In August, the IPJ welcomed Stephanie Chiu as program officer for Women PeaceMakers, the program in which she previously served as a peace writer for Alice Nderitu of Kenya. Chiu works with Senior Program Officer Jennifer Freeman and Senior Editor and Writer Emiko Noma in managing all aspects of the IPJ’s award-winning program.
Q: What brought you to the field of peacebuilding? What has been your trajectory to this work and the IPJ?
I’ve been drawn to the field of peace and justice for as long as I can remember. When I was a young girl growing up in Darwin, a small city in Northern Australia, I remember Mother Teresa visiting my school. I knew nothing of this woman, but her incredible compassion for people and passion for peace and justice planted a seed in my consciousness. Later, in high school, a woman who had been working in refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodia border spoke to my class. I was totally inspired by her story and felt a strong sense that I needed to follow a similar direction.
As an adult I’ve accumulated 13 years of experience working in programs that support women’s agency and focus on peace, justice and conflict transformation. In these roles I’ve worked in Australia, Afghanistan, Fiji, Pakistan and Samoa. Returning to the Women PeaceMakers program at the IPJ has been an ambition ever since I left three years ago. I’m naturally drawn to that which is inventive and provocative, and this program has all of that in spades. I love that it honors women’s power and stories through creative and smart programming. I feel very fortunate to be involved in work that aligns so closely with my own goals, values and life path.
Q: You were a peace writer in 2012. Can you summarize your experience in the program in a few words?
Creative, expansive, joyful, challenging, humbling.
Q: Who do you consider your professional mentors?
I always look to those who have taken a stand for peace and justice and who have been great teachers for so many of us in how to channel compassion and passion in an authentic, effective and meaningful way. Some notables include Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Margaret Whitlam and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Then there are the women whose creativity and words have guided me down new pathways of wisdom and engagement, such as Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem and Clarissa Pinkola Estés.
Q: What has been the most important experience you’ve had working in the field? What experience taught you the most?
There have been so many meaningful experiences. In Fiji, I facilitated interethnic training and conflict transformation workshops for women; in Pakistan I worked with Afghan refugee women on education, health and livelihood programs; in Afghanistan I helped to establish a network of women-run, independent, community radio stations for women. In each of those experiences, among others, I was learning the value of how to work hard and stay humble. I count it as a life lesson and I draw from it continually.
Q: What aspects of your position as program officer are you most looking forward to?
Working with the IPJ team. It’s a great dynamic here — the people who work here have exceptional skills and experience, they’re passionate about their work, supportive of their colleagues and great company too. To say I’m thrilled to be working with the Peace Writers and Women PeaceMakers would be an understatement. What an amazing group of women! I’m looking forward to supporting each of them in their important work documenting stories of peacebuilding and human rights advocacy, which I know will inspire others.
Q: This is your second time living in Southern California. What will you miss about living overseas?
In the last five years I’ve lived in Sydney, Suva, San Diego and Stockholm. Each city is completely different with its own unique flavor of adventure and experience. What I miss most about any place I’ve left are our friends and family. I have to say, though, the people I’ve met and befriended here in San Diego are incredibly warm and friendly so I feel very welcomed.
Q: Do you have a favorite quote or a favorite author or book? Do you have a motto that you live by?
Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” It was the quote I chose for my high school yearbook 24 years ago and it still resonates. Recently I came across the second part of this, “For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” The motto I live by is Audentis Fortuna Iuvat. Fortune favors the bold!