Archive for May, 2014

In Transition

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Monteverde, Costa Rica


I think I am one of the last Peacebuilder Fellows to arrive to their country, so I have a bit more time before I head off to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I am thankful for my extra time as I just graduated from my Masters Program in Costa Rica on Friday and need to wrap up my life here before my next exciting adventure. I am writing this first blog of many in Monteverde, Costa Rica as the sun sets over a beautiful jungle-mountain landscape; fitting way to spend one of my last nights here. I am here with my husband and my mom who flew down for my graduation. It is one of the last short trips I will take in this country I have called home for a year now. In a week and a half I will journey home to Texas to drop off some things and then make the long trip to Addis Ababa.


These transition days are always hard for me. I always try to live in the present and enjoy the people and things around me, but when big life changes happen like this my mind is already in the next place. I have spent every free moment doing the necessary tasks for the fellowship and looking up life and culture in Addis Ababa. I am excited about the connections I have made there already through my friends and through my now alma mater. Having people waiting to show you around and give you the lay of the land in a new city always puts me at ease and is always a fun thing. Some of these contacts I have been meeting work with water issues and more general environmental issues. I can’t wait to pick their brains and find out more about the water conflict Phoenix and I will be looking at. Water issues are so important in Ethiopia, as they are everywhere, and I am anticipating learning a lot this summer. I am especially looking forward to the conversations we will have with people. I think this fellowship is a unique experience in which we are encouraged to meet lots of people and hear stories of what is happening around this conflict.


I suppose my year at UPeace has been a type of preparation for the work I will be doing with Center for Conflict Studies and the Peacebuilders Fellowship. This year for me has been about Peace and Conflict studies, but within that I have learned the value of individuals who bring about peace in their own lives and in their community. Throughout this year I have been amazed at the capacity we humans have in being able to do great things, even (or maybe especially) in conflict zones. In my classes we heard story after story about individuals who despite their hardships and despite the violence around them, organized to make a change. My brilliant professor, Victoria Fontan, is on a mission to ‘decolonize’ peace. She spent the year telling the school, and especially my program (International Peace Studies- made up of 17 beautiful students from 14 very different countries), that this ‘decolonizing’ peace is about “making the invisible visible and transcending the universalism of liberal peace” . So often we think that places experiencing conflict are filled with victims and perpetrators and these places need to be saved. This year has been about looking at the solutions that are coming from the ground and amplifying those solutions and those people, recognizing that there are complexities to solutions which means there can never be a cookie cutter answer.


After a year of learning all this I am so lucky to be working with an organization whose mission is to give a voice to the voiceless by telling the stories of people in a conflict. In Ethiopia, I will be listening to the voiceless and finding the invisible. I hope that in bringing their stories to you we can all become more aware of the specific conflict Phoenix and I will be looking at, but also more aware of those activists, teachers, religious workers, organizers, mothers and fathers out there who are tirelessly working for a better life, community and world.

I am honored to be apart of this first year in the fellowship’s history, and I am very much looking forward to what this adventure has in store for Phoenix and I in Ethiopia, as well as for rest of the teams spread out around the world. With a little over two weeks away, I haven’t experienced too much stress yet (I am sure it is coming). For now I am just trying to enjoy Costa Rica and life here, but I am also very excited about my time in Ethiopia. I am looking forward to learning more about water and the country’s history and culture, eating injera, and hearing lots and lots of stories!


Twitter: @KatiePetitt


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Adventures in Humility

With so many humbling Life’s lessons tucked into my portfolio, one would think I would have mastered the art of humility by now.  As with the protagonists in The Years of Rice and Salt, however, it appears that I am destined to relive and relearn those lessons, until I have them perfected.  (In my assumption of even the potential for perfection, lies evidence of the distance I have yet to travel to achieve Master status.)

With each step taken, mindful of my mantra: “please let me be an instrument of peace,” I find that I am but a conduit for those who are the true instruments—at least when I’m not inadvertently damming the flow of their good works.  (One should not, I suppose, underestimate the peacebuilding potential of the unintended comic relief I seem to provide.  Bubbling in the wake that churns behind me, camaraderie borne of mirth often effervesces.)

As I tuck the lofty title “Peacebuilder Fellow to Mexico (short term)” in the recesses of my backpack, it is with some trepidation–could “short term” refer to my life expectancy?–much anticipation—I cannot wait to meet my fellow pasajeros on this life journey, and with little expectation— in expectation, I have found I am invariably wrong, for the road rarely leads where I expect it to.   To our humbling and fulfilling journeys, pasajeros!!



A road less traveled: La Tagua, Colombia, 1/14

A road less traveled: La Tagua, Colombia, 1/14

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After Colorado, Before Ethiopia

Less than 24 hours ago I was sitting in traffic on a parkway in Connecticut. I was making my way through the highways of BoWash on the final leg of my journey from Colorado to New Hampshire following my graduation. On Monday, after a few days of driving around Maine and New Hampshire seeing old friends and family, I’ll be hopping on a plane to Frankfurt then Addis Ababa.

I spent most of college finding ways to travel to other countries, so it probably surprises nobody that I am flying out six days after finally returning home. The fact that it is unsurprising doesn’t make it less overwhelming, I admit.

There is a lot I still need to do to prepare that got lost in the throes of graduation, but I am not worried that it will be too much. At this point I mostly need to read a lot more about Ethiopia and nail down a place to stay for the long term. Unfortunately I have not found readily available books, movies, or websites that will tell me everything I need to know about the history of water conflict in Ethiopia, so some digging is required. The recent flare up between Egypt and Ethiopia over the Nile may offer a gateway to learning more about the overall water situation there, but we will still need a path to understanding the more personal impacts of water conflict.

Despite the work ahead and the recent flurry of life events, I cannot wait to get to Ethiopia and start figuring things out. I know of no better feeling than landing in a new country and being just grounded enough to not get lost, but still awash in unfamiliar new surroundings. So much can be learned that way. It is all the better that I will be traveling with a purpose to learn, not just for myself but for others back in the U.S. As a Peacebuilding fellow, I won’t be just a wandering traveller, but a researcher with a mission to discover stories of water conflict.

With that, I should be off to eat up everything I can find on Ethiopia. I know there is plenty left to discover.


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Prepping for the Middle East

Sitting in front of me is a growing checklist of everything I have to get done before I leave Virginia in 5 days and embark on my journey to Israel and the West Bank. I cannot believe how quickly time has passed since I first found out I was going to be a Peacebuilder’s Fellow, and now that I’m just a few days out from my trip, I can’ t help but feel overwhelmed and excited. I’ve been spending what little free time I have researching issues related to the water crisis in the region. Like every other issue involving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, it is a very complicated problem, but for me that is what makes this research even intriguing, and I know we will learn some amazing, heartbreaking, and inspiring stories from the Palestinian people.

This isn’t my first journey to Israel and the West Bank. In March 2012, I had the opportunity to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a study abroad program sponsored by my undergraduate university, and it was during this time I fell in love with the region. My experiences encouraged me to pursue a career in conflict resolution and international diplomacy, and since then I’ve been dreaming of the time that I can return to the land that I fell in love with. I’ve just dug up my journal where I kept a daily log of everything I experienced when I was there before, which has made me even more excited to begin this two month adventure.

Planning this trip has been a whirlwind, to say the least. Like Lukas mentioned below, there were a few hiccups that made prepping for our adventure more stressful than anticipated. But we’ve got our tickets booked and an apartment reserved (and it’s super close to the Old City, which was my favorite place in Israel when I visited previously), so it’s just a matter of packing and traveling to Tel Aviv.

While this blog will be updated regularly with our research and the stories we obtain,there are so many places to see in Israel and the West  Bank, and Lukas and I plan on taking advantage of every opportunity presented to us. I will be creating a personal blog sharing these experiences, check out or follow me on twitter – @allycollender



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Preparing for the West Bank

مرحبا / שלום

My plane taking me to Tel Aviv, where I will meet my fellow peacebuilder Ally for the first time and from where we will continue to Jerusalem is now not even six days away. The past weeks of preparation have been stressful and uncertain whether we would be allowed to go through with the project. However, thanks to a lot of work and convincing by our organizer Pushpa everything got sorted out and as the day of departure gets closer and closer the excitement rises. I have visited the region for the first and last time three years ago and have always wanted to go back.

Ally and I have spent quite some time on finding a place to stay, which proved to be difficult in a city like Jerusalem in summer time. Luckily a friend living there could put us in contact with someone subletting a place and now we have our little flat right in the city centre. I am looking forward to seeing and experiencing the city and the culture of the region from a perspective other than the tourist one and my friend in Jerusalem already promised to show us the ‘real’ Jerusalem.

Right now, I am sitting in my room and outside my window it is raining heavily. The temperature is at 12°C/53.6°F while the weather forecast for Jerusalem on sunday predicts up to 36°C/96.8°F. I guess adapting to the different climate is also going to be a challenge…

Apart from soaking in the culture, I cannot wait to start working. We have contacted friends, colleagues and NGOs we will meet and that tell us their stories or help us finding people that will. Water is a fundamental human right, necessary to live a life in dignity. Telling the stories of people that had this right taken from them will be a big task, but I am determined to make their voices heard.

For my last days in Germany I am planning to spend as much time with my family, my girlfriend and my friends as I can. Sure, it is not the first time I leave, but this time appears to be the most exciting journey yet.

Twitter @lukasCCS

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Preparing to be a story teller….


Once upon a time a somewhat bewildered researcher starts the process of adjusting to a thirty degree change in climate whilst negotiating visa applications in India. The new Prime Minister of India is being sworn in.

She ponders…going from 6 degrees to 44 degrees slows everything…

Water is precious: for survival and for comfort. These things are precious for life and peace.

As I approach this fellowship there have been some happenings. All stories have them. There has been a six day intensive at Bangalore CREST research center on the practical chapter exploring the heart. Participants have practiced peace  through inner processes of attunement. The outer expressions have been very aware and mindful. It seems to be an experience at the opposite end of the spectrum to that anticipated as a Peace fellow in Myanmar…

Time will tell.

I am curious about the culture in which we are about to gather these stories. In particular I am curious about the real storytellers and the ones that we will act as scribes for….

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Preparing for Yangon


I am honored to be selected as a CCS peacebuilder fellow 2014 to Myanmar and have been looking forward to it ever since. This will be my first experience working in the filed and I am very much excited as well as nervous about it. Planning my trip to Yangon, Myanmar, I keep reconsidering whether I am ready for this work. My flights and hotel (for the first few nights) are booked, and if nothing goes wrong, I should be able to obtain my visa in couple of days. With logistical preparation aside, I also keep wondering whether I am emotionally ready for this.

After finishing my intensely enriching first year of graduate study at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy focusing on international security and international conflict resolution and negotiation, I left the lovely city of Boston and went travelling in Europe while visiting my family. I am writing this blog on the plane ride to Bangkok, where I am planning to apply for the visa. Tired but happy to finally travelling back to my home country, I am also worried and stressed. Political situation in Thailand is unstable and unpredictable after the coup de ‘tat on May 22. After the coup, curfew has been placed in many areas of the country. Rumors are flying everywhere and there is an obvious distrust among the divided people throughout the country. Hearing and reading about this got me very frustrated and stressed. I am frustrated because no matter how much I want Thailand to overcome this long-standing political crisis, there is only little, if not nothing at all, I can do. I am frustrated because I feel powerless.

All this got me thinking about the work I will be doing in Myanmar. Realizing how upset I am with the political situation and conflict in Thailand despite the fact that this has very small direct effects on me, I cannot imagine living in a conflict where the stake is as high as one’s survival. Water conflict, in a sense, is not a win-lose conflict because no one can/should lose his/her fundamental right to survive. Peaceful conflict resolution and negotiation seem to be an appropriate way out. With that said, I am very excited about the program and looking forward to sharing stories of the people and my own stories with you. I will do my best in reflecting their living conditions, ways of living and perspectives, and I truly hope that these stories can make a difference. Until next blog!

At thousands of feet above the sea level


Twitter: @wangshuiqing

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Fulbright to Peacebuilder: Transitioning to a new journey in Mexico.

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I write this blog reminiscing about the last nine months I’ve spent in Distrito Federal (D.F.), Mexico. Excited about the upcoming eight weeks as a Peacebuilder and the stories they’ll bring with them.

I’ve been lucky enough to study in D.F. as a Fulbright Fellow, learning about historical human rights reforms from attorneys, scholars, professors, students and activists, from within the Mexican Supreme Court, U.N.A.M., I.T.A.M. and other local institutions. Coming to question and understand what a “human right” means theoretically and in-practice, within the country’s evolving legal structure. As this journey comes to a close, I feel nothing less than inspired and humbled by the people I have met and worked with, not to mention the honor it has been to experience the brilliance of my mentors. As a Fulbright, I was enthralled with the history, substance and procedure of fundamental legal questions. This took place normally behind the doors of a courtroom, classroom, library, or coffee-shop, hardly ever interacting with the human side of human rights.

This blog marks my transition from exploring human rights in theory as a Fulbright, to encountering their human side as a Peacebuilder. What I look forward to the most as a Peacebuilder is having that opportunity to explore the human right to water rights. Coming face to face with how real individuals are affected by a lack of access to this fundamental living block, and sharing it with the world.

Living here has proven an all around life-changing experience. Though I consider myself a hybrid of sorts (educated in the U.S., but raised on Mexican traditions enforced by frequent travel across the border), I never imagined how much more there was to see, live and learn from Mexico. There’s something extraordinary about falling into the ebb and flow of this vibrant city-life, acquainting myself with its lively sounds, the hustle and bustle of its streets, the warmth of its people, its diverse landscapes, not to mention its endless array of culinary offerings.

Using these experiences as an advantage to my time as a Peacebuilder, I look forward to sharing them with you, as well as with my fellow Peacebuilder Ainhoa Martinez, and using them to explore a new side of D.F. and Mexico. I’m profoundly thankful for this unique opportunity to share these stories. Giving a voice to stakeholders may be the only viable chance they receive to spread word of their struggle, a struggle common to many, many more. I hope to make their obstacles heard, their voices come alive and reach you in time to make a difference.

Hasta la proxima!

Twitter: @jsanchez_int
Instagram: jaedaelove


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Getting ready for Mexico

I felt really grateful when I received the email confirming I was selected for the 2014 Peacebuilders’ Fellowship. I am taking the last exams of my LLB in Public Law at the moment, as well as working as a coordinator at Amnesty International in Vitoria-Gasteiz local section. So I must organize myself well in order to have time for everything.

Time has passed quite quickly these last weeks, I successfully passed all my exams (still one left) and performed two campaigns about the freedom of expression in Spain and some cases of tortures in South America and Morocco with Amnesty International. Meanwhile, I have been doing some research about living in Mexico. I am lucky that some good friends of mine had been working in Mexico City in the past, so I gave them a call and we met to have lunch together and exchange views about the trip: how to find affordable accommodation, good restaurants, safe ways of transport…

I travelled to Beijing two years ago to study Human Rights Law at the CUPL and there were a lot of visa requirements. However, travelling to Mexico is easier because there are no visa requirements for EU citizens who stay in Mexico less than 180 days. The only thing I need to do is to show my passport and fill in a form when I arrive to the Mexican airport.

After checking the visa requirements and confirming the duration of the fellowship, I booked my flight tickets online, as always, because it is faster and cheaper. Then, I looked for a good international insurance service.

Another important thing is accommodation, so I got in touch with some people who were renting a room through a Facebook group page and through the Craigslist website. At this point it is very important not to pay any deposit before visiting the room, so what I am going to do is to book a hotel room for my first three days in Mexico City and in that way I will visit the places and choose one.

The three most important things (visa, flight tickets and accommodation) are more or less done and now I can focus myself in finishing the tasks that must be completed for the fellowship requirements. Also, when I have some free time between exams I read news about Mexico and keep updated about water issues in the region.

When I travel abroad I always take a Lonely Planet guide with me. It helped me a lot when I was in China, so I bought the one about Mexico. Another thing to bring with me is medicines. My mates in China and I got really sick because the water and almost everything was so polluted. Bringing medicines for your stomach, hydration, fibe or mosquito repellent could always be useful.

I have such great expectations about this fellowship and am truly happy because I will be working together with Jessica Sanchez and we will meet Dr. Iyer by the end of the fellowship. I am sure we will have a lot to talk about and I am willing to meet both of them. Getting on well with your workmates is very important to me because that will help us achieving good results and doing an effective work. I am lucky that Jessica is such a friendly and lovely person and I am sure we are going to have a good time in Mexico. She is already there and she is helping me in clarifying all my doubts about the trip. She also works in the human rights field, so we have a lot in common. Although we will be separated by a lot of distance, I hope we get in touch with the other fellows and we share our experiences.

I will spend my last day in Spain celebrating I have finished my LLB. I will have lunch with my family and dinner with my friends. The journey to Mexico seems to be pretty long, so I will take something to read and some music with me.

I would like to get to know better the Mexican culture and join their traditions. It might sound strange but I have made one promise to my mum and my granny: to visit the Virgin of Guadalupe and ask her to keep my family healthy. My family is catholic but I am not as religious as them. I believe every religion in the world is good as long as human rights are respected and what I like is to learn the significant values and principles of each one, which can lead me to understand different societies. But returning to the Virgin of Guadalupe, I am doing that because last year Doctors found a tumor inside my mother’s brain and my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, everything went perfectly and they are healthy and completely recovered now. It has been a difficult time for me and my family, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and now I feel stronger towards live. I think I owe them that visit to the Virgin of Guadalupe and I will be happy to share that moment with all of you.

You can also find me on Twitter (@7Ainhoamartinez) or Facebook ( See you in the next blog entry.


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2014 Peacebuilders Fellowship

By Pushpa Iyer

I am excited to launch the 2014 Peacebuilders Fellowship program; a program which will present water stories from four countries – Burma, Ethiopia, Mexico and West Bank.


Children doing dishes in a street in Freetown, Sierra Leone

I have great hopes from our first batch of passionate and committed Peacebuilder Fellows.  They come from varied backgrounds and with wide ranging experiences in various parts of the world. You can read their bios here.

The goal of this Fellowship, “Giving a voice to the voiceless and a face to the faceless”, comes from my own personal commitment to bringing change and building peace – change and peace as defined by those who are in midst of conflict.

The Center’s slogan – Knowledge as Action; Action as Change – defines my personal, academic and professional approach to bringing change and building peace: As we become more informed, action becomes inevitable.

This is what I hope as outcome of  this project – hearing the stories of individuals experiencing water conflicts will make us act!

The stories we gather from the field will be told on our website in August 2014. Here, on this site, we present the stories of the storytellers, that is, of our Peacebuilder Fellows. Reflections of the storytellers should make some compelling reading. Please do follow our Fellows on their journey and do cheer them regularly through your comments. Thank you.


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