2017 Summer Peacebuilding Program

Participants Blog hosted by Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS

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Closer and Better Water Than Ever

A statement “water will be closer to us in the future” had a really bad impression to me. I thought it was not true. Have not I seen those protests around the world? There was no way water will be closer to us in the future. I thought “it was only going to be further from us.” The session by professor Jeff Langholz has proved me wrong. So many water conflicts arise all over the world, it is everywhere and the shared root of the problem was that there is not enough for everyone.

Professor Jeff asked us before he started his session if we believed that water will become closer and cleaner for us. None of us showed our hands. He asked us that what if we can produce water by ourselves, just like how we use the solar cell for electricity, will we come to the end of water conflict? Technology, to me sounds like something new, something more modern, something complicated and something that furthers us away from what we did in the past. Using technology to produce water sounds so strange to me, professor Jeff kept going on his presentation, it was so amazing that I felt like I was watching a TedTalk more than listening to a lecture. He talked about all these new inventions that would help us to keep water for ourselves. It seems so surreal to me but this is happening, I was wondering how come we did not think of this before? How many lives we could have saved? It was clear to me that technology definitely doesn’t mean something new, it could be something as old as harvesting dew but adapting it to our lives.

Ways of Interpretation

Yesterday we had a session on interpretation and its role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. I learned a lot about the difference between translation and interpretation (the former is written the latter is from one spoken language to another). We also learned about the challenges that are present when interpreting one language to another, on behalf of both the speaker and the interpreter. It is definitely a very taxing and difficult job and I admire our speakers for their incredible talent and knowledge that they must possess in order to carry it out well.

Another form of interpretation that came to mind during this session was the fact that language cannot be interpreted without culture, which I believe is one of the main facets to be considered in the peacebuilding and reconciliatory processes. The importance of cultural interpretation in dialogues involving mediation and conflict resolution is important to consider when relaying the viewpoints of others on issues that may affect them. I believe that in many cases it may often be overlooked in these processes of reconciliation that lead to starting conversations of peace. Relaying cultural values and morals, as I have learned over the course of the program, needs to be taken into a higher level of understanding, if, in the future, we wish to achieve the positive peace that we seek globally.

Reconciliation and the powerful role of interpreting

In yesterday’s session I particularly loved how Prof. Elizabeth Cole made us come together as a group to discuss the various images that showed us how different communities dealt with justice and remembrance. The image for me that was personally striking was of the Comfort Woman Statue, which depicted a Korean girl looking at the Japanese embassy and the patient, modest way in which she was depicted looking directly at the people responsible for the horrors that she, as a representative of the members of her community, were subjected to.

The conversation that we had on the elements of reconciliation and the role that truth telling, justice, reparations, apologies, acknowledgement and commemorations play in the process reconciliation were important for me to understand. When we watched the documentary Pretty Village, I was equally shocked and in agony of how the person in the movie, Kemal Pervanic’s life as a community activist and Bosnian concentration camp survivor was drastically changed forever when his village was one day attacked by Serb nationalist forces. Many of those who survived the initial attack were to die or suffer terrible violence in the concentration camps that were set up nearby, while many people remain missing, their bodies unclaimed.  The film, although serving as a powerful and informative reminder of the tragic horrors the members of the community were subjected to, simultaneously poses the question of what can be done to heal the wounds of this terrible conflict and how to members of the community deal with life in the midst of their tormentors and why reconciliation remains a distant dream.

Such stories, and the other short film that we watched about the lives of Quechua people where horrendous atrocities were committed in Peru between 1980 and 2000 during the armed conflict between the government and Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a Maoist armed group. Nearly 70,000 people were killed, and thousands of others were tortured and raped. Indigenous people and those who lived in rural areas were hit in particular. The film raised questions on is it enough to have people give testimonials and has it actually unveiled the truth in the path to achieve reconciliation?

This session was transformative and talking to Pushpa in the last session about the challenges to reconciliation and understanding it through the examples of other countries and learning that reconciliation is about truth, mercy and only then can we as a society move toward reconciliation.

No Reconciliation?

Prof. Elizabeth Cole taught us three informative challenging sessions about reconciliation. It made me self-reflect on my own views and my ability to be part of reconciliation efforts. We analyzed and discussed the different cultural and religious approaches of reconciliation and my view fits into the “Peace is Justice” perspective. I can’t think about reaching peace without the people implicating harm and violence receive punishment or some sort of consequences for their behavior. In the mainstream Egyptian culture, reconciliation between individuals is seen as a very positive thing and a lot of people work on encouraging and supporting reconciliation between people. On the other hand, reconciliation with big oppressive systemic groups is seen as a negative thing. One of the most shared modern poems in Egypt now is titled “No Reconciliation”. It is written to express that the level of injustice and violence from the government and especially the police can’t just be forgiven or forgotten. The poem starts by saying:


No Reconciliation

Even if they give you gold

Look, when I pluck your eyes out

Then put diamonds in their place

Can you see?

They take things that can’t be bought:

Childhood memories with your sibling


The poem goes on to count many things are taken by the government’s violence that can’t return back no matter what. Things like family members, friends, lost organs (eyes are a theme because the police forces target them in demonstrations), and most importantly, hope in a bright future. This attitude makes it difficult to achieve reconciliation and peace without a form of justice that makes people feel they can stop the same actions from happening to them again.

Selective memory

In the session with Elizabeth Cole, we looked at photos of monuments that were memorials for victims and heroes of historical conflicts and genocides. The images that we saw were so powerful and reminded me of the power art can have in making a political and symbolic point by compelling the audience to look beyond what they simply see, something that people tend not to do with simple historic accounts.

In particular, the stepping stones monument, that had the names of the jewish family who were driven from their home was so powerful to me because of how their names were now permanently engraved in the stones. Apart from the most obvious fact that this was in memory of their suffering and lives, the symbolism of their names permanently etched in the stone is so powerful as it reflects the resilience of the people generations after. In addition, the unsteadiness of the stones that stumbles those that walk in ignorance of its message is also so powerful in its mission of remembrance and respect to the lives that these people lived.

This however also made me think about those stories and names that are not etched in stone. Those grandchildren and children and siblings and mothers and fathers who lost their loved ones to genocide and other atrocities, but who don’t even receive any act of acknowledgement, regret or apology.  Those that don’t even know what eventually happened to them, who don’t have any closure.  Particularly, the video that we watched about the Omarska camp and the fact that after being freed, people were compelled to live life normally amongst those that tortured them, in ignorance of the suffering that was inflicted makes me so angry to think about how we as the public are so discriminatory about who we hold accountable.

This is seen not only in remembrance and memory but also in conflict and development and peace building. If we are to move towards a society that is peaceful and equal, we have to personally do better to strive beyond the rhetoric that is tailor fed to us and seek those narratives that the system suppresses.


A brighter future?

I have never been much of an environmental person or an activist, perhaps because I find the whole field extremely overwhelming, even more than human rights and conflict, go figure. With climate change and the other ways humans are destroying our planet, I have a very bleak perspective and hope in the field and of our future.

However, the session with Professor Jeff Langolz made me very optimistic about the field, and renewed my faith on technology and human capabilities to innovate. The fact that one can now make water out of thin air – or more like thick air – is astounding and inspiring. Harnessing energy and resources that are abundantly available and reusable will be revolutionary for the environment and human kind and I am at least positive my children will not be thirsty.

However, things such as solar panels and grey and black water filters are not cheap, especially for developing nations and governments that are already struggling with corruption and inefficient governance. Moreover, with the lack of awareness about sanitation and how such things work, it will be difficult to get the community to buy into the idea of recycling and reusing. Although cheap alternatives have started to be created the process will be long and will need to be accompanied by large scale educational campaigns.

Gender and Conflict

The session with Professor Moorti was very interesting and reopened many questions in my mind that I have had throughout my college career about gender and conflict. I was particularly intrigued by her question about if a space without gender actually exists. Having thought about this a lot, I have come to the conclusion that a place without gender simply does not exist. Gender is perhaps the strongest part of our identity and we as human beings take our identities every place we physically and figuratively inhabit. Therefore, like we can’t separate ourselves from our gender (although there are many valid agreements otherwise, especially in the modern world), we cannot separate gender from situations, particularly in conflict situations that usually affect people as a group and community.

Gender is often an ignored subject when it comes to peace building and conflict; the thoughts that are given to gender at all is the traditional roles and needs of women and men, such as the militarization of men and the physical discrimination of women. Seldom do we address how such conflicts and gender identities and inequity intersect. Perhaps understanding this is what peacemakers have failed to do, as conflict in all its destructive nature is also an effective way to transform power structures and address gender inequities in a long-term manner.

Reflections on SPP

Reflecting on the past three weeks, there are many lessons I have learned, both academically and emotionally. There is no doubt that for anyone in the field of peacebuilding, human rights, or social justice, a great deal of emotional strength has to be cultivated. These are difficult issues to deal with and the task of working alongside people from very different backgrounds, disciplines and mindsets is challenging. This program introduced us to a diverse sample of professionals who had so much to offer intellectually and personally, but more than anything it taught me the importance of being honest, upholding integrity and working hard through every challenge. Many people told us that to be in this field, one has to develop a “thick skin.” While I agree that it is important to be able to manage emotions and maintain composure in the face of adversity, for me personally I think the minute you close yourself to really feeling what you do, you lose what lies at the heart of peacebuilding itself. While you must not crumble under stress, I think there is a lot of merit to allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to be unafraid of showing that vulnerability, and really channeling it to keep bettering yourself. The process of learning never stops – regardless of your age, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, and so on. I am grateful to have met and befriended so many different people on this program; creating such strong bonds across all our differences is truly what made this program incredible.

PS: I also love that everyone we talked to could not resist recommending books and films and media and organizations that are doing incredible work, and I made it a point to note down each one. If there’s anything we have learned it’s that knowledge must be shared – so hear it is for anyone that’s interested (attached as a picture)!


Homes of the future!

Jeff Langholz made a point at the beginning of his presentation stating that the future of water is brighter than we think and he then continued to show us why he thought so with on site alternatives to water consumption. For me, this was one of the most fascinating sessions we have had yet, and this reminded me of when I visited the Earthship models (http://earthship.com/) in Taos, NM when I was in boarding school in New Mexico. An Earthship combines much of what Jeff talked about into a sustainably built home made of recyclable materials, that allows for self-sufficiency in terms of electricity, water and vegetable or fruit growth depending on where each one is built.
So what did Jeff talk about? He talked about the different ways of how the on site water revolution is changing the way we can access water that is all around us in the air. This ranged from black and gray water recycling to getting water from fog or dew. He discussed the business model that he is planning on following to integrate these into individual homes starting in California at no cost to the home owner, thus taking away the complexity of the entire process. Jeff’s business model is very important because I believe not everyone has the time or capacity (in cities) to build an Earthship (even though I believe they are the suburban homes of the future), and in this way water sustainability is available to even the busiest people in society at very little cost and incredible profit to them and to the environment in general.
At first, when he said the future of water was very bright, I was definitely not convinced. I can’t say I am fully convinced now either, as this process may take a while to catch on globally but it is definitely a better future than I first thought.

Recycling Water

Prof. Jeff Langholz gave us a very interesting active presentation about the future of water. He asked us first what we think it will be like in the future and we all had very bleak ideas about the future of water and water-based conflicts. He showed us a lot of great inventions and systems used now to recycle water and to produce on-site drinkable water. It is a very interesting concept of how he thinks that in the future recycling water will be as common as recycling paper now. I hope that his optimism and bright ideas become the reality of our world because the impact it will have on peace and stability will be great.

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