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Local peace builder Henri Ladyi helps Congolese turn from violence

Henri Ladyi formed the Center for Conflict Resolution in the Democratic Republic of Congo to oppose widespread rape and child soldiering.

By Danielle / May 24, 2011

Henri Ladyi, coordinator of the Centre Résolutions Conflits (Center for Conflict Resolution) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Over the past 15 years, more than 5 million people have been killed in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). More than 400,000 women are raped every year and about 2 million people are internally displaced. The international community has responded by sending the largest United Nations peacekeeping force in the world.

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Amidst the violence, however, one group is often overlooked: courageous local social innovators who risk their lives while endeavoring to build peace, one person at a time.

Peace Direct, a London-based nonprofit which launched a US affiliate this week, is one of the few organizations to systematically support the work of these local peace builders. In doing so, it is pursuing a sharper strategy than the conventional approach. Rather than have outside experts or consultants parachute into conflict regions to advance peace, Peace Direct seeks to strengthen and augment conflict resolution initiatives developed by people within their own communities.

One of the organization’s partners is Henri Ladyi, the coordinator of the Centre Résolutions Conflits () in the DRC. Based in North Kivu, a region in the east that has been deeply affected by the ongoing violence there, Mr. Ladyi runs programs that include demobilizing militia members, rescuing child soldiers from the bush, and helping internally displaced people return to their homes.

The center provides social and economic support to women who’ve experienced sexual violence. It has established cooperatives to generate income for former fighters and task forces that bring together church leaders, doctors, women’s groups, police, army, and ex-combatants to gather ground-level information to prevent further conflicts.

In 2010 Ladyi and the task forces convinced more than 1,000 rebel fighters to lay down their weapons and freed more than 400 child soldiers. They also trained 2,600 children to resist recruitment into armed groups, according to Peace Direct.

This work can be extremely dangerous. Ladyi, who was once a militia member himself, has received numerous death threats. But he says his vision for peace does not allow him to walk away.

“I like to say to myself, 'J’ai pris des engagements,'” Ladyi said, meaning, "I have made commitments."

“These are for my supporters, donors, beneficiaries, staff. All of this encourages me.”

Under his leadership, and with support from Peace Direct and other donors, CRC has grown from an annual budget of $4,000 in 2004 to about $300,000, Ladyi said.

Peace Direct was established in 2004 by Carolyn Hayman and Scilla Elworthy and currently works in nine regions. The group's aim, said Ms. Hayman, the UK chief executive, is to help strengthen local groups run by people like Ladyi that seem to be making real progress on the ground.

“We’ve tried to grow them so that they have a reach comparable to the size of the conflict,” she said.

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