“See the line where the sky meets the sea it calls me And no one knows, how far it goes.”

By Zoe Jannuzi

Confession #1: I’ve made a lot of decisions I regret. However, I’m comfortable having made decisions I look bad on as misguided or wrong if, at the time, I thought I was making the right decision. I’m even okay with the wrong decisions I’ve made with nothing to go on but my gut. What is growth if not looking back and realizing you’ve made mistakes? But, I’m petrified of making a decision I’m positive I’ll regret because I have no other choice. I have no idea how I’d react.

This week, in two lovely and informative sessions, Sarah Cechvala, who works for CDA, taught us about conflict sensitivity and how it differs from peacebuilding. Conflict sensitivity, a new term for me, is defined as the ability of an organization to understand the context of their intervention, understand the interaction between their intervention and the context, and act in their intervention upon local understanding. For CDA, local is the keyword. Using historical analysis and on the ground research, they advise corporations, non-profits, and humanitarian aid workers on how best to “do no harm” within conflict communities. After teaching us about the theory, Sarah split us up into four groups to work on a case study. Putting the theory into practice was exciting, but also a good lesson in how life outside of the classroom happens. Although CDA’s framework is about connecting with all locals, Sarah explained that sometimes this is not possible. For example, if your funding comes from the United States government, you can’t engage with groups labeled terrorist organizations, even though they may be crucial members of the community. Because of these rules, CDA is often prevented from fulfilling their mission, not because they cannot see the limitation of not connecting with everyone, but because to continue with the project they can’t fully engage.

Kelly McMillin, the former chief of police of Salinas, also presented on the difficulties he’s faced as the person in charge of programming, without having full autonomy over funding. As chief of police, he implemented a community-based policing program that had great success. Kelly explained how, after grappling with the murky responsibility of the police to address root causes of violence, he decided to devote resources to the less visible structural violence beyond the visible direct violence. However, later on in his tenure, when the budget got tight, he decided to cut this program. 

Debriefing after Kelly’s session, Pushpa mentioned that at some points in our peacebuilding careers we would have to compromise our principles to sustain ourselves and please our bosses. As much as I’d like to think this will never be me, at some point it probably will be.

To me, this lack of independence is terrifying.

Confession #2: I’m a full-on city girl.

This weekend I had the opportunity to go whale watching for the first time in my life. I don’t think I ever pictured myself on a boat, huddling in three different coats, exclaiming at the whales. In California, do as the Californians do?

That’s not to say I don’t love being outdoors. As for many people, the relative quiet is a relaxing break from my first love: the city. Standing on the edge of the boat staring at the horizon, I couldn’t help feeling delighted by the indifference of the sea. It went about its business without a care in the world for its problems or mine. After the first week of this session, I needed something to stare at that wasn’t staring back.

Confession #3: When Pushpa Iyer handed us all our folders at the beginning of the session I acknowledged the fact that there was a sheet on self-care, read the first couple of lines and put the folder away. I believed it was necessary, but this week has really convinced me how crucial it is that I consider not only the well-being of those around me, but my own as well.

How will I deal with questions of independence, morality, and principle in the future? I am privileged enough to have consciously chosen to be a peacebuilder instead of joining the army or the police force. I (rather naively) thought involving myself with peacebuilding would put me in a place where I would not be responsible for the deaths of others. The more I learn, the more I realize that as a peacebuilder my choices and those of the people I work with, may have as much, or more impact on real lives than the effects I’d have as a police officer or soldier. To do this work, I will have to be resilient, I will have to know myself, and I will have to strive to continue to mobilize individuals and communities to do more even when I feel I cannot immediately continue myself.

Before this session, I had some notion that self-care involved more than curling up, with some chocolate and an excellent book. However, I don’t think I truly understood the extent of the term or its usefulness within peacebuilding. Staring out at the horizon is calming, but it is an incredibly individualistic practice. As an introvert, I have a real need to re-charge, but exercises like these cannot and should not be the extent of my self-care.

Thank you Pushpa.

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