New to Peacebuilding

By Joseph Hayashi

I have a lot of interest in the idea of Peacebuilding because of the fact that it is such a new concept to me. I had never thought about Peacebuilding until I came to the Middlebury Institute but there are instances in my life where I recognize that Peacebuilding would have had an effect on the lives of people around me.

I never thought there was anything strange about the way I grew up in a small town like Castroville, CA. I thought that being told not to go out at night, having drug dealers live two houses down from the house I grew up in, being taught what to do if a gang member asked me, “where I was from,” and hearing gunshots at night were all normal. There seemed to be nothing different or off about this to me because all of my friends went through this too. It wasn’t till I went to a different state for undergrad that I was told that that was not normal. It dawned on me how lucky I was because I was able to leave that, each night growing up, to go to my “safe” neighborhood.

While working in a jail, right out of undergrad, I remember having a conversation with an inmate about his life growing up. This man had been in and out of jail for violence and drug use. During our conversation, he told me about how he was used to drugs being in his life, growing up, because his mother and all of his friends used meth. He had told me about how he didn’t know what else to do but to use meth to fit in.

Both of these incidents showed me the disadvantages some people have to live with and what could push them to go down certain paths, even violent ones. This is why the idea of Peacebuilding is so interesting to me. I have personally met and known groups of people that could benefit from it.

I hope to learn more about the theories of Peacebuilding and learn how to put them into practice. I want a very hands-on approach to Peacebuilding so that we will be able to implement these techniques as thoroughly as possible.

Peace in Conflict

By Ferial Berjawi

My earliest memory of being exposed to conflict and violence was on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 2005. I was eight years old, in my middle school Math class on a normal school day when suddenly the floor beneath my feet shook and glass from the windows above my desk shattered all over my notebooks and my school uniform. I had no idea what was going on – all I could hear was some fragments of my teachers’ conversations, “an explosion in Saint George… they killed him… tens of people are dead”, but the fear and sadness in my their eyes made it clear that our daily realities were about to be transformed.

Within 10 minutes, my mom, like other parents, had arrived to my school to pick me and my brother up. She looked at us with eyes full of tears, and said with a quivering voice, “Rafik al-Hariri was just assassinated in the heart of Beirut.” For my family, Rafik al-Hariri was not just Lebanon’s prime minister who retained Lebanon’s dignity and integrity and significantly boosted the economy, he was an idol whose drive, values, and morals we aspired to live by. Ever since I was a child, my mom would tell me stories about him – how he was the son of a farmer who sold oranges at the side of the road, how he completed his education regardless his socio-economic background, and how he used his influence, wealth, and power to save his country after the civil war.

A month after the assassination, on March 14th, 2005, I participated in Lebanon’s so-called Cedar Revolution, the largest demonstration in the history of the country that united people across different religious sects and political affiliations to demand the end of the Syrian military occupation and to seek justice for al-Hariri’s death. The protests were completely nonviolent. If anything, it was one of the most memorable days of my life – Christians, Sunnis, Shias, Druze were on the streets wearing Lebanese flags, singing beautiful Arabic songs, and dancing dabke hand-in-hand in downtown Beirut. Despite the fear of political, economic and social uncertainties, people seemed to be at tremendous peace in the aftermath of this violence.

Unfortunately, February 14th’s bombing was only the beginning of a wave of explosions and assassinations of prominent political figures whereby around 24 other bombings struck the city from 2005 to 2009, most of which hit very close to home and had a direct effect on my family and friends. There was also the 2006 war with Israel during which my family and I hid in my aunt’s mountain house and I could literally see bridges getting bombed and collapsing to the ground. In addition, Hezbollah’s militia invaded Beirut in 2008 and took over the whole city in one day. It was April 7th, and I remember very clearly sneaking out to the balcony against my mom’s orders because I was curious about what was going on, when a man in Hezbollah’s military uniform pointed his gun at me, an 11 year old girl, and threatened to shoot if I do not go back inside immediately.

The political situation improved slightly by 2011; however, that is when the Syrian revolution began, and with it, came the large influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon and the military battles against ISIS and other militias at the border. This influx significantly increased tensions between Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian populations residing in the country, resulting in more physical violence and clashes. Moreover, I was witnessed first-hand the injustice, oppression, and trauma that these conflicts caused within these three populations.

Why am interested in peace-building? I do not even think I know what “peace” in Lebanon would look like. My country is constantly on the verge of collapsing, political crises in its neighboring nations have been ongoing for years and years, and the same warlords that orchestrated the civil war in 1975 still hold the reins of power today. Nevertheless, I see a thin veil of peace in this context of conflict and violence in Beirut’s nightlife, food, and outdoor activities. This is how the Lebanese find peace – in Garten every Saturday when thousands gather at the club at 2AM and stay there, dancing on their feet, until 7AM, and then go to Zaatar w Zeit, a Lebanese chain restaurant, for a mankoushe. The restaurant gets so packed that people end up eating their Mighty Kafta on the floor, and there’s people dancing and singing around with absolute strangers. We find peace in the crowded streets of Marmkhayel when you realize that you pretty much know all the bartenders and all the waiters, and that you have known them since you first started going out when you were 14. There is peace in the organized chaos and the common frustration over the lack of jobs, the traffic, electricity cutouts. We find peace in the hundreds of satirical memes and videos that will come out after a parliamentary meeting to mock pretty much all politicians and their incompetence at their jobs.

I have spent months and months wishfully dreaming of peace in Lebanon. This absence of peace has pushed me out of the country, as it has with thousands of youth like me. Every family in Lebanon has at least one family member that lives abroad. Whenever I go back home, I find myself staring out of my window at the beautiful Mediterranean sea on one side, and the impoverished refugee camps on the other. I am inhaling polluted air which smells like garbage while I listen my mom’s soothing voice in the background and then smell her stuffed grape leaves and zucchinis. And I am just standing there, and I am both angry and heartbroken as hell. I am angry at Beirut for pushing me out, and I am heartbroken that it will probably never love me back the way I love it.

But this is why I am attending the SPP. I refuse to give up on my country, my region, and just mankind in general. We can, and we should, do so much better to uplift and empower each other rather than focusing on superficial ethnic, religious, or racial differences to justify violence and conflicts. I believe in the radical humanization of al individuals, and I am excited to understand how I could translate this belief in the real world, spread it to others, and build more progressive and equitable societies that work for the benefit of all of us rather than just some of us.

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.

Prospect for peace

By Ruiqi Wei

“Enter to grow in wisdom, depart to serve better the world and humans”

Interpretations of “Peacebuildling”

There are no facts, only interpretations.- Nietzsche

Then what are our interpretations of “peacebuilding”?

Peacebuilding is more than “To cross the line from a world of international conflict and violence to a world in which respect for international law and authority overcomes belligerence and ensures justice.”

While Waltz thinks  peacebuilding is the integration of the peoples in the international arena with one common goal, Jean-Marie Guéhenno deems peacebuilding as “the political process through the promotion of national dialogue and reconciliation, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of combatants, support the organization of elections, protect and promote human rights, and assist in restoring the rule of law.”  

Although for Kant, perpetual peace can be simply achieved through democratization since democratic states are less likely to fight each other, dictators throughout the world still hold it true that only with the power under their own grips: the absence of wars as negative peace can be easily created through deterrence.

There are thousands of forms of peacebuilding.

For artists, peacebuilding is art.  (Premaratna & Bleiker, 2016 )

Arts have the potential to be embedded in and work through communities. And arts happen at all levels. Arts can also evolve along with the needs of the community.  It can also play a role in resisting forms of monopoly rule by offering alternatives to prevailing approaches.

Firstly, Arts can deal with the emotional issue which traditional institutions neglect. It can address the emotional core of the conflict in ways that surpass laws and institutions leading to sustainable peace.

Secondly, as a part of dealing with emotional and political legacies, it can narrate and transform personal traumas. And it can evoke feelings, bringing things beyond rational cognition. It can bring people to the perspectives of others evoking empathies and reflections thus bring changes.

Thirdly, it can break boundaries of daily communication through revolving around stereotypes that fuel conflicts. And it can also break through community barriers by offering alternatives to the type of verbal discourses that constitute a conflict. (see pp.81-93).

For united nations, peacebuilding is not only to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.

It is also to “Create a secure and stable environment while strengthening the State’s ability to provide security, with full respect for the rule of law and human rights, to Facilitate the political process by promoting dialogue and reconciliation and supporting the establishment of legitimate and effective institutions of governance, and to provide a framework for ensuring that all United Nations and other international actors pursue their activities at the country-level in a coherent and coordinated manner. “

And when it comes to my understanding of peacebuilding….

Every time when my reflections on “peacebuilding” are called upon, the hurtful memories that should have sunk unwept into oblivion just rewind in a cinematic way.

Inter-state: reconcile the irreconcilable

Japan means a lot to me. It witnesses my growth both as an academic and a responsible person during my stumbling puberty. But my experience as a Chinese studying in Japan is somehow nuanced from international students from other countries, given the undeniable fact that Japan had an issue with China in the Sino-Japanese war during WWII.

My mother back in China was often asked a lot why I went to Japan. It seems strange to some elders back home that I as a Chinese can be even fascinated by Japanese Culture under the pretext that mainstream TV channels in China are playing Anti-imperialism TV series on a rolling basis that never seems to stop. And generally Chinese audiences love this a lot.

Throughout these years I spent in Japan, although I indeed met lots of friendly people who helped me and treated me fairly, somehow on some occasions where it is said that statistics about Sino-Japanese wars are fabricated since the war is not specifically written on the textbooks, we still inevitably disagree each over to an extent that we got failures to communicate because our perceived pasts are disparate rather than different.

History is created rather than told as it was. History foremost serves politics. Not many Japanese students know as much about what happened in Sino-Japanese wars as average Chinese students do. Due to the obvious absence of a shared common past (a census over what did happen in the past), my Japanese friends and I disagree over a lot of issues, such as the Yasukuni Shrine, where the “spirits” of Japanese war dead as the heroes of Japanese imperialism are specifically honored. But from the perspective of a conscious Chinese, what is being honored in Yasukuni Shrine are demons instead of heroes, whose swords are doused in the blood of millions of innocent civilians who were treated brutally until the very last moment of their lives.

 The essence of the Yasukuni Shrine dispute is de facto a clash of incompatible identities shaped by different narratives of the past. Because of these conflicting identities, the Japanese the Chinese, and the Koreans have no choice but to oppose, dispute, and demonize the Japanese rightists. There exists a fundamental disconnect in how some people see the symbolic content of the Yasukuni Shrine.

Merely negative peace as an absence of wars, normalizations, and reconciliations are far from enough.  What we are looking forward to is active peace that requires efforts from every sector, every level of society, that is based on mutual understanding through dialogues.

intra-state: the demonized other

Never have I realized that Chinese mainlanders in the eyes of a few people across “Straits” were somehow ill-mannered ‘eerie puppets’ until I scanned through social media of our own, Zhihu, Chinese mainland version of Quora, a site where general life experience is shared for consultation in Q and A format.

Chinese mainlanders, as described in top-voted answers on Zhihu, are often perceived by people across straits as so economically desperate that they cannot even afford a boiled egg. Furthermore, Chinese mainlanders actually often get called by ‘XX mainlando’, a very derogatory term that should be omitted here in the passage.

It was even said in the top-voted answers that the local travel slogans attracting tourists, especially from Japan was, “A nice place of tranquility without the disturbance of mainland tourists.”

Unconsciously immersed in this kind of biased information source, throughout these years overseas, although as a mainlander, sharing the same type of blood in my veins with the people across the straits, I always consciously refrain myself from talking to people across straits and keep the contact minimum since I think the scenarios would be intertwined if I do speak to them.

However, by chance, I went across straits for a transit.

Before I stepped out of the planes, I got wars going in my mind that, should I just speak English instead of Mandarin to the local so that I would not be referred as “Mainlando”….Or just simply speak Mandarin like I am not fragile and sensitive to discrimniations…..

I pictured several scenarios where I spoke Mandarin and got embarrassed with the contempt from the local.

After my thorough contemplation of which language to speak, I felt it better to speak Mandarin otherwise I would be too contrived not to speak it.

As the day turned out, nothing I expected has ever happened. Except for a conversation with a college student over the issue of local sovereign where he insisted that PRC intervened too much in their domestic affairs whilst I think they are a part of PRC as well, everything went off well.

Ending this trip, I got to learn that, the prerequisites for peace, are not only communications but also to consider things from the perspectives of others. Behind the perspectives are their narratives of history, culture, and education.

Diverse perspectives should be appreciated and understood in their own historical, cultural and political context.

Peacebuilding is more than mere tolerance of different ideas. It is about empathy, mutual understanding, and appreciation of diversity.

Development

I was to remember that distant morning when my flight landed in L, a relatively underdeveloped country in Southeastern Asia, from S, a very well-off country often illustrated as the development model of the world.

As I stepped out of airport, the here and now just changed so suddenly and drastically, becoming a totally different world, from a world of prosper to a world that is hard to define in terms of both infrastructure and life quality of the local.

The very first time in my life was I stroke by what I saw: why the life of people can be so different and even destined from the moment when they were born.. Why can not just everyone in this world live an equally fulfilling life?

Ever since then my research focus shifted from International Relations more to development study.

When we are talking about development, our thoughts should not be just circumscribed to economic development. Social and political developments should be highlighted with the same significance as well.

The world is faced with more problems than we generally think: gender inequality, injustice, social stratification, abuse of power, food security discrimination, and such on.

What brought me to the field of peacebuilding, is a prospect for positive changes: the changes for everyone in this world to live with justice and equality. Ultimately, a prospect for peace that perpetuates in a scientific and sustainable way.

As for me, my drive for wisdom that enables me to serve better the world and humans, brought me to SPP.

Understanding Peacebuilding

By Srishti Sharma

Peace, such a common word is deceptively simple. To achieve peace is to achieve calmness and tranquillity but that doesn’t happen without stirring our souls. Peace to me is something that destroys barriers, respects differences, celebrates freedom, leads to wellbeing and strengthens inner spirit. I have had the experience of working with children from various backgrounds. And the environment that the children grow up in has a direct impact on their understanding and development. “Adults and children alike, if they are caught in a cycle of violence, they begin to expect it and accept it.” The children who grow up in safer and more conducive environment have a stronger sense of self-worth and are more accepting of people and things around them. As an educator it is my duty to understand children, be aware of their problems and to educate them as a whole. Last year, the Delhi government launched a ‘Happiness Curriculum’ in the government schools to promote holistic education by including meditation, value education, and mental exercises in conventional education curriculum.  It really made me question is this how happiness can be taught and why incorporating peace education into the school curriculum is not thought about instead in Indian schools? Even though providing quality and safe education to children and knocking down conflicts is the need of the hour. It is the schools that are responsible for laying the groundwork for future social actions and making responsible citizens out of students.

Image result for indian children and peace

I am interested in working on developing and strengthening ideals of peace as a part of educational curriculum in Indian schools but lack academic backing for the same. Becoming a part of the Peace Building Program will help me develop a better understanding of the discourse of peacebuilding, equip me with the knowledge of practical tools and help me connect with potential strategic partners who can help support peacebuilding endeavours by bridging the gap between theory and practice. I am looking forward to being a part of this group learning process and tapping into groups’ collective wisdom, experience and skills to understand the concepts, frameworks and approaches of peacebuilding and shaping my own ideas.

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Youth in Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention

By Kim Chham

Peacebuilding to me is such a huge concept and a goal that can only be reached if everyone in this world contributes to it. However, I am hopeful that humanity can reach peace. We are the ones who create conflicts and our society, thus I think we can shape our reality the way we want it. Granted, it won’t be easy and some of us have been given more privilege than others to make decisions that affect the wider community. This is also the part where I believe so much in peacebuilding, because we need to work with everyone, the ones at the top and at the bottom of the power structure. Relationships can be built a long the way, which will foster empathy and understanding, eventually and hopefully reaches peace.

In the past several years that I have gotten to know the concept of peacebuilding and the work in this area, I have found myself to be very intrigued in the preventative stage of conflict as part of peacebuilding. I am very interested in the differences of cultures, backgrounds and learnings that all people from different places experience and how these affect the values that we all hold. I also believe that it doesn’t matter where we are from or where we are in the world, humans tend to share quite a few core values. Hence, I love working with young people/youth to explore those values that we are still developing as well as the most important components that make who we are, identity. I have learned that knowing these core parts of ourselves helps us achieve peace in who we are, which also enhances more peaceful interaction with others – to build peace in our small community, which ultimately build peace in the wider world. Therefore I strongly believe that if we all understand each other better and have closer relationships with each other, we can prevent many of the conflicts that we have today.

Prior to attending college, I have had some experiences in peacebuilding as well as several community building projects. My passion and work with peace started in my second to last year of high school. Joining with about 50 other students of my age at an international high school that I attended, United World College of South East Asia(UWCSEA), I received training from the staff and teachers as well as guest speakers about how to facilitate a conference and knowledge about peace and conflict for a full school year. At the end of the school year, about twenty students, including myself went to Mae Sot, Thailand to run an Initiative for Peace (IFP) conference with about fifty youth from different ethnicities and social backgrounds in that part of Thailand. The participants were youth from Thailand, economic migrants from Myanmar and refugees who stayed at the UN refugee campus at the border of Thailand and Myanmar. 

Seeing the success of integration and inspiration that everyone gained from participating in this conference, I went on to take a gap year after finishing high school to bring an IFP conference to youth in my home of Cambodia. This required many different skills, knowledge and collaborations with many different organisations in Cambodia to create a conference that fit into Cambodian context. I learned so much about leadership and I gained valuable community organising and local field work experience through the organising of both of these conferences. 

Since arriving at my college in North East Iowa, I have been seeking opportunities to be involved in peacebuilding and community building work. I have helped organise and run a few identity workshops on campus, in the purpose of fostering better understanding between different groups of students. I have attended the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minnesota twice and learned a lot from experts in the area of peace and conflict. As of most recently, I had spent 7 weeks this summer conducting a collaborative research with a faculty at Luther College (where I am attending) on community and peacebuilding in Decorah, Iowa (where Luther College situates). I had spent most of this time interviewing and learning about the context of this community, finding out what people see as assets, strengths, weaknesses of this town and what they think is needed to happen in terms of community and peacebuilding. After this summer, I am hoping to continue learning more about this community and move to the next stages of the research, which are tentatively learning about different peacebuilding methods around the world, to then identify which one or which combination might be most beneficial to implement in Decorah. I hope to run a few workshops with a few different groups of people in town, including the college students, before I graduate. After that, I am planning to evaluate the ground work, build a better toolkit that I may be able to hand off to another student or group of people who would want to continue this work.

The key element about SPP that resonates with me the most is the peacebuilding skillsets from theories and practices. I am very fascinated to learn that SPP offers a course of learning as well as doing. I consider myself a very passionate learner in the classroom but also an active learner in the field. I am keen to learn from other passionate peace builders, be them older professionals in the field or other young learners and activists. Therefore, my expectations for this program are the learn as much as I can from everyone whom I will meet, build connections and possibly collaborations in peacebuilding work and share what I know when I can. By doing this, I hope to learn new concepts and practices of peacebuilding, that I can then transfer to my current research project, as well as further work that I will be doing in this field.

Welcome to 2019 Summer Peacebuilding Journey

By Pushpa Iyer

Welcome to the 2019 Summer Peacebuilding Program participant’s blog!

This year, the program welcomes 16 students who come to us from many different locations and with varied experiences and academic backgrounds. You can find a link to their bios here. Also, exciting is the participation of over 20 faculty who are scholars and practitioners from in the field of peacebuilding, and here is a link to their bios.

I hope you will follow us on our three-week journey. Do feel free to comment and ask questions which I am sure will be encouraging to all our participants.