Learning About Peacebuilding

By Cassandra Cronin

Hi everyone! My name is Cassandra, and I’m from Johns Creek, GA, which is a city about 45 minutes north of “Hotlanta” (aka hot and humid Atlanta, GA). I am definitely looking forward to the refreshing Monterey weather, but I’m also, more importantly, looking forward to the opportunity to meet new people and affirm my interest in peacebuilding.

One of my most transformative experiences learning about the power of peacebuilding involved my time with Libera, an Italian anti-mafia organization. I spent a month traveling to towns throughout southern Italy as an immersive and experiential learning component to my Peace and Justice Studies major. My primary responsibility was to volunteer on various properties (for example, coffee shops, olive groves, vineyards) that were once used by mafia clans for their illicit businesses. These properties were then confiscated by the Italian government, and eventually released many years later to Libera to be transformed to benefit their surrounding communities. I also listened to many heartbreaking testimonies from the loved ones of those who fell victim to mafia violence. Their stories were so different yet eerily similar in affirming the cruelty of the mafia and its members’ disregard for human life.

An olive grove in Polistena, Italy where I helped gather logs and branches that would ultimately become firewood for local restaurants. This grove was previously owned by various ‘Ndrangheta clans involved in commercial agriculture. It was confiscated, piece by piece, by the Italian government in the ’80s and ’90s.

In the end, I came to understand what Libera was doing to challenge the power of the mafia, which often, in many towns, spans generations. Since 1995, one organization grew to create 650 local associations and cooperatives that provide youth and adult volunteer programs and job opportunities to local communities fighting back against organized crime. The organization also provides the resources necessary for communities to start healing from the trauma caused by decades of crime and violence. In other words, organizations like Libera contribute to the process of peacebuilding by attempting to alleviate immediate concerns (violence, lack of economic opportunities), while addressing the root cause of the conflict (omertà, or the culture of silence surrounding the mafia and fortifying its existence).

Fellow volunteers and I in Polistena. Most were Italian university students who wanted learn more about the mafia and its undeniable influence on Italian institutions.

What am I looking forward to in these next three weeks? The opportunity to learn and grow. Coming from a small Peace and Justice Studies department, I am most excited by the chance to learn from other scholars and practitioners that I have yet to meet. Lastly, I look forward to participating in thought-provoking conversations, learning about new perspectives, and delving into the theories that have helped shape the peacebuilding field.