After finishing the MA in International Peace
and Conflict Resolution (2010), I had all the optimistic confidence needed to face the
working world: a breadth of internships ranging from UN agency to think tank in
Brussels to peacebuilding organizations in DC. I had a great network of
colleagues, professors, and other mentors.With these resources in hand – not to mention, an excellent degree!- I
moved out to the West Coast and secured work, first in the social entrepreneurship
private sector, and later fundraising for nonprofits. After two years, the ache
to be working out in the field in developing countries had gotten bad. I was
not building capacity. I was not tapping my own capacity.
After a regular yet anything-but-normal aerobics session
with Richard Simmons, he sat the class down and demanded, “It is the beginning
of Spring! Have you done what you said you would by this time? A quarter of the
year has passed!” This, amusingly, was the moment where everything shifted in
me. If it meant I had to be an intern again, by the power vested in Richard
Simmons, I would do it!
As someone with field experience limited to week-long social
justice trips to Honduras or Bolivia, I was not hire-material for international
organizations working in developing countries. I contacted the INGO I had
interned with in DC, Search for Common Ground, and asked whether I could still
apply for their international internship summer program. Within a matter of
weeks, I was at the travel clinic getting shots for Liberia.
It was a huge leap, but knowing nothing would make me
happier, the decision was not hard at the time. The key was going with the
right organization. I knew from experience that Search for Common Ground would
rely on me just as much as any other program staff in the office, and I trusted
the quality of their work. I was not going to get my feet wet. I was going to
jump in and test the current.
After three months in Liberia, there was no doubt that I was
in the right place. I clicked with the people, the environment, and the culture
(…but not necessarily the spicy food). Three out of four? I’ll take it. Moreover,
there was a demand for my skills. By developing a specialization in Monitoring
& Evaluation while I was interning for various organizations in DC, I found
a niche that fit well with consultancies and applied across sectors. I did a project
for Search for Common Ground as a consultant but also tapped into my new
Liberian network. ChildFund Liberia hired me to conduct a baseline study on
education quality, accessibility, and equity in a remote county. After that, I
was hired by an implementing partner of the USAID Health, Agriculture, and
Nutrition Development for Sustainability (HANDS) program to be the Data
Manager. Getting both jobs was only possible because I was in country, could
meet face-to-face with program staff, and was available on short notice. Advice
to new graduates: Sometimes being on the ground and having shown people what
you can do is the best way to get your foot in the door.
a world where "best practice" evolves so quickly, I am lucky to turn
to AU professors who spend so much of their own time as practitioners. Meeting
Prof. Susan Shepler in Liberia in July 2014 was like seeing family. We talked
about Ebola, peace education, and our own personal transformations spurred by
West Africa. Her insight is invaluable and always renews my aspirations.
I recently celebrated my two-year mark in Liberia and do not
plan on leaving anytime soon. By sticking with my current program through the
hard times, I was promoted to a position that I helped to develop: Knowledge
Systems Manager. My work takes me out to two remote counties bordering with the
Ivory Coast. I have built the skills of my colleagues by training them in new
mobile technologies for data collection, performing anthropometric
measurements, report writing, and USAID Performance Management Plan (PMP) tools.
As a team, we tap into each other’s talents and share responsibilities. I also
know that the example I set in management style and ethical behavior
contributes to a standard for the staff.
Let me be very clear though: I learn so much more by working
and living here than the skills I teach others. I am humbled every day.
Likewise, I am reminded that I am here because of the opportunities I created
for myself. It takes a lot of effort, patience, and flexibility.
But that is what makes this work so wonderful.
SIS IPCR BOREN KATIE LANCE PARSOUD
Students Receive Boren Awards
Over the summer, four IPCR students
were awarded the competitive, merit-based Boren Graduate Fellowship. This
dynamic fellowship supports students pursuing the study of languages, cultures,
and world regions that are critical to U.S. interests. Kate Bogan, Joseph
Imbriano, Sara Cady, and Katie Lance-Parsoud are among the eight SIS students
who were awarded the prestigious Boren.
Each of these Boren Fellows is spending this year exploring the challenges
of peacebuilding in a region of their interest through a self-designed project.
Katie Lance-Parsoud (MA/IPCR ‘12) is studying how the Bosnian peacebuilding
process involves and empowers Bosnian youth at the grassroots level. Katie is
interning at the Center for Peacebuilding in Sanski Most, with a focus on
organizing and implementing Sanksi Most’s second annual International Peace
Week. She will also concentrate on grant-writing, teaching German and English,
while improving her Bosnian language skills. To complete her year as a Boren
Fellow, Katie will participate in an 8-week intensive language study program at
the Melikian Center’s Critical Language Institute at Arizona State University.
On a yearlong fellowship in Beijing, Joseph Imbriano (MA/IPCR ‘12) is
examining the strategic intentions behind China’s military expansion,
specifically its recent drive to expand its naval capacity. His first three
months in Beijing will focus on advanced Mandarin language and policy courses
at Peking University, followed by nine months conducting interviews with
experts at academic institutions and think tanks on their interpretation of
Beijing’s naval strategy.
Sara Cady (MA/IPCR ‘12) is focusing on improving her Modern Standard Arabic
and the Palestinian dialect skills at Birzeit University in Ramallah. She is
interning at Panorama, a Palestinian NGO examining how grassroots organizations
work to develop Palestinian support for a comprehensive peace agreement with
Israel. After nine months in Ramallah, Sara will spend summer 2012 participating
in a two-month Arabic language intensive program at Middlebury College in
Kate Bogan (MA/IPCR ‘12) is conducting research
on the transitional justice and reconciliation processes in Cambodia 30 years
after the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge. In addition to learning the
Khmer language, Kate is interning at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts
of Cambodia - the hybrid national and international court that is prosecuting
the Khmer Rouge leaders. She is also interning at the Center for Justice and
Reconciliation, a non-profit that promotes civic education, victim support and
Todd Walters, IPCR/MA ’06, has combined his passion for experiential peacebuilding and some of the most amazing locations on earth to develop International Peace Parks Expeditions
IPPE operates all-inclusive educational adventure expeditions through International Peace Parks.
The profit earned from the courses and trainings helps to fund the non-profit portion of IPPE that organizes Experiential Peacebuilding Expeditions for youth affected by conflict in the Peace Park region.
For Walters, this new venture really brings together his inter¬ests and aspirations. “It combines my education, my desire to travel and live in other cultures, see some of the most beautiful places on earth, and have a positive impact on young people af¬fected by conflict,” he said.
This new organization builds on many of Walters’ previous professional experiences. He has volunteered with Center for Peace Building International (Washington, D.C.) developing experiential peacebuilding programs and has worked with the Hemlock Overlook Center for Experiential Education (Clif¬ton, VA). Walters also spent the summer of 2008 in the small mountain village of Thethi, Albania running the first Balkans Peace Park Summer Program.
The Balkans Peace Park is located in the mountainous border area between Kosovo, Montenegro and northern Albania. The parks purpose is not only to serve as a symbol for peace and cooperation, but also to promote environmental conservation, stimulate local employment, and promote eco-tourism.
It is also a career, said Walters, that draws upon many of the skills he developed while in the IPCR program. “I use IPCR skills all the time,” he said. “Whether it is a conflict analysis or mapping exercise to teach and explain to others, I am constantly working within the physical context while understanding the underlying dynamics at play.”
This new venture has also provided Walters with the oppor¬tunity to develop a curriculum for the Experiential Peacebuild¬ing Expeditions. “It harnesses pieces of conflict resolution and peacebuilding skill training and combines it with experiential learning activities, theory, and debrief,” said Walters.
While the curriculum is important, Walters said that the true skills lies in the ability of the facilitator to recognize the needs of each group. The end goal, he said, is to develop “tangible cross group relationships based on mutual trust and a shared vision of the future.” These are interactions and experiences that he hopes will be retained and built upon when the participants return to their communities.
Walters is working with Professor Saleem Ali at University of Vermont to create a three week academic field study course called “Conservation Beyond Borders: A Field Experience in the Balkans Exploring the Prospects of “Peace Parks.”
Timothy Seidel’s, MA/IPCR ’03, interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was sparked while studying while studying at SIS. “While in the IPCR program at American University, I had the opportunity to engage with faculty, students and the peace studies/conflict resolution literature on issues surrounding the conflict in Israel-Palestine,” Seidel said.
Seidel took is academic work at SIS into practice as a Peace Development Worker with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from 2004-2007. While living in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Seidel worked to build relationships between Israelis and Palestinians peace and justice groups and connecting peacebuilding and development organizations.
“The three years I spent living and working in Palestine-Israel was deep, rich, and intense in so many ways,” said Seidel. The Mennonite Central Committee is the peacebuilding, development, and relief arm of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the United States and Canada.
Now back in the United States, Seidel is working as the Director for MCC’s U.S. Peace and Justice Ministries on a variety of programs including racism, immigration, peace education, and conflict transformation.
“I continue to utilize skills and draw from experiences I had while in the IPCR program,” said Seidel. His current position at MCC has led him to examining organizational development and identifying best practices related to justice and peacebuilding evaluation and accountability.
Seidel continues to write essays, articles and presentations on his work and experiences in the Middle East.
For more information on the Mennonite Central Committee, please visit http://mcc.org/.