Celebrating 40 Years of Peace Building
By Anam Latif
It may be a small peace agency but Project Ploughshares in Waterloo has done some big things in the past 40 years.
It has toiled away on research and global policy work on topics such as nuclear disarmament, the arms trade and national security spending.
From putting together Canada's only database of military production and exports to working on policies with the United Nations, Project Ploughshares has accomplished all of this out of its little office at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo.
"There is no higher body in the world where we could express our concerns," said Cesar Jaramillo, the organization's executive director.
"For a relatively small organization it's quite a feat and we're really proud of that."
Project Ploughshares is part of the Canadian Council of Churches and was started by Ernie Regehr and Murray Thomson 40 years ago. It was the 1960s and the small agency was troubled by the growth of postcolonial militarism and arms trading.
Some of the think tank's original goals, like nuclear disarmament, have been a constant struggle.
"We just keep pushing," Jaramillo said. "We have an underlying conviction to find better ways, more conducive methods to resolve conflict."
Jaramillo laughed when he said the agency's line of work is peculiar because the end goal is to put itself out of work by resolving conflict and achieving nuclear disarmament.
But a world free of conflict and nuclear weapons and an ever-changing arms trade is a long way away. That also means the agency's victories are often rare.
"You really have to be an optimist," Jaramillo said. "Progress in these affairs happens in small increments. Even when there are victories it's hard to measure but it's rewarding because we had a part to play in that."
But there are always ways to adapt as a peace agency, he added. Last year, Project Ploughshares started a new program on refugees and forced migrations.
"It's a very relevant issue right now," Jaramillo said.
"There are millions of people fleeing war. It's an inescapable reality when you turn on the TV."
Ongoing wars are not the only modern issue. Jaramillo said there are new categories of weapons being developed around the globe.
"We have our work cut out for us. There is still a lot to do," he said.
Jaramillo's own journey to work with the peace agency began with his life in Columbia before he came to Canada as a refugee about 13 years ago.
Growing up in a conflict-riddled country gave Jaramillo a tangible reason to pursue an education in political science and global governance at University of Waterloo.
It eventually led him to work at Project Ploughshares as a researcher and he was appointed executive director two years ago.
The question Jaramillo always asks himself is: What can we do to reduce human suffering?
"In a way we are the eyes and ears of the many supporters of nuclear disarmament."
Right now, Jaramillo is in Panama leading workshops on the Arms Trade Treaty with a dozen representatives from South American and Caribbean countries. Project Ploughshares helped develop principles of the treaty in 2006.
Project Ploughshares celebrated its 40th anniversary with an evening with Hiroshima survivor and nuclear disarmament advocate Setsuko Thurlow.
The event started at 7 p.m. at Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo. It was a free but donations were accepted.
For more information, go to the www.projectploughshares.ca
The article was originally published in The Record on 10 March 2017: