The key role played by Quakers in the formation of Peace Brigades International 40 years ago

Published by Brent Patterson on

As Peace Brigades International (PBI) marks its 40th anniversary this year, we acknowledge the key role Quakers have played in our formation and ongoing work.

Significantly, six of the eleven people who founded PBI at the Peace Education Centre (that had been operated by the Canadian Friends Service Committee) were Quakers. They included Murray Thomson, Lee Stern and Charles Walker.

George Willoughby (a New Jersey-based Quaker) was one of the signatories to the invitation letter for that gathering and was involved in PBI for many years afterwards (including helping to draft our Principles and Mandate statement in 1992).

The Canadian Friends Service Committee has posted: “Founded by Friends, PBI places volunteers in communities where support and protective accompaniment is requested by local human rights defenders.”

Quakers in the World has also noted: “It is not a Quaker organisation, but its work is grounded in Quaker and Gandhian principles, Quakers were instrumental in its establishment, and many Quakers still work with the organisation today.”

As we look back at our history, the first PBI intervention (in Nicaragua in 1983) was led by Jack Schultz, a Quaker from Lomond, California.

Significantly, Hazel Tulecke, a Quaker, was part of the first three-person team in Guatemala in April 1985 where the concept of physical accompaniment first took shape after the killing of Mutual Support Group activist Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas.

George Lakey, a well-known American Quaker activist, was also an early volunteer with PBI. He has written: “In 1989 I joined the first PBI team in Sri Lanka. Our job was to act as unarmed bodyguards for lawyers who were threatened with assassination because they were standing up for activists’ human rights.”

Other notable Quakers in those early years include: JoLeigh Commandant (the first staff person for PBI’s Central American program based in Toronto), Alaine Hawkins (the coordinator of the PBI Central America Project from 1986 to 1991) and Lyn Adamson who was involved in PBI’s work in both Canada and Indonesia.

Additionally, Karen Ridd, a member of the Quaker community in Winnipeg, was a PBI volunteer in Guatemala in 1988 and in El Salvador in 1989. Maclean’s magazine reported that when she was abducted by the National Guard in El Salvador: “Ridd showed remarkable courage throughout the ordeal: at one point, she even refused to leave jail unless a female colleague from Colombia was also freed.”

We also recall that PBI’s Principles and Mandate statement were first adopted in June 1992 at Camp NeeKauNis, a Quaker camp north of Toronto operated under the direction of a committee of Canadian Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

The PBI webpage has also noted if you are a Quaker or attend Friends Meetings: “The Friends Peace Teams Project can provide you with support (logistical, training, and financial) for your service with Peace Brigades International.”

It is also remembered that the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) nominated Peace Brigades International for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.

Presently, Peter Cross (a Quaker in Hamilton) and Heather Neun (with connections to Quakers on Vancouver Island) are on the PBI-Canada Board of Directors. We would also like to acknowledge that the Toronto Monthly Meeting and the Thousand Islands Monthly Meeting have been consistent donors to PBI-Canada’s work.

Forty years after its founding by Quakers, Peace Brigades International continues to reflect their commitment to the Friends peace testimony of social justice, reconciliation, mediation, disarmament and ending militarism.

George Willoughby and Steve Kaal (from Montreal) at the PBI General Assembly meeting at Camp NeeKauNis in Waubaushene, Ontario in June 1992.

Alaine Hawkins, Lyn Adamson and Jennifer Dennison in the PBI Central America Project Office at 345 Adelaide Street West, Suite 606 in Toronto in December 1988.

PBI’s founding statement was adopted at the Quaker Peace Education Centre on Grindstone Island, Ontario on September 4, 1981.

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