By Diana Garcia
My last name is Paz, which means Peace in Spanish. One will believe that after a lifetime of repeating it, the meaning of the word would be evident and superfluous to define. However, after 20 years of seeking for the definition, I am still unsure of what it is and what it looks like in real life. The only certain thing is that Peace is beyond being my identity, is my lifelong passion. Thankfully, the quest to define this concept has led me to several enjoyable activities, projects and adventures.
I first concretely got involved with peacebuilding, when at 16 years old along with a friend, we created a foundation. It was located in a disfavor zone of Mexico City – my hometown- where organized crime was prominent. The omnipresence of violence in the neighborhood affected negatively the youth of the community; it was dangerous to play outside and often joining these groups seemed like the only option or at least the most profitable one. Thus, we created a safe space where kids and teenagers, could play soccer – our national sport- and get access to educational tools such as talks on conflict resolution and sexual education. Although we did not solve all the problems of the community, we contributed to the construction of a better social cohesion and improved tools for dispute transformation. In June 2016, we received the “Best Realization of a Startup” prize by Numa Institute Mexico and the French Embassy in Mexico.
Later, my passion for peacebuilding was accentuated when I discovered Model of United Nations. I love solving conflicts through debate and negotiation even if they are just a simulation. I was also inspired by the fervor of all the young people that participated and were so invested in the construction of a better world. I went on to create the first MUN conference and team in my high school and nowadays I am the Secretary-General of my college’s team. Ever since I discovered this academic activity, my goal has become to one day work at an international organization to participate in the construction of sustainable inclusive peace.
This same love for conflict resolution and peacebuilding lead me to study Political Science and International Studies with a concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarianism at Macalester College. Saint Paul (MN) and Mexico City are pretty different cities; in Mexico, the biggest threat is organized crime, in Minnesota, the biggest danger is the cold. Nevertheless, my new community is not exempt from conflicts. My experience with peacebuilding in my college community has been in the realm of gender and sexual violence. I am the co-chair of the organization Feminists in Action-Students Together Against Rape and Sexual Assault and a sexual health peer educator. These two groups work against gender and sexual violence, through the organization of workshops, conferences, and events. It is a way to construct peace on our campus since sexual violence is a problem that gravely affects our community.
Moreover, ever since last March, I have collaborated with the Institute of Economics and Peace in NYC and Mexico City. Although I have executed several activities for peace construction with them, the two most meaningful ones for me were giving a “positive peace and violence prevention” conference/workshop to sergeants still in military school. As well as creating a study group with different sectors of the civil society for the study and analysis of victims of the current Mexican violent context.
Furthermore, in December 2018, along with a friend I created the initiative Nuestra Paz. It is a project that works to integrate young people in the Mexican peace process. Through a survey, we collect youth’s perception of the general violence situation in Mexico City, and what they imagine peace would look like in their communities. Based on their responses, we develop local solutions in collaborations, multiple actors. I presented this initiative at the 2019 UN Youth Assembly and it was awarded the Live It fund.
I hope that during my time at SPP I will obtain the pertinent tools to create sustainable positive change in my country, Mexico. For the past year, I have been involved in increasing youth participation in the national peace process. In SPP I will be able to enhance my abilities for conflict analysis and management, and thus, make my work more impactful. Moreover, I would love to be part of this program to gain from the incredible faculty, a broader vision of the world and to have a better understanding of how conflict is a vehicle for change. I believe that thanks to this experience I will obtain the materials and skills to use for the construction of impactful comprehensive actions to change the situation of violence and inequality in my home country. Furthermore, I look forward to exchanging ideas with my peers and hopefully engage in a trans-national project for peacebuilding. SPP offers the perfect opportunity for me to continue developing my passion for social justice and my will to change the world.