During our visit to the Salinas Valley State Prison, we got to meet some of the prisoners at level 2. Some of the inmates are part of a group working on reconciliation and helping each other to not return back to jail after being released. They started by giving us a presentation about the survey they did and they used the survey to tell us some of their personal stories. The results of the survey are scary. More than 70% of the prisoners who participated were first in incarceration between the age of 9 to 19. And around 30% were incarcerated between the age of 9 and 12. Imagine the change that can happen if these inmates got help mentally and financially, got guidance when they were first jailed. Not only they were left to do the same crimes again, but according to their stories, the absence of a father and role models led to them joining a gang. Unfortunately, their children are now also at risk of joining gangs because of the absence of their fathers and the lack of support. Some of the prisoners said that their children started going to that direction and that they can’t help them to find their way. That is why organizations and groups like CASP trying to stop the youth from joining a gang are essential to reduce gangs violence.
I was impressed by the name of the survey “common ground”. It is a perfect name for the situation in the jail with the prisoners split over race and gang lines. It makes the prisoners see that the others are also the result of almost exactly similar circumstances. It humanizes the prisoners. Yesterday’s speaker from the Kingian Non-Violence organization used a similar approach. They organized an activity of choosing your values to show us how humans have a big common ground and that focusing on that common ground is the way to achieve peaceful change.
Last week my team received the challenge question from Partners Global. The question is “How can PartmersGlobal best address disability rights, and include voices of the disabled, in reconciliation and rebuilding programs in Iraq?” I am glad I chose this project because it is challenging and because I am interested in every aspect of the question. This project will help to expand my knowledge of Iraq socially and politically. Even though the Middle East is my region of interest, it is exciting to focus on one country and be culturally specific instead of thinking in a generalized way.
It is interesting how your knowledge of topics and issues, old and new, can connect and compliment each other for a new project. I have already started thinking about applying what I already know and what I am learning now at the Summer Peacebuillding Program. As a rising senior majoring in international studies and political science I took many courses about the Middle East and political Islam. These classes in addition to our discussion about terrorism with Prof. Richard Rubenstein will help the analysis of the role of the government and ISIS in the disadvantage of disabled Iraqis. There are many means to achieve peace that we discussed in SPP like storytelling, technology, and other ways. This is a good experience to try to apply these theories to the case of disabled Iraqis and how these techniques can help. I also hope that my personal experience as an Arab with a disability and as the vice president of a disability awareness student organization in Oklahoma will give me a closer look at this challenge.
One of my favorite sessions so far is Veterans for Peace by Mr. Phillip Butler. Hearing such a story from the person who experienced it was very interesting. Mr. Butler shared with us his life before the Vietnam War, his life during the war as a prisoner in Vietnam, and his life after coming back to the United States. Hence, the title of his book “Three Lives of a Warrior”.
His story and the way he split his life time into three different parts made me think a lot of my own life and the lives of people affected by trauma. We have the same three parts: our life before the trauma, our life during the trauma, and our life after the trauma. In my short life, I got to discover that the transition from the life of trauma to the post-trauma life is the hardest. It is difficult to accept that your life before the trauma is gone, and it is hard to convince your brain that the trauma event is over. I spent a lot of time trying to take myself back my first life. I focused all my efforts on becoming my old self which failed and made my life worse. I hope to make my third life as productive as Mr. Butler. He took the pain he went through during his second life to ensure it doesn’t happen again to other people. It is a positive example of dealing with the trauma. He didn’t try to act like he didn’t go through one and he didn’t cling to his past life. He accepted the fact it happened and dealt with it in an active way. I would like to know more about his transition process and how he dealt with his trauma stress.
The first day of the program was long but I have enjoyed it and learned new things. The reading about the origin of peacebuilding and its history during and after the Cold War is very informative! The ice-breaking activities we had at the start of the day were entertaining. The little book activity where we had to identify our own definitions and our strengths was my favorite and I am waiting to see the changes that will happen at the program.
The TED Talk video about using jobs as a way to stop conflict left me with a lot of thoughts. Jobs and economic opportunities may suppress conflict but does it really build peace? If the fighting stops but the roots of the conflict, whether cultural or structural, are still in effect then we are only pausing the violence not really stopping it. It might work in some cases of political conflict over power but conflicts based on identity can’t be solved this way. Can the Palestinian-Israeli conflict be solved by giving the Palestinian youth more jobs? -Probably not because the root of the conflict is ethnic, religious and all the other aspects of identity. Of course, the Palestinian youth want jobs but that won’t solve their identity crisis.
The discussion about the Gujarat massacre in 2002 was very interesting. The discussion involved the definition of justice and the ability of the “victims” to forgive. As a person who lived through violence and lost many loved ones in the conflict over the last 6 years, I find these two questions very critical. I understand that punishing the abusers will not bring the sense of peace and justice to every victim but I think it is important to happen. It doesn’t only send a message to future abusers that this behavior will be punished but it also makes the “victims” feel supported by their society.
My classmate (17 y.o.) was shot by the police in a demonstration 4 years ago, the police stopped the doctors from treating him, and made most of my class helplessly watch him die. It is impossible for any of us to forgive that while seeing this happen over and over again to other people and while witnessing these police officers getting promoted. It is unfair to put the weight of peace on the shoulder of the victims and ask them to “forget and forgive” and to “let it go”. Most of my generation in Egypt mocks the word peace because of that. They usually mock “peacebuilding programs” by describing them as a “give up on your rights” programs. It doesn’t helpthat the two words come from the same root in Arabic.
I can’t wait to learn and discuss more about peacebuilding from the professors, speakers, and my smart classmates.
My name is Lamis Ahmed and I am a Senior majoring in international studies and political science. My interest in conflict studies comes from the region where I grew up, the Middle East. Conflict with its various levels and types has been always part of my daily life, whether directly in my hometown in Egypt or indirectly through news about our neighboring countries. Because of the circumstances and the long period of continuous conflict most if not all people surrounding me believe that peacebuilding is a joke. I grew up hearing people scoff whenever the term “peacebuilding” was mentioned. Despite my firm belief in peace and change, this habit grew on me. I became very skeptical about the mechanism and efficiency of any peacebuilding program. My time in the United World College and my classes made me even more skeptical of the possibilities of transforming conflict areas into peaceful ones. The number of conflicts and structural violence cases I personally experienced, heard about from my classmates and studied in college made me see peace as an impossible-to-reach dream.
I applied to SPP because I felt I am being a hypocrite saying I want to help reach peace and stability in my country while doing nothing to learn about the process. I started reading more about peacebuilding in my free time because my college courses are more focused on exploring the source and reasons of the conflict and not the solutions to reach peace. I am expecting SPP to be my first major step in learning about the possibilities of being an effective force in peacebuilding programs in the future, in my country and abroad. In addition to generally reducing and eliminating the violence of conflict, I am an advocate for human right. I am the vice president of an Organization called Disability Inclusion and Awareness at the University of Oklahoma and participated in many events against gender inequality, forced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests against political oppositions.