford said he thinks hearing from alumni will benefit BYUH students because they will “be able to see for themselves people who were once sitting in their same seats doing this level of impactful work.” Ford said his former students are in Africa, North America, the Pacific, and in Asia.

Thinking about the conference, Ford choked up and said, “I’m not sure, in our program, that we’ve been positioned to do this before now. It’s taken this long for our students to get out [into the field], to get their [graduate] educations and to get rooted in sustainable projects. All of that is a 16-year process until you start to see the fruit coming, and now it’s here. It’s tangible.”

Two women sit in chairs in the Maori Village at the Polynesian Cultural Center. They were wearing dresses, one dress is knee length and orange and the other dress is long and a blue, white and green Polynesian print design. The building behind them has decorative painting, carvings and mats.

An alumna’s impact in Africa

Ema Billings-Fong, an alumnus of BYUH, who worked to build peace in Nigeria, said after seven years of hard work, making dialogue and friendship, there was a crisis where almost 500 people died.

The only villages that didn’t lose a single person were the ones she had worked in, she said, because the people implemented the peace work she had taught them. Billings-Fong told the crowd of when she went to an Imam, or a mosque worship leader, in Nigeria and had him promise her he would never stop preaching peace. Three weeks later he was assassinated for proclaiming peace, she said.

Billings-Fong recounted how she went to pay her respect to the Imam, traveling a long, dusty road where she was susceptible to being assassinated herself.

People from opposing villages in Nigeria all came together for this Imam and Billings-Fong spoke to them. She said to the people, “It’s my fault he’s dead because I made him promise me to preach peace, and he did and now he’s dead, and I’m so discouraged. I want to walk away from peace.”

Billings-Fong told the hushed crowd on the last day of the conference, the leader of the group stood up and said to her, “We will put down our weapons. The Imam did not die in vain. Whoever taught you to love so deeply that you would walk into a village where you could be assassinated, that is the love we want to be known for.” Billings-Fong ended her story by saying simply, “The work continues.”

Louchrisha Hussain wearing a black top and a purple and white orchid lei stands listening to the discussion.

Peace in the Pacific and Asia

Louchrisha Hussain, an alumna working in Fiji, said the year she was born was the same year the bloodiest coup that ever happened in Fiji took place. “Born into the Church, I was also born into conflict,” she said.

Her work, she told the assembled peacebuilders, is engaging with the Fijian government leaders to reduce conflict and war in the country. Hussain said the job requires patience, humility and Christlike love. She said she can attribute those skills to the church because the job didn’t teach them to her.

Adrian Chan wears eye glasses, a black long-sleeved knit shirt and a purple and white orchid lei.

Adrian Chen, an alumnus from Hong Kong, graduated three years ago and said he has since started a peace organization with his father. Chen said when there was a protest of 2 million people in the streets of Hong Kong, he opened up a workshop to create conversation.

Chen said this workshop led to his organization, The Millennials Family Institute. Their institute’s objective is to create harmony and peace in the family, said Chen, and grow from family, to community, to country, to world peace.

Ford said Chen has taken the principles from his book, “Dangerous Love,” and adapted them to the culture of Hong Kong to best teach the people.

Three people stand on a second-floor balcony wearing T-shirts and purple and white orchid leis.

Alumni teaming together

Chris Pineda, Kasha Coombs, and TK Ford are three alumni working for the same organization in Salem, Oregon. The company they work for, Groundwork, focuses on bringing the community together. Coombs explained how they gather teachers and administrators, religious leaders and police officers and teach them peacebuilding principles. They hold workshops so these different leaders can network.

Through this effort, Coombs said community leaders interact with people they normally wouldn’t. These leaders take what they learned from Groundwork and go out and implement the principles into the community. Pineda, standing behind a picture of David O. McKay he drew for the BYUH McKay Center, said these leaders are working to eradicate homelessness, poverty, bullying and more.

There are two tropical plants next to a drawing of David O. McKay looking at him from the side, and another profile drawing of him in the background.

To read about more of the conference, click here.