We understand you are gravely concerned for your former UN Relief and Works Agency colleagues located in Gaza. What are you hearing from the ground there?
Schmale: The first thing to express is profound shock and grief that 88 of my former UN Relief and Works Agency colleagues in Gaza have been killed, many of them in their homes with their families.
Those still alive express two main sentiments and concerns.
The first is naked fear, as nowhere in Gaza is perceived as safe. Even places with a Red Cross or Red Crescent flag—like hospitals—or places with a blue UN flag have been bombed, and people seeking safety there have been killed or severely injured. Especially those with children worry whether they will survive the next hour, the next night, and the day after that.
The second is an increasing fight for survival, as water and food are running out after Gaza being completely cut off for a month. The only way to wash is to dip into the sea, where you also risk being shot at.
Needless to state, the barbaric acts of Hamas on 7 October can never be justified. Nor can the insane violence that the Israeli military has inflicted on Gaza’s civilian population since. More than 4,000 Palestinian kids killed. The war must stop!
Can you share some of your most recent peace-building work from your own context of Abuja?
Schmale: In the run-up to the federal and state-level elections in Nigeria earlier this year, I was very involved with UN efforts to support the National Peace Committee in influencing a conducive environment for peaceful elections. While there was violence and people got killed, we can claim some credit for the collective efforts resulting in the elections overall being conducted in a relatively peaceful manner and for post-election violence being low—contrary to expectations.
I am also involved in supporting the Borno State Government in the Northeast accompanying huge numbers of people exciting from Boko Harem controlled territories through a Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reconciliation and Reintegration process. If the authorities get this right, it will be a significant contribution to peace building in Nigeria.
Finally, as the UN’s resident coordinator, I lead UN advocacy against hate speech. We have learnt from the Holocaust and Rwanda that genocide often begins with hate speech, and we must rigidly guard against hate speech across the world, including in Nigeria.
What are some of your memories from your days as a WCC steward?
Schmale: Working for the UN now, I cannot help but think that participating as a steward in a WCC central committee meeting in 1982 as well as the WCC 6th Assembly in Vancouver in 1983 was my first exposure to real multilateralism. Global problems can only be solved together. And praying together with so many different people from all around the world and listening to the great Philip Potter preach in the Vancouver worship tent is an experience I will never forget. I made some lifelong friends as a steward that I deeply treasure.