People Peace

by: Malalai Habibi

Upon my arrival to DC, I started working to lay the groundwork for the Afghanistan Peace Campaign (APC). This campaign is not officially launched yet, so I have been doing in-depth research and news analysis on the peace efforts to end violence in Afghanistan, known as Kabul Process. Because I wanted to experience organizational fieldwork as well and I found many interesting opportunities, I ended up taking on two organizational field placements. So, with the APC I can now say that I am completing three internships!

The first organization I work with is the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) which is focusing on women, peace and security, and the second is Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), where I can put my focus on anti-corruption compliance.

For this blog, I wanted to focus on my personal experience with ICAN. ICAN is a small organization, but a very professional one. When seeing their office, one cannot believe that so many creative and professional programs and projects are improvised, planned, and implemented in two small rooms. Their office is situated in the Brookings Institution’s building, so it is a small tworoom organization at the heart of one of the biggest think tanks in Washington, DC: what a contrast!

ICAN has an established relationship with small women-led peacebuilding organizations in many countries affected by conflict. Their relationship is not like a donor-and-receiver one, but like two collaborating entities with the same mission: successful peace and sustainability.

As part of my internship with ICAN, I am supposed to contact the Afghan partners and facilitate work and collaboration. I have been going through proposals and working on their monitoring and evaluation.

I started corresponding with the founder of one of the Afghanistan NGOs to inquire about her activities. While speaking with her a few times, and as it is the case with nearly all Afghans, we were trying to find a mutual relation or friend. Again, as it is the case with all these attempts, we were successful! Her son-in-law who is living a few minutes from us is a mutual friend of my husband. The NGO holder was coming to the U.S. to meet her daughter. I decided to visit and welcome her in a friendly manner, another Afghan tradition. And to my surprise, I found her to be a humble woman working for the improvement of Afghan women. Nearly unaware of all those theories of peacebuilding, deradicalization, integration, preventing and countering violent extremism, bottom-up approach and above all ‘Do No Harm,’ she is implementing and practicing these ideas impactfully and in highly committed ways.

Since meeting this woman, my mind has been preoccupied with her and with wondering what all other activists are doing in such societies. I have learned more from her than from any event, seminar or symposium I have attended in DC and those theories and books I have read. She spoke with me about her experience very briefly, but each of those experiences was very informative and educational for me.

My new friend spoke about how she could mobilize 11 groups of Taliban. While the majority of INGOs and NGOs are working in the urban areas of Afghanistan and do not dare to go and work in the rural and remote areas. She is among the few who dared to go to those areas where the Taliban and other insurgent groups reside. She believes they need the deradicalization and educational programs more than any other place. Her NGO provides training and workshops for the people in those areas without differentiating between Talib or not-Talib families. This made her very popular, especially in the remote areas. She said she has a picture of a Taliban Commander who is distributing hygienic kits among women.

This woman uses different tactics, from approaching the wives of members of the Taliban to be intermediaries and speak with their husbands, to providing them with short-term funds to launch entrepreneurship activities. She is very strategic and is able to identify and use these points of entry with the conservative people in remote areas in order to deradicalize them.

Her activities remind me of mediation theories and the importance of using local potential to solve problems. She provided a sewing machine for a Talib wife with funds out of her own pocket so that the wife could sew as a bread-and-butter job. She tried to provide the sewing machine before the recent Afghanistan parliamentary election. When she was asked why she was in a rush to buy the machine and could not wait for funds, she answered that she was going to provide it before the election in the hope that it might aid in deradicalization. For instance, if the woman’s husband possibly was going to jeopardize the election, he might decide not to when he sees that there are people who care about their family and try to help them. It reminds me of the importance of identifying potential dangers and root causes and trying to tackle them before they become chronic and out of control.

This woman told me about a Talib who came to her and asked for help to start a small shop for selling dung (which people still use as fuel in rural areas). The Talib promised her that if he could have a small source of income, he would never continue fighting.

She also spoke of many challenges as well. She said that after conducting workshops and entrepreneurship training for many women in the rural areas, the Taliban wives came to her and asked for the same programs for themselves. She tried to persuade other international NGOs to conduct such programs for them, but they refused for fear that if something threatening happened, they would be blamed for letting the wives of the Taliban in amongst other people.

While reading some of the proposed projects at ICAN, I was surprised to see that nearly all the proposals are written very eloquently, professionally, and effectively. NGOs have successfully implemented programs from making documentaries about women to holding focus group discussions, capacity building training, doing research, and promoting national dialogues.

As I think about the principle of the local turn, I now am able to see that truly the people on the ground can identify the root causes of conflicts, know how to address them, and improvise very professional solutions to tackle them far better than any professional outside intervener. At first it seemed to me that someone with a very extensive background on peace and conflict might have written the proposals: someone who either has studied this field for many years or worked in the highest position within this discipline so he or she could address these issues so elaborately. But as I get to know the NGOs and their workers more, I understand that this level of proficiency and expertise has been gained by being in the field, working on the ground, and collaborating with locals and taking them into account.

One of these activist women with whom I spoke once told me that people are tired of hearing the rhetoric of “political peace” and that they want “people peace.” It was so interesting to me that these activists, many of them nearly unaware of all peace studies theories, can still identify the exact problems facing their communities. And above all, that they take the initiative to start and tackle the problem themselves. I wish that they could have more support in order to start a durable and inclusive peace from the bottom up.


Photo at top of story: Advancing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda: Understanding Masculinities at USIP with ICAN and its partners, from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka.

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.

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?

Colombia at a Crossroads: The State of the Republic

by: Maria Camila Posse Gaez

It was 12:39 a.m. on Thursday, July 19, when a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook the land of central Colombia. The epicenter hit close to a small town in Huila—over 300 kilometers away from Bogotá—but the remezón was strong enough to jolt me awake in the middle of the night.

It had been five years since I last lived on land where earthquakes are a fairly regular occurrence, but the resilience of the capital’s structures protected me from any physical or emotional torment. That is, perhaps, one of the most interesting dimensions of coming back home to Colombia for an internship with the World Bank—the unexpected shelteredness. I grew up further south, in Cali, where the realities of the deep inequality of our country, and the precariousness of our peace and safety, are always just around the corner.

The Colombian Congress building
The Colombian Congress building

Bogotá, however, is much more neatly packaged for the international businessman or diplomat. It sells itself as one of the many capitals of the world and, often, its only “Third World” tells are the various potholes and occasional street vendors that add “charm” to the financial district. In Bogotá, only one house collapsed during the earthquake. It was an old house in the center of town and its inhabitants lived there despite an ancient eviction and demolition notice. The whole affair now stands as a fascinating metaphor for the state of the country—while the media reports mostly on the sleep lost by the capitalinos, not much is said about what happened in the smaller, rural towns closer to the epicenter, or what will happen to the one family who lost their home.

From abroad, watching the news through lagging livestreams or reading outraged updates on Twitter feeds, feeling disdain for the approach discussed above is quite easy. It is easy to blame the elite capitalinos for their blindness and indifference to the plight of Colombians on the peripheries (real or imagined). But being here, living in the bubble, I will admit to walking by the street vendors and pretending they are not there, to going back to bed after the earthquake, being thankful for how nice my apartment is and simply moving on. As I begin my internship with the World Bank and settle back into what once was a home, I recognize these pushes and pulls will become even stronger.

But which pull will be stronger? To give in to the comfort of a desk job in an elegant building in a wealthy neighborhood of a wealthy city? Or to reach out and find the crumbling houses before the next earthquake hits? Or, perhaps, we hide behind excuses of safety and security when forcing ourselves to choose either/or. As an outsider who was once an insider now trying to negotiate those forces, I hope this semester helps me find ways to pull myself and other Colombians out of these conundrums.

The past three months have represented a whirlwind of political events for Colombia, and I am glad I was here to witness and take it all in as an insider-outsider. May and June brought with them a heavily contested, polarized, and difficult presidential election. In a series of peaceful protests around the country, July brought the height of popular condemnation for the political assassinations of social leaders that have been occurring for years. Sadly, however, it seems that for many the most salient tragedy of the past weeks has been Colombia’s untimely elimination from the FIFA World Cup. One could argue that perhaps this avoidance-through-sports is due to the deep sense of uncertainty that plagues the country—unknowingness as to what will happen to the Peace Agreement with FARC under the impending Ivan Duque presidency; doubts as to what the legacy of President Juan Manuel Santos will be; and worries about the present state of the country’s other armed actors. For many of us, tossing and turning about what the referee could have done to spare us elimination at the hands of the English national team provides a stronger sense of certainty and control.

Colombia World Bank
View of Bogota from the World Bank offices

President Elect Duque will receive a country that is both hopeful and weary. Duque ran on a conservative “lets modify the peace agreement and lower taxes” platform that inspired urban elites and their economic interests, while also inflaming anti-Santos sentiments.

Weariness stems largely from the most recent onslaught of paramilitary, ELN, and FARC violence in the rural and semi-rural peripheries of Colombia. Indeed, the Democratic Center party and its members have a history of both being entangled with and denying the existence of paramilitary groups, and, as such, their return to the presidency concerns many observers. Together with ELN and FARC dissidences, paramilitary actors are responsible for the deaths of over 200 human rights defenders, indigenous representatives, and many others since the signing of the peace accords in 2016. This is, devastatingly, evidence that conflict in the country still abounds and that a Duque administration will face challenges not only in implementing the peace agreement (if they do so at all), but also in managing historical threats and new ones that may emerge.

As a Colombian who has been educated abroad for half a decade and who watched Santos’ second term and the unfolding of the peace negotiations through the lens of the media, I choose to share in the sentiment of hopeful weariness. I am worried about the future of the peace agreement—not because its failure would mean a FARC resurgence (I believe that ship has already sailed), but rather because it would represent a failure of the Colombian state and people to do right by the victims of decades of structural and direct violence.

As a peace studies student, I am keenly aware of the oppressive size of the challenges that face communities in Chocó and Antioquia, for example, and it worries me deeply to think these might be compounded by the destruction of spaces for justice where their truths might be told. Moreover, as someone who feels deeply committed to working for peace, development, and justice, I wonder what safe spaces will be left for us when the chips of violence fall according to new political arrangements.

I am also hopeful that the past years of political polarization and debates have awakened a spirit of moral activism in the hearts of many Colombians—we will not sit idly by and watch our prospects of peace be dismantled. Indeed, on July 6, a series of peaceful national demonstrations against the assassinations of social leaders spread throughout the country. Thousands of people in Bogota, Pereira, Cali, Barranquilla, Medellin, and many other cities, hit public parks and squares to clamor for justice and their protection. Using candles to represent the lives lost and the hashtag #NosEstanMatando (#WeAreBeingKilled), the crowds forced politicians, including the President Elect, to at least acknowledge the situation. As such, I have hope that the Colombia of 2018, one that has so many wicked problems and faces a tricky next four years, is also one of renewed political and ethical energy.

Fingers crossed that by the time the 2022 FIFA World Cup comes around, in those same four years plus four months, our getting eliminated truly is the only cause for national mourning.

Becoming Uncomfortable: Peace Studies in the Field

by: Susan St. Ville

Students in the International Peace Studies Concentration of the Keough School Master of Global Affairs program will soon embark on the extended field internship experience that is an integral part of their peace studies training. Students will spend six months on the ground working with a peace-related organization and conducting independent field research that will form the basis of their MA Capstone project. This year members of the peace studies cohort will be located in Nairobi, Bogota, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Seattle, and South Bend. They will join a range of organizations including the World Bank, Catholic Relief Services, Voice of America, the Life and Peace Institute, and Act, Change, Transform (ACT!).

Peace studies in actionThe Kroc Institute established its first field internships in 2004. Six months is a long time to be away from campus and the extended internship experience is unique among master’s level peace studies programs. We are encouraged that alumni of the master’s program and employers alike consistently report that the extended time spent in the field is essential to building the professional identity and self-understanding that is the hallmark of peacebuilders trained at the Kroc Institute over the last 32 years.

In the high stakes and unpredictable world of conflict and peace work, acting professionally requires much more than simply applying skills learned in the classroom to vexing problems in the real world.

As part of the Keough School Master of Global Affairs, the peace studies concentration draws deeply on the pragmatic insights of reflective practice: the understanding that the most effective knowledge in any situation comes through practice. Put simply, we learn best by doing.

Reflective practice requires that we shift the center of gravity on the theory-practice continuum. In his classic book, Experience and Education, John Dewey asserts that learning rooted in experience is key for intellectual and personal growth, helping students to “improve their power of judgment and capacity to act intelligently in new situations.” The peace studies students in the field learn above all to listen to the nuances of the local context and to act in a manner fitting to the particular situation. To be sure, students draw on the theories and skills that they have learned during the first year of coursework. But they understand the importance of holding these theories gently and being ready to adapt, rework or even reject them as the situation demands.

Peace Studies students often remark that the field experience helps them to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Indeed, the experience is intentionally designed to unsettle students. Students are generally placed in a culture that is unfamiliar to them: this year our interns in Nairobi, for example, will hail from the Philippines, China, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Interns become full members of the organizations where they are placed, learning how to navigate an institutional setting very different from the university community that has been their home for the past year.

 

Peace studies in action

Students spend the majority of their time (four days per week) working with their organization, leaving one day each week for their own academic research. In these practical ways, the Peace Studies field experience seeks to embody the key principles of solidarity and subsidiarity that are central to the understanding of integral human development that undergirds the Keough School Master of Global Affairs. Asking students to step outside of their comfort zone and follow the lead of the local partners for six months is difficult, but through this process students learn in very practical ways how to genuinely support their partners and nurture local initiatives that support the common good.

Over the course of six months, students will write monthly journal entries and longer papers that recount the challenges they face in these unfamiliar settings, but also the creative ways they have found to meet these challenges. Later entries from Peace Studies students on this blog will give readers a glimpse of these journeys. Like past interns, this year’s Peace Studies students will produce important products for their organizations, including conflict assessments; policy analyses and recommendations; workshop designs; and program evaluations. But more importantly, they will develop personal qualities that will allow them to succeed as professional peacebuilders, no matter the context in which they find themselves.

Education theorist Randall Bass writes that the most valuable and transformational educational experiences are those that improve students’ ability to “make discerning judgments based on practical reasoning, acting reflectively, taking risks, engaging in civil, if difficult, discourse, and proceeding with confidence in the face of uncertainty.” Over the extended six-month period, Peace Studies students grow in all of these areas, learning to think outside the box and to act confidently (with both generosity and humility).

If the stories and career trajectories of past master’s students are any indication, we know that the field experience will be radically transformative for our students. We are excited for our Peace Studies students to undertake this formation process and even more excited to see who they become over the next six months.

Susan St. Ville

Director, International Peace Studies Concentration