From Ouelessebougou to Baltimore

by: Djiba Soumaoro

In Malian French, we have an expression: “Le cordonnier est le plus mal chaussé,” or “the shoemaker wears the worst shoes.” The English equivalent might be: “The plumber fixes his own pipes last.”

I got to thinking about these aphorisms during my daily commute on foot from my apartment in Baltimore’s upscale Mt. Vernon neighborhood to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) headquarters near the seedy Lexington Market. As I approach, beggars ask for spare change, the homeless huddle in doorways, alcoholics congregate around a liquor store, and drug-addicts wander aimlessly or are occasionally sprawled on the sidewalk. This despondency is the face of America’s violence.

My six-month internship with CRS, part of my Master of Global Affairs program at the University of Notre Dame, has afforded me an extraordinary opportunity to learn about peacebuilding. For the past six years I’ve lived in the U.S., but I was born and raised in Africa. My wife is Malian, like me, and we have a lovely baby girl.

CRS Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, USA
CRS Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

I like my hometown of 20,000 people in rural southwestern Mali. From a distance it looks like a large village at peace with itself on the rolling savanna. Up close, however, it’s violent. Girls do not graduate, we don’t trust each other, we suffer chronic food shortages, malaria kills our young and old, youth no longer respect elders, and religious leaders fail to inspire. Corrupt, despotic government is normal. When I left Mali, I didn’t understand the inherent violence in these realities. I knew nothing about modern peacebuilding, but I knew some traditional peacebuilding strategies.

I count myself fortunate to have landed on CRS’ Equity, Inclusion and Peacebuilding (EQUIP) team. EQUIP consists of a handful of staff dedicated to improving life conditions for overseas youth, women and girls, and anyone who is marginalized and oppressed. EQUIP members are experts in governance, protection, gender, and peacebuilding. Within EQUIP, I was assigned to the Africa Justice and Peacebuilding Working Group (AJPWG), which focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa. Its five members–three of whom are based on the Continent–provide technical assistance to CRS’ field offices, to the Catholic Church and its networks, and to local partners in Africa. They develop tools and methodologies based on lessons and best practices. I find this work interesting and stimulating.

When I arrived at CRS, I had many of the traditional worries of an intern: How could someone like me do anything useful? Would CRS benefit from my internship? But I soon had little time for such preoccupations.

I began drafting an annotated bibliography for case studies involving CRS’ youth, elections, and peacebuilding projects in Ghana and Liberia. I conducted research on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) in Mali. I developed an outline for my capstone project on youth and religious leaders in Mali. I became so busy that when it happened, it took me by surprise. I was poised to experience an epiphany.

Soon after my arrival, my CRS mentor invited me to attend the AJPWG’s annual Institute for Peacebuilding in Africa (IPA). The IPA was a week-long workshop that covered the basics of peacebuilding—Peacebuilding 101—all the things you would want to know if you were thrown out in a conflict zone and asked to design a project. Nearly 500 people have taken the workshop since 2009. This year it was going to be held in La Somone on Senegal’s Petite Cote, about 600 miles from my hometown. Twenty-three development professionals representing a dozen countries in Francophone Africa came, and I would be able to visit my family after the workshop.

My group was the first to use the Peacebuilding Fundamentals Participant’s Manual, a document comprising the basic IPA curriculum. It was full of helpful tools and exercises. That was the good news. The bad news was that I had to stand up before my peers and lead sessions. Among other things, my job was to explain the John Paul Lederach triangle! Despite my fears, I discovered that teaching is the best way to learn and practice new skills. Fire hardens steel as they say. It prepared me for what was to happen in the coming days.

As I travelled across the Sahel, I reflected on “learning by doing.” I had survived the scrutiny of my peers. It felt exhilarating. In Baltimore I had already begun to reflect on conflict in Ouelessebougou, Mali—my community. How could I get involved? What tactics and tools would be appropriate? How would I use them? At the beginning of my internship, I never imagined what occurred to me now. I had the tools I needed in my backpack: the Peacebuilding Fundamentals Manual. I could get started.

I needed to act quickly. I only had one week. Representatives of 10 youth associations and the largest women’s associations in Ouelessebougou gathered at the Youth House. Using the “Conflict Tree,” the participants identified two major issues and mapped their root causes and consequences. The participants linked the mismanagement of schools and a dysfunctional school system to extreme youth poverty. We found that a lack of education was causing high youth unemployment which self-serving politicians were manipulating to create insecurity in our community. Young people no longer trusted each other. Relationships were broken. Parents were apathetic about their children’s education.

Peacebuilding conflict tree
The conflict tree we created at Youth House in Ouelessebougou.

Emboldened by their progress, the women and youth suggested follow-on activities. How about a connector project? What about a youth entrepreneur program to create jobs and discourage political opportunism? Could I return to conduct three trainings or workshops per year? Why not use the Conflict Tree to analyze problems in the household? The region? At the national level? Participants later approached me and thanked me profusely. It was the first time that women and youth had come together to discuss common issues and solutions.

The following day, Ciwara, our community radio station, featured me as a guest. How could young people be inspired to pursue higher education and change their lives in positive ways? How could parents be encouraged to care about their children’s education? Many young people quit school to make quick money panning for precious metals and stones. Few got rich and some returned with disease, pregnancies, and divorces. Awareness-raising and education were needed. Like a tree, education would offer a long-term investment bearing fruit and nuts over time. I gave examples of people who had struggled, who made such investments, and how education had changed their lives. They had been children of farmers, blacksmiths, and well diggers. A child born in lowly circumstances could become an ambassador or a minister.

Radia Ciwara Mali
Me at Radio Ciwara in Ouelessebougou, Mali.

After the broadcast, several people greeted me at my family’s home. Some parents told me that my radio talk had opened their minds. They were persuaded that they needed to care far more about educating their children. Some people were so taken by the discussion that they called the Station Director to request weekly programs on this topic. I reflected that the IPA had motivated me to take action and enabled me to make a real difference in my home community.

I returned to CRS in October and resumed my daily routine. I saw the police handcuff someone on the streets. I saw the drug addicts, and I read about mass killings. I asked myself: Why are Americans unable to solve gun crimes and drug problems in their own country? Why do they spend so much money to solve violent conflict overseas? Could the federal government and the City of Baltimore work together to resolve violence? How is it that a power like the United States, able to help other countries reduce violent conflict, cannot stop police brutality, drug abuse, and mass incarcerations on its own shores?

I have no answers, but I wonder how long it will take for public places to become safe and peaceful in the U.S. Could the same social cohesion and conflict analysis tools I used in Ouelessebougou help identify the root causes of gun crimes and mass shootings in Baltimore? Malians and Americans share the same sense of urgency regarding social problems, and maybe the tools and solutions are not that different.

Kenya: An Opportunity to Learn Adaptability and Effective Engagement in Foreign Spaces

by: Loyce Mrewa

Working in Nairobi, Kenya, has been a unique experience with challenges I had not initially anticipated, but it has exposed me to various nuances which will be helpful in the future. This experience enabled me to travel to Kenya for the first time and to work in a country other than my own. It has also provided the opportunity to learn and witness firsthand the implementation of the peacebuilding concepts and tools I have been learning in class. Since I am a foreigner with limited familiarity with Kenya, its culture, and the local language, Kiswahili, I have been observing this implementation process from an outsider perspective.

A bottom-up approach

Being in Nairobi, Kenya, for five months has enabled me to witness and learn about the importance of having long-term engagement. My perspectives about how to engage Kenyans in peacebuilding work have shifted over time, with greater exposure and interaction with locals. Working with a local partner has provided space for interrogation and inquiry about the dimensions and nuances that influence peacebuilding work. It has made me realize the importance of engaging in peacebuilding work with the aid of locals who are more familiar with cultural and social practices that are important to analyze. The significance of the local turn in peacebuilding is being put into practical perspective during this field experience, at least at the individual level where, as a foreigner, I am working and being guided by a local partner with vast local knowledge and experience in the peacebuilding field. A bottom-up approach is an essential skill in the field, because at one point or another you will find yourself in a foreign land or space where you will have to learn from others. In such situations, one has to learn to support and trust in the capability and knowledge of persons from that particular context, and abandon initial assumptions one might hold.

I believe this process of trusting and supporting existing local structures and persons is what is meant by accompaniment and a bottom-up approach, concepts that I am currently learning firsthand in Kenya.

My trip to the coast of Mombasa, Kenya.

The immersion process into Kenya, its culture, and the peacebuilding interventions implemented by our partner organization has also provided space to practice accompaniment by learning from others through observation and providing assistance with projects. This has exposed me to strategies for effectively engaging in foreign spaces and working with persons from varying identity groups to enhance adaptability, social bridging skills, and cultivate an acceptance of differences. These traits are vital for relationship building and working in foreign environments, particularly since soft forms of power such as relationship building (social harmony) are utilized in making societies more peaceful and just.

Me, admiring the beauty of Naivasha.

Although immersion has been challenging for various reasons including language barriers, I have acquired valuable skills and have come to understand the practical importance of a local dimension in implemented interventions. Additionally, I am realizing the importance of working in foreign environments where one has limited familiarity and discovering the strategies for navigating these spaces. I now understand what Susan St. Ville, the Director of the International Peace Studies Concentration, meant in her advice to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable” in the field: the lessons learned in the field make the awkwardness of initial engagement all worth it.

 

Touching Hearts in a New Cultural Environment

by: Aminata Karim

Studying at the Keough School of Global Affairs has given me an avenue to connect theory and practice. As a graduate student in the International Peace Studies concentration and now in the second year of my two-year Master of Global Affairs program, I have been able to acquire applicable knowledge and insight from both class and field work. These experiences have not only increased my academic and professional knowledge, skills, and competence, but have broadened my horizons through sharing and learning with classmates from 22 countries and opportunities to hear from notable global leaders. I have had the opportunity to network, learn, and seek answers to questions about threats to global peace in conversation with world-renowned leaders and peacebuilders.

As another measure to link theory and practice, I am currently serving as an intern at Near Northwest Neighborhood, Inc. (NNN) in South Bend, Indiana. During this internship, I have been able to relate the theoretical lessons from my first year of classes to the realities in my surroundings.

The Near Northwest Neighborhood in South Bend, Indiana.

Practically, my NNN field work involves getting to know my community through one-on-one interactions and door-to-door visits. Census tracts are geographical boundaries made by states to easily identify units of houses. Within these tracts in the NNN, we have blocks which encompasses groups of 100 houses as a “block.” As I have engaged in door-to-door visits with a teammate in Tract 6 and Tract 7 of our community, I have learned a lot about our neighborhood and the challenges that individuals are facing. Some of these challenges include:

i) poor management of homes by landlords

ii) the lead contamination in our neighborhood

iii) drug abuse and drug-related crimes

These issues have led to health challenges (especially for children and women), insecurity, and mistrust and suspicion among neighbors.

NNN has decided to focus on an agenda that can help to reverse these trends. The organization’s approach includes working on building a web of relationships, researching how to detect lead contamination, refurbishment of contaminated homes, and collaborating with other partners like Notre Dame and the Department of Health in South Bend.

My involvement in this work has challenged me to relate and engage with new cultures and value systems.

I have made it my priority and goal in the field to focus on how to contribute to addressing these neighborhood challenges. The actions and strategies I have adopted include: one-on-one meetings, understanding the motivations and self-interest of individuals that we can transform into mutual interests to move us to action, forming teams, moving from seeing problems to understanding issues, and engaging key decision-makers. I also capitalized on my previous experience working at various levels with organizations in Sierra Leone on behalf of women who had been severely marginalized and abused.

Aminata
Aminata presents to community members about building power.

In this new role with NNN, my key achievements so far include:

  • Having been able to build acquaintances with many people, I can now continue to build trust with them. Over time, this will elicit a more honest and open way to share their stories, understand their shared values and interest in social justice, and develop a cohesive vision for where we are going as a neighborhood.
  • I have met with at least 50 people in the neighborhood and heard the things that interest them. Now we are working on issues regarding problematic homeowners and landlords.
  • In the same vein, I have been engaging with the local code inspector to work with us and other good neighbors to see how we can best deal with these challenges. To this effect, I am hosting the first meeting between neighbors and the inspector to discuss these issues and forge a way forward.

In addition to community organizing, I am assigned to the Center for the Homeless this semester until mid-December. My role is to work with 10 women on how to solve their conflicts nonviolently. On the first Wednesday in September, we first met and started with brief introductions of ourselves, followed by a game. During the game, each person had to pick out a number of cards. Depending on how many cards were picked, each woman would tell us the same number of facts about herself. We had a wonderful time with one another, setting ground rules and asking everyone to think about what they expect from the classes this semester. At the end of the one-hour introduction class, we all had experienced a wonderful time.

I often reflect on these life-changing encounters as I retire to my bed at night and I feel so fulfilled, because I can see that I was able to touch the hearts of people, and particularly women, in a totally new cultural environment for me.

All of this is happening because of my time at Notre Dame, and I value the school’s contribution in my life.

Aminata and her husband at a recent Kroc Institute alumni event in Washington, DC.

i-Lab Update: Students Return to Campus

by: Mark Stevens

How do you sum up a year-long experience where you’ve worked with a team of others, traveled to multiple countries, and examined solutions to some of the biggest challenges in the world today? This is exactly what we asked the students in the i-Lab to do on September 13th—in five minutes or less, in front of the entire Keough School.

Over the summer the i-Lab sent 23 Master of Global Affairs students, in 7 project teams, to 14 countries across 5 continents, to work with organizations on the frontlines. Upon their return to campus, we gathered in the i-Lab space to let students tell their stories, explain why their projects are so important to their partner organizations, and discuss what they learned in the field and the impact they hope to achieve.

Our students were, in short, extraordinary. Here is a brief recap of their projects and stories:

Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies

Chista Keramati and Jamie McClung traveled to Bangladesh to investigate policies and programs aimed at reducing the vulnerability of women to climate change. They traveled to four different areas of the country to understand the effect of floods, cyclones, and changing weather patterns on local populations. They specifically observed how climate change affects women and their livelihoods, and explored the potential of leveraging underutilized systems, like the madrasa system, to further climate change education. Chista and Jamie are creating a report that BCAS will use to advocate for policy recommendations in Bangladesh.

Enseña Chile

Ikromjon Tuhtasunov and Sonia Urquidi traveled to Chile to look for ways to help teachers enhance school performance and build school cultures that foster innovation and learning. They visited dozens of schools and conducted over a hundred interviews to gain an on-the ground, culturally-informed perspective of classroom dynamics and teacher performance. Meanwhile, Nnadozie Onyekuru partnered with Alliance for Catholic Education at Notre Dame to understand best practices that might translate to Chile. The team is assembling recommendations for incorporating positive feedback loops within schools.

 

Program in Global Surgery and Social Change

Sarah Davies, Ngoc Thang, and Leah Walkowski traveled to Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone, respectively, to understand how to best catalyze and mobilize worldwide improved access to quality surgical care. Each of these countries provided a case study for different levels of adoption of safe surgery policies. The team conducted interviews at the national, regional, and local level, and toured facilities to gain a clear understanding of what is working and what opportunities still exist. Sarah, Ngoc, and Leah are currently developing case studies that will help PGSSC better promote safe surgery in other countries around the globe.

Oxfam America – Behind the Brands

Caroline Andridge, Sofia del Valle Trivelli, and Mian Moaz Uddin respectively traveled to India, Ghana, and Malawi to understand how best to adapt global supply chains toward a more sustainable, equitable food system. They worked to trace products, like sugar and cocoa, from the farmer to the producer in each country’s context. Caroline, Sofia, and Moaz are creating a report that will allow Oxfam and the “big 10” food and beverage companies to tailor sustainability strategies to local contexts.

Institute for Economic Affairs

Asmaa El Messnaoui, Dorcas Omowole, Loyce Mrewa, and Rhea Fe Silvosa traveled to Kenya to develop scenarios for the future of Kenya’s devolution—transferring power to local levels in a way that promotes democratic participation, equitable distribution of resources, and peaceful conflict resolution. The team conducted interviews with officials at all levels of government to understand the various perspectives on devolution efforts in multiple counties around Kenya. The team is in the process of identifying the key drivers of positive devolution by understanding the underlying motivations for various stakeholders. They are developing targeted short-term policy options and advocacy messages to drive higher, more sustainable, and more equitable development and peace outcomes.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Patrick Calderon, Kathleen Kollman, Shuyuan Shen, and Mehak Anjum Siddiquei traveled to the US/Mexico border, thento Greece, Germany, and Switzerland to explore and document complex immigration enforcement systems. The team conducted interviews in areas most affected by current global migration patterns, specifically looking at best practices in respecting the human rights of immigrants. They have already shared their initial findings through a stakeholder conference in Washington, D.C. Patrick, Kathleen, Shuyuan, and Mehak will continue the comparative analysis of U.S. and European contexts and build a report capturing best practices.

Habitat for Humanity International – Terwillinger Center for Innovation in Shelter

Jiyeon Ahn, Juanita Esguerra, and Steven Wagner traveled to the Philippines to look for opportunities to enhance the resilience of local housing markets essential to delivering safe and dignified shelter. The team mapped the local markets that provide materials for housing construction through informational interviews and key stakeholder engagement in communities still recovering from Super Typhoon Yolanda. They are now developing a tool that will enable organizations in the Philippines and around the world to more effectively assess local market readiness to react to disaster, identify critical commodities, and develop appropriate interventions to strengthen them.

Both the partner organizations and the students are finding the i-Lab global partner experience to be a unique and perspective-altering engagement. Partners value the extended duration of the partnership, as well as the skills, passion, and level of professionalism our students bring to the table every day. Students have consistently talked about the advantages of this more consultative-style educational experience and the value of designing, planning, and executing their own strategy.  Throughout the fall, the students will consolidate their findings and deliver their final product to their partners.

Everyone involved seemed to learn a lot, and the i-Lab staff and faculty are incredibly excited for the next two semesters, when the students will translate their deep understanding of the situation on the ground to policy conversations in Washington, D.C.

 

Notre Dame’s i-Lab Through the Eyes of a Global Partner

by Guest Blogger Don Ginocchio

Don Ginocchio is an IT Executive at SAP and Global Partner of the Keough School of Global Affairs Integration Lab (i-Lab). SAP has been a contributor to the key concepts of the i-Lab through training of its leaders in human centered design and other design thinking-related disciplines. The unique space of the i-Lab is modeled after similar co-creation spaces at SAP Labs and SAP ecosystem partners.

On Thursday September 13th I had the great pleasure of attending the University of Notre Dame Keough School of Global Affairs i-Lab Global Partner Showcase. It was an incredibly inspirational and informative overview of seven student summer project experiences all related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This summer, 23 Master of Global Affairs students participating in the Integration Lab worked with seven global partners to address critical challenges including sustainable housing, innovative education, decentralization of government, climate change, access to health care, equitable supply chains, and immigration policy. The student teams presented their projects, shared their experiences, and charted paths forward.

The Keough School Integration Lab (i-Lab) is a distinctive series of interdisciplinary engagements — designed to build momentum over the full two-year arc of the Master of Global Affairs  to prepare students for a global employment landscape that demands highly integrated mindsets and professional skillsets. Guided by i-Lab Co-Directors Tracy Kijewski-Correa and Steve Reifenberg, students work in teams with global partners and faculty-mentors in multiple disciplines to address real-world issues and challenges such as:

  • Equality and Inclusion
  • Conflict Transformation
  • Climate Change and Adaptation
  • Global Health
  • Community Resilience
  • Educational Opportunity
  • Displacement and Migration
  • Food and Water Security
  • Poverty and Economic Development

The specific global research partnerships reviewed last night included:

Bangladesh

Project: Reduce the vulnerability of women to climate change by enhancing the effectiveness of research-to-policy translation

Chile

Project: Transform opportunities for teachers to enhance school performance, build community, and foster continual school-wide innovation and learning

Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania

Project: Collaborate with national ministries of health to catalyze and mobilize worldwide improved access to quality surgical care

Ghana, India, Malawi

Project: Adapt global supply chains to accelerate transformation toward a more sustainable, equitable food system

Kenya

Project: Develop scenarios for the future of Kenya’s devolution that promote democratic participation, equitable distribution of resources, and peaceful conflict resolution

U.S./Mexico border, Greece, Germany

Project: Explore and document best practices to respect the human rights of migrants as they navigate complex immigration enforcement systems

The Philippines

Project: Enhance the resilience of local housing markets essential to delivering safe and dignified shelter


Originally published on the SAP Blog here: 

https://blogs.sap.com/2018/09/14/notre-dame-i-lab-global-partner-experience-showcase/

Reflections on a field excursion to Bantayan Island in the Philippines

by: Jenna Ahn

Master of Global Affairs student Jenna Ahn is working with teammates Steven and Juanita, in partnership with the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter at Habitat for Humanity International, on a project to design and test a pre-crisis market analysis toolkit for the shelter sector. A better baseline understanding of local markets can guide both pre-crisis programming to build resilience and post-crisis interventions for shelter in sustainable and scalable ways. The team spent two months in Cebu Province in the Philippines conducting interviews and gathering data.


“Hello mamser!” We turned around to see who was calling us with what came to be my favorite gender neutral and delightfully formal Filipino greeting.

It was the woman we interviewed earlier that day. She was grinning and waving at us.

“Hello, Ma’am!” We called back.

As we continued on the dirt road, we encountered other familiar faces from our previous interviews: a husband and wife at dinner who greeted us, counter managers at neighboring hardware stores, and a few friendly nods in the street. We were a motley crew—four Filipinos, two Americans, and a Colombian—and I assumed news of our arrival had spread through the small neighboring barangays of Santa Fe and Pooc. In just five days conducting over 70 interviews, we were still very much foreigners, but I couldn’t help feeling that in our five days in Bantayan Island we had glimpsed a tiny part of the integrated ecosystem of the shelter market.

We had planned to track the supply chain backwards: from households accessing the local market to reconstruct their homes to the hardware stores, construction laborers, and NGOs who aided them in the process. While a relatively linear strategy, our interviews elicited a much more complex reality of relationships, motivations, and obstacles that left us with more questions than answers. What follows is a brief snapshot of just a few of the people we met along the way. *

Habitat for Humanity TCIS Philippines
One of our translators, Miguel, leading a household interview in Cebuano using questions programmed in a data collection app
Household

Despite the blaring speakers next door playing “Despacito” on loop, Ma’am Castillo was calm and thorough as she told us her house was the only one in the neighborhood that had survived Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. It wasn’t because her house was particularly durable, she admitted— her house was a mixture of recycled plywood, woven bamboo, and corrugated iron—but because her family had been the only to remain in her neighborhood despite the evacuation warning so God had protected her. She had tried to make some improvements to the house, but her limited budget and compounding loans made things difficult, especially when the price of materials and construction workers skyrocketed after the disaster. How was she supposed to hire a skilled mason if NGOs were willing to pay their masons 150% of the pre-typhoon daily rate?

Construction Laborer

Around the corner at a construction site, we met with Cuya Jason as he took a short break from laying concrete blocks. A hardworking mason and father of four children, Cuya explained that he had learned his trade by shadowing his father as a helper, and eventually took on the title of mason himself. After Typhoon Yolanda decimated many of the homes in his community, Cuya helped to rebuild using the same construction techniques used before the typhoon. He hadn’t changed his building strategies, but why would he? He did what all the other masons did, and ultimately they were all limited by budgets. If anything, Cuya had to explain to households that forgoing reinforcing steel bars altogether would be unethical. When asked if he would be interested in training workshops to improve his trade, Cuya smiled—perhaps assuming I was searching for a “yes”—and shook his head. Maybe, but he didn’t have time and couldn’t lose out on his daily wage. After all, he needed to get food on the table.

Hardware Store

I stood at the counter of RJ’s Hardware and I could tell Até Maria was still convinced that we might sell her business secrets to the other stores in town, but she spoke to us anyway. Like any good business manager, Até closely observed changes in customer behavior and demand when ordering stock. It’s not that she wanted to sell substandard materials, she said matter-of-factly, but it’s what the people could afford. It’s what they wanted. She hoped another typhoon wouldn’t hit the community, but we both knew that it would significantly benefit her business.

An inside view of a local hardware store in Bantayan displaying its stock

We interviewed many others along the way—some with similar stories and still others with different experiences. Ultimately, we found that 60% of households we spoke with did not believe their house would withstand the next climate disaster. And though we must acknowledge there are no easy solutions to the fragile and interconnected relationships within the shelter market in places like Bantayan Island, I do know that the need to act now to benefit people like Ma’am Castillo, Cuya Jason, and Até Maria is central to a commitment to human dignity.

In the end, a home is not simply four walls and a roof where families are forced to live in fear of devastation. Lives are not worth saving only after inevitable climate disasters strike. If we take seriously the Keough School’s mission towards integral human development and protecting the inherent dignity of all persons (especially vulnerable persons), we must work before the next disaster to increase access to dignified housing.

Habitat for Humanity Philippines
Team photo after our presentation in the Habitat for Humanity International office in Manila

*all names have been changed for confidentiality

One Day in the Life of a Newsroom

by: Oleksii Kovalenko

“Civility, respect, and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid.”

This quote comes from HBO’s The Newsroom, the best TV show about journalism in my opinion. Six years ago, when I started watching the very first episodes of The Newsroom, I had not even embarked on a journalistic path, but I was impressed with the inner world of the journalistic profession as described by writer Aaron Sorkin. This world was about truth, credibility, and respect, three goals that I strive to pursue in my career.

Trying to find a perfect field placement to study ways of resisting Russian disinformation and propaganda, I focused in on international news organization Voice of America (VOA). According to its charter, VOA’s purpose is “presenting a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.” For the last 76 years, VOA has produced content in more than 40 languages. Luckily for me, combating disinformation is one of the principles of the VOA’s day-to-day work.

Newsroom research

VOA was founded during World War II to combat Nazi propaganda through unbiased and accurate journalism, and today, with the rising of a new propaganda evil and ongoing information wars, it’s probably the second most important time in the VOA’s history for the organization to live out its mission.

In today’s world, objective, truthful and bias-free information is crucial for sustainable peace and journalism itself can be seen as a form of peacebuilding. Sometimes it feels like “liberal peacebuilding” when journalism is used as a tool against crimes, corruption, disinformation and hybrid wars. At other times journalism can be portrayed as “sustainable peacebuilding,” when the truth is used for the purpose of healing and reconciling.

I have spent some time (ok, too much time) trying to figure out the format of this blogpost. But, as you may observe from its title, I focused in on one day in the life of the VOA’s Ukrainian newsroom. In the best tradition of VOA’s blogs, I’ll try to keep this blogpost short, but thoughtful. So this is a 4-minute read. Let’s get started!

Oleksii in DC

8:30–9:00 a.m.: The bright and totally over-air-conditioned office is filling up with journalists. I have a feeling that coming from Eastern Europe, I can adapt to everything except AC levels in the U.S.

At the entrance of the federal building, employees are welcomed with John F. Kennedy’s quote: “The Voice of America…carries a heavy responsibility. Its burden of truth is not easy to bear.” Meanwhile, the building itself has five stories above the ground floor. The last one is a mess of hundreds of studios and broadcasting rooms where one can get lost.

Newsroom research

9:00–9.30 a.m.: Normally you have two goals for this half hour: you need to find a story (if you haven’t found one yet) and stay caffeinated.

Web journalists are looking for the stories to be published on the website, TV journalists are choosing topics which will go on air after less than 5 hours, so time is ticking.

Summer is a perfect time for most of the interns to fill the gap and show what they can do while staff members are on vacations and VOA might need your help more than any other time. Since the very first day when I finished my paperwork, I’ve been treated as a full journalist, working five days a week from the first cup of coffee in the morning to the time when the work is done. I feel lucky that I have had a chance to participate in every single level of content production. From browsing the servers and watching incoming news feeds, to doing in-depth research about the most important ongoing investigation in the United States, from providing a voice-over for someone’s soundbytes and on to spotlighting disinformation in Ukrainian media.

9:30-10.00 a.m.: It’s a time to pitch your stories.

During the editorial meeting, you have a few minutes to pitch your story, answer tough questions, and prove that the story is worth the team’s time. If the topic is strong enough, after the editorial meeting you will start working on content production, trying to meet the deadline. The deadline is everything. Deadlines differ for different stories, but for web news stories (which is most of what I write), the deadline is always “now.”

10:00–2:30 p.m.: Work like crazy.

These 4.5 hours are really varied for the different teams in our newsroom. TV journalists are working on their stories for the air and content and video editors are trying to make these stories look perfect. Someone is often in the field, shooting new content. Someone is adapting Reuters or Associated Press stories. Someone is making voiceovers. But at 12:00, it usually becomes hot. You must be on time and you must produce meaningful content with broadcast quality sound and picture.

The web team normally has a reasonable time to publish news articles, but it’s breaking news, it’s all about time. You can’t wait, you can’t hesitate, and you can’t be slow. After just a couple of minute,s the story may lose all its value. But even in breaking news situations and even if you are a journalist with 10 years of experience, you cannot press the “publish” button without your editor or another person in the office fact-checking and proofreading your story. This is how you earn your audience’s trust.

Newsroom research

2:45–3:05 p.m.: On air

It’s the most stressful time of the day for editors, journalists, and producers. Everyone feels equally responsible for any problem that arises. When the hosts and the producer are going down to the studios, anything can go wrong: equipment isn’t working, the picture freezes, the network connection is slow. But, at the moment the anchor says, “Good afternoon. This is VOA Ukrainian’s daily show, Chastime,” usually everything flows as it should. None of the viewers can feel the tension on the other side of the blue screen. No one except an intern, who now feels more engaged than just a regular observer.

3:05-5.00 p.m.: A time to breathe

When the most stressful part of the day is over, both for the TV and web teams, you have time to work on your in-depth articles, feature stories, and anything that does not fit under the deadline “now.”

During the first month of my internship, I mostly worked for the website, producing analysis, news pieces, and infographics. I covered the topics of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections, Kremlin disinformation and hacking attacks, and the Mueller investigation. And a solid multimedia story written by me about the Ukrainian side of the Russian interference investigation was recently published.

But I guess my 4 minutes are over for now, right?

Contemplating a Country of Immigrants and Anti-Immigrant Policies

by: Shuyuan Shen

“A closed country is a dying country.” — Edna Ferber, American novelist


This summer, three Master of Global Affairs classmates and I traveled for eight weeks to investigate immigration enforcement in the United States, Germany, and Greece, partnering with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services. Unexpectedly while we were in the field, stories of family separation swept through the US. The heartbreaking experience and brutal reality along the US-Mexico border shocked many Americans and stimulated protests across the US to call for more humane border enforcement or even alternatives to enforcement.

Immigration El Paso Ciudad Juarez
US border patrol agents stand on a bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to prevent asylum seekers from reaching the port of entry.
IMMIGRATION’S DIFFICULT HISTORY

Many people argue that America has always been a country of immigrants and was built by immigrants. These people do not understand how a country of immigrants could implement seemingly merciless immigration policies, separating children from their parents, prosecuting migrants who do no harm to national security, and deporting people whose entire family and lives are in the US.

To some extent, they are correct. Despite the fact that many countries, such as Argentina, Austria, and France, welcomed large flows of immigrants in history, none of them have developed a collective cultural identity of “nation of immigrants” to the same extent that the US has. People believe in the American Dream that, no matter who you are and where you come from, you can achieve success if you work hard.

However, people who believe in the immigrant ethos of the US often neglect the fact that, although the US is indeed a nation of immigrants, at the same time, it has always been harsh on immigrants. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act implemented in 1882 prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers, and the Immigration Act of 1924 restricted migrants from eastern and southern European countries as well as most Asian immigrants. In the 1960s, the civil rights movement exposed the discriminatory and unjust nature of the quota system, which led to the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. Although it terminated the quota system, it was still quite restrictive and maintained the per-country-of-origin limits.

EXILE exhibit in Geneva
EXILE, a temporary exhibition on migration at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, Switzerland.

Occasionally, there were pro-immigrant laws and policies carried out thanks to pro-immigrant advocates, and the University of Notre Dame played a significant role in that. Father Theodore Hesburgh, then-President of the University of Notre Dame and former head of the Civil Rights Commission, chaired the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy (SCIRP) in the late 1970s.  The Commission was set up by Public Law 95-412 (passed Oct. 5, 1978) with the mission “to study and evaluate…existing laws, policies, and procedures governing the admission of immigrants and refugees to the United States and to make such administrative and legislative recommendations to the President and to the Congress as are appropriate.” The SCIRP report produced by the Hesburgh Commission helped establish an expansive framework for immigration policymaking, and its central ideas were largely codified in the 1986 and 1990 immigration reforms. Despite some restrictive features, the Immigration Reform Act in 1986 created one of the largest amnesty programs for undocumented immigrants at that time, with a seasonal agricultural program offering legal paths for migrant labors to become permanent residents and citizens, and various protections against discrimination (Tichenor, 2002).

Unfortunately, the pro-immigrant atmosphere changed quickly in the mid-1990s when California’s Proposition 1994 stripped undocumented immigrants of a wide range of social services, including educational benefits for undocumented children. Then, in 2005, Operation Streamline was started, and the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice adopted a “zero-tolerance” approach that aimed to prosecute every migrant crossing the US border without authorization. Recently, the family separation scandal broke out, exposing the ignominious immigration policies and enforcement to public scrutiny and criticism.

Me in Geneva, Switzerland, where I conducted interviews with staff at intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations about migrant issues.
IMMIGRATION POLICIES: LAGGING BEHIND THE TIMES

The purpose of listing the restrictive immigration laws of the past is not to justify the current administration’s immigration policies. Many of them were implemented when racial discrimination prevailed and universal principles on human rights were not recognized. Sixty years have passed since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many other international or domestic documents that advance the interests of the migrant population have also been established. The rights of migrants and refugees ought to be better protected.

Nevertheless, during our field observation at the US-Mexico border and in Germany and Greece, we questioned our progress since that time. The enhanced border enforcement on the US-Mexico border pushes migrants and asylum seekers to more rugged and dangerous routes. The criminalization of migrants, especially treating illegal re-entry as a felony, punishes those people who have the strongest ties in the US the most, as typically people whose families and social networks are in the US are those willing to risk crossing the border again after deportation. It is the same group that receives the toughest punishment. How could this be just?

Collecting artifacts left by migrants in the desert on the US-Mexico border.

In the field, we learned that a grandpa, who was also an undocumented immigrant, was arrested when he was taking his grandchildren to school. Would there be better occasions to arrest him rather than when he was with his grandchildren? We also learned that the Border Patrol adopts a strategy called “dusting” in which a helicopter flies over a group of migrants, raising a dust in the desert and dispersing and disorienting the migrants. Hence, many migrants get lost and die in the desert. There are many more examples of inhumane law enforcement practices like this, casting doubts on the nature of law enforcement.

US-Mexico border El Paso meeting
Meeting with the Hope Border Institute at El Paso, Texas.
BUT WHAT SHOULD BE DONE ABOUT MIGRATION?

We still don’t know the answer after our two-month fieldwork. Maybe there is no definite answer to this question. For many people in society, law and order is their most important concern. In their minds, undocumented migrants deserve retribution for their illegal act, and the law enforcement practice on the border is just and well-founded.

Critics of immigration may not reflect on the law itself and debate whether it is just or not. Some may ask how to decide whether certain laws are just or not. To be honest, I don’t know. I am not a legal expert. But I know that, if laws and policies punish humanity and undermine human dignity, there must be something wrong.

Shuyuan Shen and Kathleen Kollman in the roundtable discussion on immigration enforcement and migration in Washington, D.C.

One blog post cannot show the complex picture of the whole immigration enforcement system. This is not the intention of this post. Nevertheless, it sheds some light on the restrictive nature of immigration law and the brutal reality on the ground facing migrants.

It is clear to us that, not only is more humanitarian assistance needed, but also more research on immigration laws and enforcement are in great need to protect the rights and interests of migrants in the US and other parts of the world.

My classmates and I will continue to strive to advocate for migration rights and interests. It is our hope that migrants, regardless of their origins and status, can be better protected and their human dignity can be fully respected.

Baby Steps in the Field: Field Site Two in Bangladesh

by:  Jamie McClung and Chista Keramati

Master of Global Affairs students Jamie McClung and Chista Keramati are currently working in Bangladesh with their global partner, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies. Below they reflect on their most recent field site visit and their experiences interviewing rural community members in the southwest part of Bangladesh, the Satkhira district.


Jamie McClung: Deep Tracks

This week, Chista Keramati and I traveled to villages on the edge of Bangladesh where people’s livelihoods rely on the resources of the Sundarbans—the world’s largest mangrove forest.

Bangladesh Fish and Shrimp
Fishermen throwing their nets to catch fish and shrimp for future sale in the market.
Bangladesh climate change Sundarbans water
A boy stands pensively with land on one side and water on the other, a daily reality for the people near the Sundarbans.

En route to the villages, we confronted slick and muddy roads, where one wrong step meant the difference between staying upright or falling into the rivers and ponds used to hold drinking water. The challenge of navigating these roads was actually quite enjoyable, as it gave us the opportunity to connect with locals, who graciously helped us make our way safely.

Chista and Jamie in Bangladesh
We smile as we try not to slip on the road.

Our deep tracks in the mud, and our presence in the villages, seemed to leave a meaningful impression on the communities, as NGOs and even government officials do not seem to visit here often, especially not during such wet weather conditions.

Bangladesh climate change villagers
I stand with villagers who helped us trek down the road to their homes.

Most meaningful to me was all the people who helped us—each day, and in each community—so that we did not fall. Seeing how adept they were at navigating these treacherous conditions left me with two thoughts: 1) the very location of their homes leaves the entirety of these communities vulnerable; and 2) the sheer strength and resilience within these communities is why they are surviving on very little outside support.

Much of this strength comes from traditional and indigenous knowledge. Most people still live in traditional homes, which are intentionally built with locally grown materials and methods to withstand floods or other climatic hazards.

Bangladesh rainy season plinth
Near the Sundarbans, a traditional home built on a mud plinth (the raised ground) to keep the home from flooding during rainy season.

Through our interviews, we discovered that international trade and the strength of multi-national companies are threatening these ways of life and contributing to many of the development challenges we are witnessing today, from malnutrition to lack of housing. Local communities are quickly losing access to the resources they have depended on for generations, as multi-national companies and NGOs introduce services and materials that don’t align with traditional ways of life. The question for me now is: how do we create locally innovative development that delivers sustainable services in line with traditional ways of life?


Chista Keramati: A Humble Reminder to Self

I wrote my first blog post after I had spent barely ten days in Bangladesh. My research partner Jamie and I had not yet interviewed many people. Dhaka, the capital, and its busy streets and narrow pedestrian areas were the only places we had seen of this geographically and ethnically diverse country. Simply put, I knew not what to expect.

This past Friday—fifty seven days into our stay, and at the closing of our second field trip in rural Bangladesh—we gathered in the local restaurant below our hotel to have our last breakfast in Shyamnagar, a small coastal town in Southwest Bangladesh. While waiting for our now usual “Naan roti and eggs,” we chatted about the past week’s experiences interviewing rural communities, local government officials, and NGOs about their work and life in coastal Bangladesh.

Jamie and I were baffled by what we had heard, observed, and experienced during the past week. Just one day prior, we were on an island where people had lost their land and livelihoods to river bank erosion, and lost family members to cyclones.

Bangladesh climate change women fishing
Women fishing at the bank of Kholpetua River during low tide. They earn somewhere around $1-3 per day selling their catch to local traders.

We walked some of the most difficult hikes of our lives where the seemingly trivial task of going from one village home to the next was a huge challenge in and of itself. Constant heavy rain turned the island’s dirt roads into little (or big) pools of sticky and slippery mud. At every step of the way, I tried to remind myself that, while this was for me a perhaps one-time hardship, it was an everyday routine for local habitants.

Bangladesh Monsoon Muddy Roads
A local woman walking on the muddy village road, which also serves as the river embankment. Storm surges present difficulties in commuting and threaten access to their only roads in and out of the village.

Of course, locals are much more skilled at handling rain and mud than we are. I was reminded of this fact when Shahrbanu—a local woman who had patiently guided the two of us through the mud—bid farewell to us and turned to go home to prepare her family’s lunch. Once assured we were standing on a safe spot, she broke into a sprint towards her home, not minding the slippery road, the heavy rain, and the mud splashing all over her bright red sari. She ran cheerfully and freely as though all the hardships that nature was imposing on her at that very moment were nonexistent. We watched in awe as she disappeared into the mangrove trees and bushes in the distance.

Now silently sipping our sweetened coffee, Jamie and I contemplated what could be done to help. We agreed that it was both humbling and ironic that the locals, in all of their modesty and generosity, did the most to make our experience in Bangladesh, in their villages and homes, pleasant. At our final breakfast, Jamie and I never reached a concrete, satisfying answer. It was like walking through slippery, sticky mud again—toddlers trying to learn how to walk, taking small unsteady steps. We will continue to contemplate. And to this day, the voice of one female participant from a community focus group will continue to echo in my head: “We told you about our lives, don’t forget about us.”

“Somos Red”: A Recap of Nine Weeks of Education Research in Chile

by: Sonia Urquidi

Thirty-three interviews, three focus groups, and eleven classroom observations later, the Enseña Chile team’s eight weeks in the field has come to a close. I write this from my host family’s house as my host dad watches rugby in the living room, both of us bundled in our jackets, as the house is nearly the same temperature as the winter air outside. As I sit down to write, I realize that I’ve barely had a second to myself to reflect on this experience; I’ve been too busy working and exploring Chile with family or friends. Despite the exhaustion, I feel incredibly fortunate for this busy yet fulfilling experience I’ve had here. As I think about what to write, I feel I should address three major things: Our project, of course, some things I’ve learned about education, and the thing for which I am most grateful—the people.

OUR MASTER’S PROJECT

To provide some context, Enseña Chile is an organization modeled after Teach for America in the U.S., and is part of the Teach for All network. This organization selects talented university students (who have not studied pedagogy) to spend two years as teachers in vulnerable schools across Chile. Our work, in particular, relates to a relatively new project, “Colegios que Aprenden” (“Schools that Learn,” in English), in which Enseña Chile hopes to create a consultancy model that helps schools achieve continuous improvement based on concrete evidence.

Therefore, our fieldwork is centered on the following question: How might schools achieve continuous improvement, using data and evidence, to enhance student learning? This is a broad and daunting question. Where would we start?

With the help of our dedicated and kind Chilean team members, Trinidad and Francisco, we began by visiting schools and talking to relevant stakeholders to learn about current feedback systems in Chilean schools.  Based on our conversations and observations, we gathered ideas about how to improve these systems. We visited schools in three major cities: Valparaíso, Concepción, and Santiago (our home base) in order to gain perspective about distinctive regions in the 2,653-mile-long country. The interview questions changed throughout the process as we uncovered major themes or discovered new questions, and the Spanish became a little less daunting as I gained practice. I was delighted by the enthusiasm and openness of the teachers and school administrators who carved out anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours to talk with us.

Education
A focus group with the mentors in the Santiago region of Enseña Chile. Mentors visit classrooms and give feedback to Enseña Chile teachers. We realized they could teach us a lot about how to conduct effective observations and give constructive feedback, so we decided to gather them for a focus group.

THE URGENCY OF EDUCATION

As was the case for some of our classmates in the master’s program, our team’s research didn’t require us to confront overly sensitive or urgent topics. Our questions were along the lines of, “What is your relationship like with other teachers?” or “How do you know that your students have learned the class material?” While these questions didn’t seem pressing, I was reminded in each interview of the fact that every student’s future depends on the quality of his or her education. From this I began to comprehend that this work should, indeed, be approached with a sense of urgency. Many of the schools where Enseña Chile teachers work have a high percentage of students from vulnerable communities. For many of these kids, when home doesn’t offer a safe, loving, or stable environment, school offers solace.  As science teacher, Sebastián told me, “My priority [is] to construct a safe place for them…to form a family.” For these kids, ensuring—as soon as possible—that school is a place of caring and love, and that their education can give them the power to transform their own lives, is urgent. It’s urgent in Chile and around the world. For those of you from the U.S., I ask you to think about the impact of gun violence in our schools, for example. Where do we expect our children to learn if they feel unsafe at home and at school?

Me, giving a very brief overview of our research to the teachers within the Santiago region, essentially advertising the project in hopes of gaining interest for interview and focus group participants.

FROM FOREIGNER TO FRIEND

As interesting and challenging as this research has been, what is most imprinted in my memory are the people I’ve met here in Chile. Just the other day, Enseña Chile celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a day-long celebration. Teachers, school administrators, and funders from all over Chile gathered to converse and attend workshops. As I glanced around the auditorium at the event, I realized how many people Ikrom and I have had the fortune of meeting—teachers with whom we spent hours chatting in Concepción, a school administrator from Viña del Mar who invited us into her home, several mentors who let us spend the night in their apartments, and all the Enseña Chile team from Santiago. In two months, I went from feeling a foreigner to a friend. And when Enseña Chile uses their slogan “somos red,” (“we are a network,” in English), I feel that I am a small part of that human network.

A fantastic hike up Mount Manquehue in Santiago with our kind and adventurous coordinator, Trinidad.