2017 Summer Peacebuilding Program

Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS


After having a Session on Interpretation and Translation, it occurs to me that I do not normally come across research or any discussion about the challenges interpreters face while interpreting or translating for parties that are in conflict with one another. It was a very interesting session to hear about translation and interpretation and what the skills sets are for this arena. Also, I now know the key differences between Translation and Interpretation.

  • Translation: written to written forms
  • Sight Translation: written form to oral form
  • Transcription and Conference Translation: oral form to written form
  • Interpretation: oral to oral forms
  • In addition, the modes include consecutive, simultaneous, and whispered.

I remember when I did Translation and Interpretation work, I did not really think much of this work nor did I feel there were any challenges. In fact the translation and interpretation work was an addition to the nonprofit work I was doing at the time (domestic violence, trafficking, housing, immigration, government services, and healthcare). I guess the work I was doing seemed natural to me and I was translating/interpreting between two languages I grew up with-Spanish and English. I realized that it also seemed natural doing this kind of work in California since it feels like many Californians tend to speak both Spanish and English. In addition, I am of the same ethnic and racial background as those who spoke Spanish. I never saw any challenges because I am a Latina who has binational ties between Mexico and the United States. I understand the cultural differences between both nations as well as understand the cultural differences and similarities of Latinos from other Latin American countries. I guess you can say that although interpretation and translation work is very important, it just seemed like part of the deal for any job and something to be expected. The nonprofits I worked for did not have specific people translating or interpreting nor did they have background in interpretation and translation.  Rather, the employees, who already had knowledge of a language (whichever it may be), were told to automatically translate and interpret to English. We were asked to do such tasks during interviews, events, meetings, written materials, etc.

It was during this session when our group was doing a role play that I realized the challenges and issues that could arise.  I never thought how complex and yet intricate this work can be. I never thought about how one needs to know what the context of the meetings or discussions would be about. I never thought that interpreters/translators needed to pay attention to who they are interpreting and translating for. The individual can be a myriad of things. I never thought that a interpreter/translator may have problems with interpreting/translating certain things, such as vulgar words.  What I did realize was that interpreters/translators sometimes have a difficult time doing their jobs when dealing with such difficult topics as war, rape, murders, domestic violence, and among other things. While watching the role play occur, I saw that not only this is a real problem but that I was curious to know more about how interpreters were handling such situations, especially in international institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations.

Unfortunately, this was a short session and I wish we had more time. I was very interested and I wish I was able to ask them questions when I had the chance.


Self – Reflection and “Inner Peace” in Peacebuilding

When I first heard about peace starting with yourself I thought that was a ridiculous and conformist idea intended to demobilize people. “Stick to your own business, don’t point fingers if you don’t look at yourself”. Yes, I can be in a lifelong journey of self-discovery. Does this mean, then, that I can’t act if I am not perfectly peaceful myself?

This is a false debate, I think. Both are needed. You definitively need to look inside and work out your own contradictions. You have to know yourself. You have to be perfectly honest with yourself and develop awareness if you want to be honest about your work. It is completely true that you cannot give what you don’t have. I don’t mean you need to be perfect in order to be in a position where you can do something, but you definitively have to be in a position where you are willing to listen and be open to learning and do so with compassion for yourself and the others. You don’t need to be a saint to work for peace. None of us are, and nobody would, then.

Compassion does not mean tolerating injustice, nor blind acceptance to it. On the contrary, you definitively need to look very hard inside and think how you are acting and what your motivations are. It takes courage to listen and confront your own beliefs. This makes dialogue complicated. But in the end, what is solving a conflict about? Proving you are right? If all parts act this way, that will not take them very far and certainly that attitude doesn’t help establishing any kind of dialogue.

Being humble is not a synonym of being servile, weakness or “giving in”, but it is certainly a trait you need to listen before reacting. And how can we understand if we are not willing to listen? How can we change if we are not willing to understand? How can we learn if we are not willing to change? This post borrows some concepts from different religious traditions. I learned the importance of incorporating spirituality to the conversation.

In societies where laicism is an important value sometimes we may be reluctant to even talk about these concepts, but I think some are interesting to explore and cultivate for more peaceful individuals in more peaceful societies.

Gender in Peacebuilding

Such as we need to think about including women and girls [along with LGBTIQ+ and diverse masculinities] in our development /peacebuilding programs we should also need to rethink about how the patriarchal agenda dictates how we operate.  Just as sometimes females can replicate misogyny (even the most hardcore feminists) we can also replicate other parts of the male-dominant system, like the use of violence, which is a very much masculine-centered approach. Violence, heroism, competitiveness, which are very central to our culture, are often identified more to masculine qualities in a binary system.

Feminisms from the global south and from postcolonial studies suggest interesting approaches to this. Recover cooperation, collaboration and nurturing in our processes. Stop thinking about our work in the rhetoric and language of a battlefield. If we care about relationships (which we should if we are even thinking of long-term lasting approaches) let’s be creative and think outside this system. Let’s stop following that agenda. What can we build differently? Can we even imagine it to be? Since the “feminine” is regarded as “weak” this approaches don’t seem to many as “combative” enough.  They are not, and they should not pretend to be. Instead, they should be proactive and, overall, deeply questioning and transgressive.

Peacebuilding and the Donor Dilemma

So peacebuilding is a very noble endeavour, but where do we get funding to do it? In Mexico there is the misconception that people in this field should be completely selfless and devoted to the cause. You might be, but you still need to eat and pay rent, and there is an operation cost to any peacebuilding activity.

Asking for fair retributions as a worker of the peacebuilding field is a matter of taking a stance about the dignity of your work. It is important. It is a job. We are professionals. There is a point in the middle between profiting from peacebuilding and working for free. It is difficult to accompany people in their quest for justice, dignified working conditions if you can’t stand up for yourself. At the same time, we know the people getting the highest salaries in this country are not the ones who make better contributions to society, but the ones who engage in more lucrative activities.

Although individuals can engage in both profit-making and peacebuilding activities, can you actually bring together both approaches in the same project? Won’t one agenda dominate the other when decisions have to be taken? This brings us to the questions of whom we should take money from and under which conditions we are willing to work. If we know we can access a certain amount of money that can do a lot of good to a certain population but don’t agree with the source, should we take it? If we are offered a job that can give you a great position to enable you to approach a large population but don’t agree with the organization you would be working for, should you take it? What are the limitations, and what should be the line? Again, I come to learn in Monterey that these are questions that are being raised all over the globe and trying to find an answer together becomes crucial in a world of globalized economy and politics.

Religion-positive or negative

This session was an interesting session. Professor Bock was passionate and accepting of other people’s views.  Professor Bock was discussing with our group the negative and positive aspects of religion in Peacebuilding. As a practicing Catholic, I personally feel that religion can be used in a positive way in many aspects-personal, romantic, educational, etc. I am aware that Pope Francis has been a positive role model and has such an impact on the global stage. In addition, the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles has also done wonderful things to help the community, such as immigration, cultural events, homeless services, and more. When Professor Bock started the session with the exercise about what the positive or negative roles religion play in conflicts, I realized that it was easy to discuss the negative aspects, but not the positive. I realized that with my group it was also easy to discuss the negative aspects, but not the positive. When we discussed as a class, many of us were able to discuss the negative aspects while the positives were relatively unknown  cases that seemed like good examples or we came up with Desmond Tutu being a prime example.  I realized that, as a society, we tend to remember the bad, but never the good. We tend to believe in bad things, but never the good. Society needs to learn to be better to one another and to see more of the good than the bad.  I also cannot understand why people kill, cause harm, or terrorize in the name of religion. We already have problems with what we have in society. These religious conflicts compound existing problems. With that, I see the importance of religious leaders. Religious leaders need to remind their communities that extreme religious beliefs with violence are not the answer to any problem or a sound reason in any conflict. Dialogue is a better option. In addition, religious leaders can help  create positive impacts, which will help individuals like me to remember good examples.


Flowing to Peace

The session with Professor Jeff Langholz was fantastic. It was fantastic and very informative to listen to the conflict rap. The professor was pretty good! This entire presentation was engaging and it really helped me understand the water crisis as well as the positive future in green technology. Personally, I have never studied environmental issues before. I believe that his class was very informative and useful. I believe this session was a great introduction into understanding the environmental issues that impact our society. I learned that there are three pillars to sustainability: people, planet, and prosperity. The elements may be the three C’s (communities, conservation and commerce) or the three E’s (equity, ecology, and economies). In addition, I did not know California hired Water Patrol agents. That alone helps me truly understand that there is a water crisis-resrouce wise and economic wise. It was incredible to learn that it would cost $1 trillion to fix the U.S. piping system. I also did not understand until now that the water is expensive for an economic reason as well. It was a shock to know that water is the fastest rising utility. It is unbelievable that companies are so greedy to hike up the cost of water, a resource we all need.

I also learned about different water systems-Graywater and Blackwater.  Apparently, Graywater is water that was used for laundry, showers, and bathtubs. Blackwater is water that was used for toilets and kitchen sinks. It is incredible that there is technology to clean up water in order to reuse it again. However, I am not sure if I am willing to drink the water. Again, I am not familiar with environmental issues, but this truly was presented as an exciting field to explore. I realize that this green technology can be useful for countries in Latin America. Latin America is beautiful and a perfect region to try different green technologies. However, I wonder if Latin America will miss an opportunity to continue trying out this field.  I can only see benefits in creating jobs for the region. In addition, I also find it frustrating that the Trump administration is willing to miss an opportunity because the were more interested in maintaining the status quo by siding with the usual utility sectors where they have a horrible impact on the environment.

I found this session amazing and I wish his class was longer.

Religious conflict? How can we use religion to make peace?

Oftentimes, throughout the history, people refer conflicts between two religious groups as religious conflicts. However, when we look deeper into many of those conflicts, the truth is that most of them are more like identity conflicts in which that people do not even practice their religious rituals, but rather they use the religion symbol to manipulate the group to fight for their interests. Professor Bock shared with us that intervention of these conflicts is only possible if and only if we have the credible messenger within the group, because outsiders cannot effectively influence the religious leaders – change is more effective from within.

Professor Bock also mentioned about the concept of “holy envy”, which plays a role in peace building process for religious conflicts. It is defined as individuals express admiration for a religious practice. For instance, a Christian celebrates Ramadan or a Muslim celebrates Christmas. But I found the wording of this concept interesting because I see that their behaviors are more like an appreciation instead of envy. Similarly, what is the difference between “tolerate an culture” and “celebration of diversity”?

No matter what wordings we choose to use, as a peace builder, the most important thing is that we have to do what we do in with the understanding of the conflict.

Innovative sustainable business for Peace !

I was mesmerized with Professor Langholz’ s presentation about launching an on-site water production for resolving water conflicts across the globe. Capitalistic ideas are not bad at all, aren’t they?

Professor Langholz told us that, for most of the times, the best technique to use negotiation to resolve conflicts is to expand the “pie” for both sides. Of course, it is easier said than done because each side will have their positional interests. To me, when I reflected on his “pie theory”, I actually connected that with the concept that I lately came across – transformative mediation. This process is primarily focusing on recognition and empowerment for both parties instead of looking for an immediate short-term solution. I would say that Professor Langholz’s “pie theory” resembles the essence of the transformative mediation, because it also focuses on both sides for a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.

On the other hand, Professor Langholz shared with us his multi-billionaire business idea that we can potentially implement that in our home countries – The WATER CITY – using the latest sustainable technology to recycle the water in California. (He started a company on this with his students after receiving the Innovator Award of the Year.) I realize that, conventionally, business ideas are not commonly acknowledged in the field of peace building. However, the world is transforming. We all need to incorporate all the possible ideas to contribute the world peace building process. I think innovative sustainable business for Peace would be a win-win situation for everyone, and we all should work towards to it.

In reality, can conflicting parties achieve reconciliation?

The concept of reconciliation refers to the restoration of relationships, and in many cases, it incorporates justice, forgiveness and accommodation between conflicting parties. However, the key question that peace builders should ask themselves is that can we have justice and forgiveness at the same time? Are they contracting with one another? Can people forgive their enemies for what they have done? For instance, as Dr. Cole said, resolving religious conflict and achieve reconciliation is complicated because the definition of reconciliation across religions is different – mercy for Buddhist; truth for Hindu; justice for Muslim; and forgiveness for Christian. Then, how can we reach a common ground for reconciliation?

Dr. Cole also mentioned an interesting “reconciliation” for the victims in Aceh province in Indonesia, after the tsunami struck in 2004. There were two groups fighting for years and the conflict was deeply rooted in the cultural and religious difference between Aceh and much of the rest of Indonesia for a long time. However, they achieved “reconciliation” after the tsunami, because all the infrastructure, land, and houses in the area were destroyed – they had nothing left. Both conflicting groups came and worked together to rebuild the affected zone. Their change was historical because both of the groups had never come together; but then the disaster reunited them together.

I found it interesting because their “reconciliation” did not match the concept of reconciliation at all. Though, they have restored their relationships for a short period of time, the process did not incorporate any justice or forgiveness from either ride. Rather, they were together to rebuild their lives.

So, without experiencing life-and-death situation, can two conflicting groups forgive one another with other peace-building process?

Reconciliation through Movies

We had a few sessions about reconciliation and how important it is for us, as peacebuilders to understand the process. I found that this step is extremely difficult and challenging to understand, after the session I have been thinking about what are the other ways of remembering?

I came up with Movies.

There are so many movies about war and disaster, but are these really helping people to remember?

There are so many questions come up in my mind.

How effective are they?

How accurate are they?

Did they ask the victims before they make the movie? would they say yes to someone who is going to make a benefit out of their love ones’s dead? and what are they getting from letting them do it?

The Impossible is about the 2004 Tsunami

UNITED 93 is about 9/11 attack

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