Lessons Learned in Peacebuilding

Our final session was interacting with Fambul Tok, a program in Sierra Leone that looked to reduce conflict between civil war actors in the war torn country. The entire session was very emotionally heavy as we saw videos and heard stories of children being flung around and smashed into the ground, of girls being raped by family members, of children killing their parents and loved ones. For me, this really upset me as the actions partaken by the people in the country directly went against some of my prime core values, and I couldn’t understand how even though these actions were taken place, and the peace process showed community members coming together, how almost easy it seemed for forgiveness and then amicability moments after was possible.

What really struck me about this session was the role play we had enduring the afternoon. We were assigned roles within a region in the country that had a history of conflict between two groups and had to develop action plans and coordinate with our various adjacents and subordinates regarding partnership and actions. What struck me during the presentation was the level of abosolute disconnect between us at the top, and those at the community level who were being affected by our designs and projects. There was no communication between the community groups and the national organizations, and a lot of our actions were built off the scripts we were given and not the actual needs of the people. What happened were plans developed that did not match their needs and would cause them more harm than they would good.


A lot of this mirrored the way real world peacebuilding and development can go. The lack of inclusion between local communities, the in pouring of top-down approaches within a country or region seen needed the most help, and the disconnect even between adjacents in terms of what was provided, true roles enacted by the organizations. It was a real eye opener for me to be careful of falling into the trap that development and donor dependency usually fosters, and causing more harm to communities that I intend to serve. As I continue my journey into peacebuilding, I must constantly be aware of this and try my best to be mindful of the community’s needs and desires by asking the community themselves and not assessing based off a case study – that to me is how agency will be best cultivated.

Understanding My Shortcomings: Gender

In our session with Dr. Sujarta Moorti we explored the multi-faceted continuum that is gender, and how that has reflected in peacebuilding and the field of conflict resolution. As soon as the session begun I was learning new things that I never really considered too much, and the longer we were in class the more I seemed to realize that gender was relatively unexplored through most of my life, and how much more I needed to explore.

I identity as a male, and associate the cis male pronouns and identity with myself. The concept of what it meant to be male, and how that is ‘signaled’, was something I’ve never really explored in this context. I knew that society frames our perceptions about gender, but I didn’t realize the scope and scale of the scripting and coding of gender into our society until seeing how the difference between children’s advertisements are displayed. It also challenged perceptions I had of the session going into it. While I consider myself pretty fluid in terms of gender roles and norms, I found myself having to push back on instilled codes and scripts during our morning exercise, as well as the general assumption that ‘gender’ would be a discussion of mainly women in conflict and peacebuilding, when in reality it would be about the men too and how patriarchy creates such a narrow frame of expression.

This session has been very helpful in helping me explore gender as a study and lens to operate. I am still not very comfortable utilizing this lens as I have not fully grasped the total complexity that gender and I’ve had the privilege to not have to grapple too much with the binaries of gender to have to confront the lens. I think more interaction with gender will be beneficial for me in the long run and I look forward to exploring them in depth in the future.

Re-conceptualizing Space in a Sea of Islands

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The first day of the last week was an experience with geography, social constructs, and space. Prior to the beginning of the session we acknowledged the space we’ve been settling on within the indigenous territory of California. This entire session was fascinating to me because of the social constructs and idea of history and naturalism that envelop so much of geography but also the social sciences. We explored the frames of space and how spatial organization and structures play a role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. During this whole session I became really interested in different conceptualizations of space and how that conceptualization influences a group’s worldview and culture. And of course, I brought it back to myself and it highlighted a lot of the reasons I am doing what I’m doing.

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This past year, as I’ve continued my self-decolonizing journey I have become more aware of my conceptualization and utilization of space. During our session Professor Herb introduced to our cohort the concept of framing locations and people based on the space they inhabit. The concept of a spatial barriers are physical and non-physical and are used to isolate or separate communities from each other or from themselves. This really related to the essay I read in the spring by Epeli Hau’Ofa, an Oceania scholar and author of “Our Sea of Islands”. In it, Hau’Ofa compares the western and indigenous frameworks of space, and how much your conception of space influences your conception about relationships to other things within that space. In western society, the phrase and concept that is used more often than not when talking about Oceania is “the Pacific”. The Pacific, from a colonial framework, defines the space from a bird’s eye view as islands in a sea. The conceptualization of space becomes what is inhabitable and what can be utilized, and becomes measured by the amount of land available within the Pacific. This conceptualization leads to the mindset and assumption of isolation, of smallness, of dependency – small islands surrounded by big sea cannot develop, the primary challenge is isolation, the region is then carved to gravitate small islands towards larger powers, is dependent on larger nations for support and necessities. Over the last few years, I have begun to actively stop using the word “Pacific” when describing or locating my people or region, because to me, it’s only reinforcing the historical colonial narrative of smallness and isolation and need to anchor to the big fish along the rim. From the perspective of indigenous Oceania, the opposite is actually the case. Oceania, a term that to me represents the indigenous conceptualization of the region’s space, sees the region not as islands in a sea but as a sea of islands, and the distinction to me is a powerful one. Oceania was peopled and settled by voyagers who had understanding of the currents and pathways within the region, and used it to create a wide and complex network of culture, trade, and community over thousands of years. Thousands of islands connected by currents. The island does not end with visible land, but continues through the networks and connects all the lands and people together, creating what Hau’Oli refers to as “the Blue Continent”. This conceptualization of space that does not end with the land of the islands re-frames the narrative of islands as small and isolated and dependent towards one that is connected, vibrant, sustainable, and developed.


We use space in settler colonial societies to frame resources towards the benefit of the settler, to erase and separate communities that for generations have interacted with each other in different forms and outlets. As I continue with my time in a colonized space on a settled land within the framework of a system of settler colonialism, being able to identify the barrier spaces, whether they are physical like the fences and gates that run through communities and indigenous lands, to the nonphysical such as the carving of Oceania on a map, is so important and critical as I develop my own perception and identity within conflict resolution and peacebuilding.



Week at A Glace, Episode II

Taking up what I started last week, this blog is dedicated to the second week of the Summer Peace building Program. Last week, I was grappling with a lot of issues related to self-doubt, uncertainty, and representation within the field of peace building and conflict resolution. I tried to spend most of my free time in Mount Madonna exploring these feelings and concerns to try and find a way to navigate out of the block I have been having, but unfortunately the last week didn’t do me much good. We had a lot of great sessions and most of them were really eye opening in terms of the scope of peace building, and expanding the understanding of an individual’s or group’s role in building peace in communities, but all this week really ended up doing was showing me even more ways that peace building could be done, themes that I found particularly necessary and relevant, but no clear answer on what my role in peace building looks like. The past week wasn’t the most relevant in terms of applying the sessions to my areas of interest. Yes, decolonization addresses structural societal issues that are the roots of gang violence and prison involvement, but related to my interests these were mainly US centric cases; Guahan doesn’t have major prison gangs, and while it has issues related to drug abuse and poverty and crime, the level of structure and severity of the prison gangs in Salinas definitely felt more like a States issue than it would an island issue.

During Thursday’s debrief, a fellow classmate brought up their uncomfortability seeing themselves in this field for some of the similar reasons I have been internalizing. It was good to see that I was not the only one stressing themselves over these questions, and it is probably something I need to continue to remind myself, because as soon as I heard them it became obvious to me that others must be feeling the same way I am. Some solid advice that I am trying to internalize is that it is okay to be unsure of your place in peace building. If I felt like I knew everything about everything in a field where so much of it is built on our not knowing and being comfortable in the uncomfortable state, then I would probably be in a worse state than I’m in now. That check to my growing self-doubt and insecurities was sorely needed, but it also needs to be backed up with the hard skills and conceptual understanding required to excel in this field, and while I feel I am adeptly rooted in my conceptual understanding of peace building and conflict resolution, the hard skills – the technical knowledge and confidence to be able to provide recommendations on approaches and courses of action within a conflict area and help navigate those spaces – is where I feel I’m still lacking. And maybe these self-doubts are only based in my insecurities, as my case study has proved to me that at some level I think like peace builders would in given situations, but again, maybe they aren’t.

As we move into the last week, I am still anxious about my interest of finding how to apply peace building and conflict resolution to decolonization. As many session speakers have echoed throughout this last week, it is a field that is sorely underrepresented and worked in, and because of that I am having harder times applying everything that I’ve learned in these last two weeks to building the image of what my role in the field would look like. A lot of that stems from the fact that conflict resolution and decolonization have so much overlap, that it is easy to see where cases and practices apply, but their differences play a role in changing approaches or interests for some. I am a little more hopeful that this week I will have a clearer understanding and potentially find a way to answer the block I’ve been having regarding this matter, and finally be able to see myself in a field I am so interested in.

Criminal Justice and Gang Violence

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I didn’t realize how little I knew about criminal justice and gang violence in the United States from a structural or institutional lens. During class with Julie Reynolds-Martinez and her session on gang violence and the prison system in the US, I found myself unable to speak to the many statistics and trends in data and reporting that has evolved over the last forty years, and to me that was embarrassing and disappointing. I had definitely known about gangs from personal experiences growing up, and I’ve had personal experience with the recruitment and operations performed by gangs both inside and outside of the system. I’ve also had the general background knowledge of US prison pipeline system and the statistics that predominately target people of  color, but to hear the in-depth stories of both inside and around the prison system to me was appalling in discovering a large gap of information especially around areas that I am currently residing in or have lived in for a while.


A lot of our session brought me into a reflective space regarding my childhood. I grew up in poor area of Sacramento, and enrolled in primary school that was predominately children of color, predominately poor, and sitting in areas where criminal and gang activity was heavily concentrated. Seeing the space and the social environment of these children who were recruited into gang life and the ways they were conditioned really brought me back to a time I hadn’t really thought to much of in the last three years. As we went into the mock exercise about Operation CEASEFIRE, I tried to channel the space and mindset a lot of my family would be in when confronting or speaking to some of my family who would be involved in gang activity in our area.

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The entire sessions with Julie were really enlightening for me. I learned so much more about the prison gang and gang social structure than I had ever known. I am fascinated with the culture system within a gang, and keeping the narrative of the single stories in mind, became very impressed with how these organizations fostered and cultivated successful and innovative practices and skills into kids and adults who there entire life had been told by one system or another that they had nothing to offer. Our conversation on finding a way to tap into that system or that energy and cultivate it for a cause we see as more productive than gangs was the question left unanswered, and understanding the challenges that confronting the gang system presents make it extremely difficult for anyone to be truly a “dropout”. A couple days later, the Salinas Chief of Police made a very good point – there is no real such thing as a dropout. Not in the current realities of the system. So finding avenues to approach that issue and find a way where gang members that no longer want to associate with that system, especially kids and young people, that assures sustainable safety and community engagement to me is one of the harder but more exciting and hopeful challenges of this whole case.

“A Mysterious and Tragic Fire”

Today our session focused on the role history has played in peace building and justice. As an avid fan of history I really appreciated these sessions because it showed how the formation and promotion of a history can radically influence how a society comes about addressing a conflict and how its society is affected generations later over the action or inaction taken historically. Primarily we looked at Colombia, South Africa, and the US.

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Portions of the session were not new to me in terms of the material discussed, but the conversations regarding historical race relations in the US, and the monuments and roles of monuments and history in peace building and justice to me were particularly interesting in terms of examining history’s role. Most of the historical topics related to race trauma and violence I had learned in college and university or doing self-study, but noted that none of the information was really taught in primary or secondary school. It wasn’t until college where a lot of the details related to US history was fleshed out regarding specific policies that targeted people of color and Black Americans in the US. I was really interested in the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission. I was fairly pleased to know learn about the South-South exchanges throughout the various TRCs, and even though I was fairly informed of the process and history of the process I wasn’t as familiar with the failings and incomplete sentiments felt by many Africans.

During the final half hour we watched a video revealing a museum and memorial in Alabama that details the historic use of lynching by whites against Black Americans as a form of terrorism and tool to uphold white supremacy in the US. Really looking at histories and memory as a shared narrative, many US citizens who are not aware of historical race relations don’t usually come across lynching cases as a widespread and methodological tool. Bringing the history of lynching to the public eye will be positive in the respect that it directly addresses the history (and current reality) of white supremacy in the US and how its’ effects have impacted Blacks, PoC, and even whites in this country. My only reservation when hearing about this monument was the possibility of creating more trauma for some in the community than healing. We concluded the discussion with a conversation on unresolved historical memory and monuments and it reminded me of residing in Monterey. It took me back to the first time I strolled down the bike trail in Monterey between the Fisherman’s Wharf and Lover’s Point, and on the trail there is a progressing mural that shows the historical settlement of the Monterey Peninsula. Part of the mural tells the story of the settlement of Monterey by Chinese fisherman during the 19th century, who had established a vibrant thriving community along the peninsula. The mural explains away the community’s disappearance with a ‘mysterious and tragic fire…’ which ignored the history of violence and prejudice against the Chinese-American community by white settlers who reside and profit off the peninsula today. The mural to me reflected the various themes we discussed in class this session: a monument’s power to enforce a single story or narrative, history’s role in justice or even furthering injustice in the United States, and the importance of monuments in pushing a legacy of justice and collaborative narrative in areas or communities post conflict.

Week at a Glance, Episode I

This blog isn’t about a particular day or session, but I guess more of my feelings of what this whole week was like for me. Decompressing this entire program as a week-long event on top of the individual sessions or days that might need it. This entire week I have been questioning my place in the Summer Peace building Program – not because I do not understand the material, nor because of any personal or professional incompetence, but because I don’t see myself reflected in what we’ve done this past week. With the first week of the Peace building Program out of the way, it has given me some time to reflect on my interests and motivations and how they merge or diverge from the program so far. Each day I come into this program with different expectations but similar questions. Each session I reflect on how this topic or that aspect of peace building can really benefit my interests in career, and maybe identify what I could contribute to peace building as a practice and a study. The more that I explore these questions and thoughts the more I leave the day unanswered. And as I contemplated on it again this weekend, I realized that a part of my insecurity and lack of direction in peace building might reflect my lack of specificity in terms of choosing a career path.


I don’t really know what I want to do when I graduate. It’s a question that I have been able to evade by being relatively vague,”I want to work in indigenous Oceania development/I want to help decolonize Guahan”, but the closer I get to graduation, the more I hear the question, and the more I don’t have an answer to give back. I am really passionate about a lot of things, especially within the realms of development and political science, and peace building. I am extremely passionate about decolonization as a study and practice, a field that I would argue ties in quite well to issues regarding peace building but some seem to argue against. I am also extremely passionate about my culture and my people, and I know that I want to do something that benefits us as a people and moves us forward in a healthy and powerful way. The thing is, I don’t know what that looks like as a career. To me, those passions are so niche, so specific to a region and an archipelago that working for an organization might not recognize those realms of interest as vital or even fitting within their scope. My interests involve dabbling so many different social sciences that choosing one and committing to it for what seems my immediate future seems so definite, and I’m afraid to commit to one that might not entirely pan out.


Personally, I am interested in decolonizing Guahan, my island, and CHamorus, my people, and if possible Oceania as well. That involves politics, history, education, economics, culture, trauma healing, psychology, even hard sciences in agriculture and natural biology, and so many more. And while I see how peace building touches on aspects of all these fields, I can’t seem to see myself in a space that can do that, or at least get paid for it. It’s a long-term process and requires understanding how multiple systems and fields intersect and impress upon each other. My case doesn’t involve violent conflict* (*despite violence being understood in a broad many ways), which is primarily what our entire week has dealt with exploring, because naturally so it’s what the majority of organizations are existing and funding to address.


The topics we have been going over are so fascinating and so interesting and so relevant to the conversation around decolonization. I see so much of Guahan reflected in peace building that I have no doubt that I’ve learned and benefited from this week. I just don’t see too much of peace building (from the perspectives that we’ve been exploring) in Guahan. Which doesn’t mean that peace building isn’t relevant, nor isn’t necessary on the island, but that I need to put the onus on me to make my studies reflect my passion. If I want to see more of peace building reflected in Guahan, I need to explore more about what I want to do to help it get there. I need to find that connection and bring it closer to the surface, explore the tensions, and maybe if I can figure out my own personal blocks, I can overcome the block I’m having in this program.

So Close, Yet So Far Away

Wednesday, I navigated the space of local peace building. I am still having a block identifying my role in peace building – but from this session I felt most interested in the topics discussed throughout the day, particularly on the issues of local peace building and the environment. Throughout my studies at MIIS I have been more vocal about my interest in bottom-up approaches, as well as work that advocates for attention and support in order to foster stronger community investment and self-worth, and as a balance to the dominance of overwhelming top-down power structures in which most of my previous experience has been exploring. When exploring local approaches to peace building, I was familiar with some of the reasoning and critiques, but felt a little uneasy that the challenges to promoting stronger bottom-up approaches to peace building (and by extension development) were still very dominated by top-down systems of power. There could be great projects and groups utilizing local knowledge and practice to address their community issues and be producing results, but due to state-led political donor cycles and constricting funding requirements often times the programs that are supported the most are the ones that either ignore or perpetuate the same cycle of violence (in its broader sense) against these communities. How do we go about changing that? How do we as peace builders address the root issue with our ability to practice in this field? Can you correct top-down systems with bottom-up approaches if the approaches are still rooted in top-down systems of knowledge and power? Those are probably discussions for another blog.

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What I came away with though, and am still exploring this mindset but generally agree on its tenets, is that anyone has the potential to be a peace builder. A lot of the time when I tell my family or friends I am interested in conflict resolution or peace building studies, the field is raised to a higher standard or podium due to the nature of the work entailed and the causes, etc. We go to fancier than most institutions to get an expensive degree that connects us to a technical organization that has a monopoly on what conflict is defined as and how communities go about. They become “so proud of you” because they see the field you’re interested in as something that not every one can do, but every one needs.

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But – as we pointed out in class – there have been societies before the peace building field was even established that had their own conflict resolution systems, that drew emphasis on the importance of local capacity and relationships between individuals and groups. There are people, all across the world, that have been working in peace building without formal degrees or institution approved technical jargon; that these people have been using the same exact practices and concepts that we learn in a class using different names. And yes, just because everyone has the capability to be a peace builder does not mean that everyone is one. But maybe also, in the cases and areas where peace building is already happening, showing the communities that what they’re doing is called “this” in the field would benefit them as well. Seeing that not only do they as individuals have what it takes to be a peace builder, but that their community has been engaging in this ‘field’ since as long as they’ve been around. There’s a lot of power in seeing yourself represented, and while the vocab might not be the same, seeing that the concepts behind the vocab are is tremendously powerful.

“Feeding the World”

On Thursday our cohort took a trip out to the organic farming company Earthbound Farms; our trip consisted of lunch in the patio and a tour of the garden and farm and a conversation with the director and CEO of Earthbound about the business’ history, legacy, and role in relation to peace building and environmental justice. The area was impressive – thriving herb gardens and lines of delicious berries, towering sunflowers and reflective stone mazes, the rich stories of how Earthbound had contributed to community health and the farming ‘industry’ as a whole – Earthbound was an impressive example of how organic farming could contribute to the beauty and development of a community.


The trip brought me back to our conversations the previous day about the value of local input to development and ‘peace’ and the tension between local knowledge and top down approaches and sparked some inner dialogue within myself on the importance of food, farming, and environmental justice as it pertains to the issues and fields I am exploring in peace building. As I mulled over the various thoughts regarding food, conflict, and environmental justice, our group ventured over to the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters in many indigenous Turtle Island societies was the foundation of culture and world view; the “three sisters” – beans, corn, and squash – are the literal agricultural staples of Turtle Island and each crop relies on depends on the other and the environment for survival. The beans rely on the corn for support, corn relies on the squash for mulch, and both rely on the beans for restoring the soil. As the Three Sisters were being presented in the garden I stood there in awe at the fact that these crops were the embodiment of local knowledge and power it could have in helping bring communities together. Indigenous communities spent centuries diversifying and domesticating these crops, a science that is rooted in local knowledge and history, to provide foods that provided sustenance to a community sustainably. As we continued I realized there was so much local knowledge here waiting to be tapped into. Each herb and crop in that garden had more than one use, and most had alternative uses that I didn’t even know about! It really drove home the point that if organizations and communities invest more in identifying and inventorying local knowledge and processes and utilized those processes into programs and activities that there might be a change in attitudes toward local identity and self-worth but also a change in the way community members view and treat each other.  Bringing programs that shoMP communities that organic farming is 1) affordable, 2) accessible, and 3) not entirely alien to food practices that many cultures already have could have a transformative effect on MP social conditions and benefit the “Feed the World” mission by first “Feeding the Home”.

i nå’an-hu si Travis

My interest in Peace started when I was in Junior College in Sacramento, CA. At the time, I had no lexicon for what I wanted to do and no idea of the career path I’d be interested in taking. I went from Education, to History, to Political Science all with the drive of using my knowledge and career to benefit CHamorus and empowering my community to find the peace and justice we’ve been so long denied. Conflict Resolution and Peace studies peaked my interest with its’ engagement and critique of power structures and various systems of power, and as I continued to study the transformative power peace and Conflict Resolution had on communities effected by violence and colonization, I began to see this field as the perfect tool to benefit my community and my island.

When I came to MIIS, I found that – similar to previous colleges and educational experiences – I would ultimately be responsible with educating myself more in subjects such as Decolonization, Indigenous and Oceanic Development, and Conflict Resolution and peace.  Throughout my time at MIIS I made it a personal goal to focus my studies and work on giving a voice to a region, community, and people that a majority of professionals and scholars outright ignore or decide are not worth having the conversation. I became aware of the importance of values based education and how understanding your values and motivations is critical when working in a high impact field such as Conflict Resolution. As a result I learned to become more rooted in my values of dinaña, inafa’maolek and chenchule’, while keeping my community in focus as I navigate spaces that traditionally weren’t meant for me to navigate. As I reach my final year at MIIS, and the more I continue to envelop myself in this field, the more I see its benefit for helping communities such as mine that have been victim to centuries of colonization and have had no outlet to work through that trauma.



I joined the Summer Peace Building Program in an attempt to better understand what I could contribute to in the field of Conflict Resolution. Conflict Resolution is such a wide reaching and ranging field, and without first hand experiences and relying strictly on classroom settings, it became very overwhelming trying to navigate the current and find my place in the field. During the three week time, I intend to be exploring the different facets of Peace Building keeping an open-mind and understanding the benefits that each facet has in working with my community. I hope to gain more insight in the demands and expectation of a day in the life of a peace builder, and see whether peace building is the field for me, or if it lies somewhere else in the realm of Conflict Resolution.