Author Archives: nomae

Changing Worlds through Media

The following is a reflection by IPJ Program Officer Debbie Martinez, following WorldLink’s 16th Annual Youth Town Meeting and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.


“I believe that the full power of media has yet to be discovered, and we are the generation that is going to discover its fullest potential as a voice for activism and global change” — a bold statement I jotted down on the afternoon of January 24th. The speakers: Marian Dorst, from La Jolla High School, and Isaac Hortiales, from Instituto Mexico Americano Noroeste, as they stood in front of over 700 of their peers from all parts of San Diego and Baja Mexico at WorldLink’s 16th Annual Youth Town Meeting.


The topic of the day was “Changing Worlds: Media’s Power and Influence.” From the newspaper to the Internet, from photography to film, the potential of old and new media took center stage at this year’s WorldLink youth conference at the IPJ.


Zeta reporter Sergio Haro

Later that evening, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) Film Festival had its opening night at the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts. The festival featured several thought-provoking documentaries, including Reportero, a film that follows the dedicated staff from the Mexico-based newspaper Zeta. Contrary to other local papers, Zeta focuses on exposing the violent realities of oftentimes sensitive and controversial topics, such as the extraordinary rise in organized crime throughout the country. As a result, many Zeta journalists have been targeted and some killed.


As I sat listening to the question-and-answer period with Zeta reporter Sergio Haro following the film, I could not help but think of Marian and Isaac’s message. We are part of this powerful generation, and it is incredible to witness current acts of global education and activism through the use of various media outlets. As Jennifer Gigliotti, a master’s student in the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, commented, “I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of people that gathered to watch and support these films. It is wonderful to see that these are people educating themselves on the happenings of the world despite the discomfort this awareness can sometimes bring. … These are films everyone needs to see.”


Lt. Elle Helmer at the Vietnam War Memorial, U.S. Marine Corps

Throughout the weekend, the film festival featured other powerful and revealing documentaries, such as the Academy Award-nominated The Invisible War, which exposes the angst and trauma experienced by women in the U.S. armed forces who have survived rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by fellow service members. In the film, many of the brave women who came forward were met with an overwhelming absence of support and redress from the U.S. Department of Defense. In several cases, the perpetrators were not investigated or convicted, and many continued to rise through the military ranks.


Afarin Dadkhah Tehrani, another master’s student in the school, expressed, “It was an emotionally intense experience. I was both frustrated and heartbroken about what these women had gone through, and how it had severely affected their lives forever. … The documentary was very eye-opening for me personally in terms of the gravity of gender issues and the integration of gender-sensitive lenses in the development of peace.”


Echoing Afarin, watching the film was a difficult experience in itself. However, its impact was multiplied as members of the audience, including former and current servicemen and women, initiated a powerful debate about the “epidemic of rape” within the U.S. military. Although some audience members disagreed on specific aspects in the film, it was evident that the documentary successfully brought to light a global concern that often goes unaddressed.


As Marian and Isaac asserted, we are the generation that will utilize media and its strengths to not only educate others and ourselves on global issues, but also exploit its capacity to achieve actual social change and justice in the communities that surround each of us.


The IPJ co-sponsored the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in San Diego, which also featured the documentaries Call Me Kuchu, Putin’s Kiss, Salaam Dunk and Brother Number One. To learn more, please visit  

Building Bridges in Cambodia

From March 25-30, 2012, IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker and Program Officer Zahra Ismail were in Cambodia to conduct trainings requested from women in politics, NGOs and youth organizations during the Women PeaceMakers Asia Regional Network meetings in December.


Women in the Political Sphere: Enhancing Participation and Strengthening Influence
By IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail
March 26-27

As we entered the training room on the first day, 30 women turned to greet us, pressing their palms together at the chest and lowering their eyes with a slight bow. We were early, but the women from three different districts around Phnom Penh were ready to begin the morning workshop on enhancing their participation and influence in local and national politics. Dee opened the day by sharing experiences of women involved in decision-making worldwide, highlighting the importance of women’s participation if good governance is to be fostered anywhere.


Over the course of two days, Dee and I provided participants with skills and tools to communicate with confidence, within their own party and across party lines, as well as with their constituents and the larger community. While the energy and engagement was at times confrontational early on, it remained stimulating and enlightening throughout.


Commune representatives (local administration) sharing visions for change in their communities

After meeting in groups with women from different parties to clarify the concerns they had in their communities, a young woman from the main opposition party was quick to come to the floor. Vibrantly direct, she was supported by everyone in the room when she said that domestic violence and poverty were concerns that she and others from the ruling party agreed they needed to work on together. Both shyness and confrontation fell by the wayside as the women shared concerns ranging from maternal health and poverty to gang and domestic violence and the paucity of women in leadership.


Aware that Cambodian women are not often encouraged to take leadership positions in their parties or even talk across party lines, we watched the women transition from quiet curiosity to active engagement and then, on the second day, to an essential realization: that they had more in common than they had ever been allowed to discover.


Seeing timidity and confrontation transform into intense, exploratory discussions, we ended the program with a sense that spaces had opened for the women to work together on the roadblocks to peace — a peace that is just and inclusive.


Youth and NGO Encounters: The Beginnings of Trust
By IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker
March 28-29

Roundtable with peace and human rights NGO leaders in Phnom Penh

In a society where reaching out to those in power and encouraging local responses to problems is often seen as defiant, NGO leaders face great challenges when it comes to trust and human rights.  Zahra and I had the chance to see how NGOs in Cambodia are motivating their communities when we met with a roundtable of NGO leaders to discuss the keys to community collaboration and peacebuilding. The 26 participants identified some of their primary issues and looked for ways to garner greater attention from the community. But it was the next day that we saw even greater hope kindled in a group of youth leaders who Thavory Huot, an IPJ Woman PeaceMaker from Cambodia, had arranged for us to meet.


Before we began our leadership training with 30 youth leaders in Phnom Penh, Zahra and I had been reading an article in The Phnom Penh Post, “Beer girls fight for their rights,” and were expecting to meet a group of educated and/or unemployed youth seeking ways to have more influence in their communities. So we were surprised when our expected group was joined by some very unexpected young trade union leaders and activists. It was a first encounter for everyone, due to Cambodia’s political undertone of containment by those in power. And we had already heard, and seen, that any dissent or support of exchanges across political parties, religions or social classes was uncommon.


Dee Aker exploring communication tools to advance common goals with youth leaders in Phnom Penh

But the young people discovered they shared the same vision for leadership and many common issues of concern: unemployment and fair wages; increased drug use among disillusioned youth; domestic violence; and rising tension among religious and social groups. One young woman who works in a beer hall said, “It is as if society has abandoned not only us, but our families and communities too.” A young man who had been to college told us this was his first time looking at the challenges low wage workers and young women faced. And another young man from a youth organization felt it was important to now support the young women and men he had just met.


By the end of a warm day, the heat and the energy in the room had not diminished. The call for more techniques to identify and deal with their common problems was clear:

“As a youth, I want to spend my life meaningfully.”
“I want to meet these new friends again and work with them.”
“It was a new thing to learn how to organize and think and communicate in this way. And I will share these ideas with the union workers, too.”

After nearly 30 comments like these, Zahra and I left to pack our bags, quite content that it had been a very short week, but a very good one.


Building Connections and Inspiring Hope: Women PeaceMakers in Cambodia

In early December 2011, IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker and Program Officer Zahra Ismail were in Cambodia for the third Women PeaceMakers Asia Regional Network summit. The seven-day gathering, organized by IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Thavory Huot, provided opportunities to meet with youth, women farmers, Buddhist and Islamic community groups, as well as NGOs and women in political posts locally and nationally. The gathering was supported with funds from UN Women.


“We’re here to connect with each other’s efforts, so let’s get started!” This was the invitation from one of the IPJ Women PeaceMakers (WPMs) as we introduced ourselves during our very first roundtable dinner with a group of women activist leaders in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh.


As we went around the table listening to the experiences and key challenges facing Cambodian civil society, one that continued to come up both during dinner and in the days that followed was a lack of connectedness, especially among women in civil society. As one young activist put it, “We are still so far away from an us in civil society. We’re very fragmented, there is no collective we.”


WPM meeting with Cambodian women farmers

The next morning as the sun spilled out across the sky, our team of Asian Women PeaceMakers gathered with 30 women farmers representing three districts around Phnom Penh. Along with fresh coconut juice, the women shared openly and passionately the challenges they are facing: lack of education, ongoing situations of abuse and resistance to their attempts to strengthen their voices and those of other women in the political sphere. The number of women who are active in local or national government positions is very small, and the particular trials women face are for the most part overlooked. Again the question echoed: How can we better connect with one another and encourage women’s active participation in peacebuilding in our communities?


WPM Thavory Huot discussing justice challenges in Cambodia

WPM Mary Ann Arnado of the Philippines, speaking with compassion and humility, told of her experience bringing together more than 10,000 internally displaced persons to demand a ceasefire in Mindanao. As she spoke of their success, images of the thousands of people lining the roadway with their signs demanding the ceasefire appeared in the background. Then Cambodian WPM Thavory Huot shared her personal, painful efforts in the enormous task of disarmament in Cambodia following the Khmer Rouge. She too had witnessed success because of her struggles, and she urged the women gathered not to give up.


This exchange of stories and strategies filled the room with hope, and began to plant the seeds of connection between the women from different districts who were present. This continued throughout the seven-day summit. The WPMs shared their stories and exchanged ideas and strategies with civil society leaders, women’s groups, political leaders, local NGO staff and a group of young Buddhist women who are students and tailors, as well as a Muslim women’s cooperative in Battambang Province in northwestern Cambodia.


Throughout our meetings with local organizations and groups, the topic of the challenges and action needed to ensure implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 in Asia surfaced. In both formal and informal conversations, the WPMs discovered a common necessity and desire to monitor and work together to operationalize Resolution 1325 throughout Asia.


Understanding that Resolution 1325 requires parties in conflict to respect women’s rights, the women wanted to learn how to call on it to support women’s participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction. The women felt they could play a significant role in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and saw their participation as vital in the process of maintaining peace and security. However, despite the resolution’s passing more than 10 years ago, Cambodia and many other countries in Asia and around the world have yet to develop national action plans as a first step in its implementation. The United States only recently – in December 2011 – began exploring how it will launch its own.


Asian Women PeaceMakers (l-r) Manjula Pradeep, Thavory Huot, Bae Liza Saway, Mary Ann Arnado, Shobha Shrestha and Zarina Salamat

Sitting together on the last day of the summit, the Women PeaceMakers explored options and made plans for their Asia Regional Network’s development and growth in 2012. Ideas for approaches, activities and strategies around their common 1325 goal emerged, and a newfound sense of motivation planted itself in the group. With strengthened relations and partnerships, new insights and tools to use in their own work, and an agenda for collective action for the new year, the final strategy session came to a close.


“I feel rejuvenated and confident that I can continue to do this work, and that I am not, ever, alone,” reflected one PeaceMaker, capturing the essence of the summit. All of us left Cambodia looking forward to the next Asia Regional Network summit to be held in 2012 – and ready for the work ahead.


Click here for the first post about the summit, describing the current situation in Cambodia.

Setting the Stage: Women PeaceMakers in Cambodia

In early December 2011, IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker and Program Officer Zahra Ismail were in Cambodia for the third Women PeaceMakers Asia Regional Network summit. The seven-day gathering, organized by IPJ Woman PeaceMaker Thavory Huot, provided opportunities to meet with youth, women farmers, Buddhist and Islamic community groups, as well as NGOs and women in political posts locally and nationally. The gathering was supported with funds from UN Women.


Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, Zahra and I quickly dropped our bags at a small hotel and headed out to the “Women’s Hearings: True Voices of Women during the Khmer Rouge Regime on Sexual Violence.” Theresa de Langis, a former Peace Writer (2007) who subsequently worked for UNIFEM/UN Women in Afghanistan, was facilitating these shadow hearings in Cambodia. Theresa also visited the IPJ in October, as the rapporteur for one of the U.S. civil society consultations on the formulation of a U.S. National Action Plan to implement U.N. Security Resolution 1325.


Temple devoted to the bones found in the Killing Fields

Here in Cambodia’s capital, the testimonies of survivors and witnesses of sexual violence under the Khmer Rouge Regime, along with statements from legal experts, were profoundly moving. These crimes have been rejected by the formal tribunals that are currently underway, and the Women’s Hearings are an informal effort at validation and redress for the atrocities women suffered. The call for an official tribunal was a key topic in the IPJ’s Global Women’s Court of Accountability back in 2005, but no one intended or expected that testimonies about the crimes against women would not be included in the tribunal for the mass murderers.


There were many young Cambodians in the hearing’s audience who were just discovering the true and vast horrors from the time of the Killing Fields. Fear, trauma and simply regaining a life had been the priorities for more than 20 years, so many parents had repressed, moved on from or even denied the terrors they saw and suffered. The loss of so many intellectuals, teachers and leaders, and the brainwashing and forced labor camps had a stifling impact on both truth and its recovery.


After the hearings, Wenny Kusuma, who heads the UN Women Cambodia office and has worked on women, peace and security issues for a number of years, joined us for updates and discussion. This intense first day of feeling, seeing and discussing the profound abuse of women’s rights set a very real stage for engagement with the IPJ Women PeaceMakers (WPM) of Asia arriving in the home of Cambodian WPM Thavory Huot.


Skulls that now rest in the temple

By December 9, Zarina Salamat of Pakistan, Manjula Pradeep of India, and Mary Ann Arnado and Bae Liza Saway of the Philippines joined us as Thavory gave a first orientation to Cambodia with a visit to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21), now the Cambodian Genocide Museum. It is estimated that one-third of the population were killed or died of starvation and disease during the 1975-1979 reign of the Khmer Rouge. Dith Pran’s story in the film “The Killing Fields” is devastatingly palpable here, as you walk quietly from mass grave to mass grave and to the tree where babies’ little bodies were smashed, all the while imagining the “patriotic music” that covered the sounds of dying. After this awakening to one of the most horrific crimes of the last century, the beautiful glass spiral of the pagoda-like structure where the skulls and bones are now honored, layer upon layer, cannot leave your thoughts or prayers.


One of the victims of the Khmer Rouge

This week “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea, the chief ideologue of the Khmer Rouge, admitted vaguely that “perhaps” he had committed war crimes against humanity after hearing the Khmer Rouge tribunal presiding judge list some of the crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, enslavement, forced transfer, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political grounds and genocide. As we walked in humility and tears through the prison where thousands of photos of children, women and men stared back at us, and past the rooms where they were tortured, it seemed odd that there is so little awareness of the tribunal or its shadow hearing for women. Like the Hiroshima and Holocaust museums illustrating the human capacity for unimaginable abuse, people should reflect here on what happened and how it must be prevented from happening again. There are lessons here – for Cambodians and the world.


By the evening we were joined by our sixth member, Shobha Shesthra from Nepal, who hosted the first Asian Women PeaceMakers Regional Network meeting early in 2011. This was the opening to a very interesting week of discovering more needs and discussing how the Asian Women PeaceMakers might work together on their common issues and challenges.


Click here for the second post about the summit, detailing the rest of the Women PeaceMakers Cambodian summit.



Program Officer Karla Alvarez Reports from Kenya

Alvarez is program officer for the IPJ’s WorldLink Program.


Karibu! Hello, my name is Mercy. Welcome to Daraja.”


Then came Faith, Joan, Molly, Everlyn, Hadija … until 77 warm hugs and bright smiles greeted me and the delegation of USD students and staff to the Daraja Academy in Nanyuki, Kenya. In partnership with USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), the IPJ’s WorldLink Program was invited to lead a series of workshops on leadership, gender, school success and global education at the secondary school.


Daraja, Swahili for “bridge,” was founded by educator and USD and WorldLink alum Jason Doherty, who wanted to provide an education for girls with limited means in Kenya. Three years ago, he and his wife Jenni selected the first 26 academically accomplished girls from across Kenya to comprise Form 1, the equivalent of freshman level in high school. Now, the campus thrives with 77 girls and 11 dedicated teachers.


It takes only a few hours to understand why these young women are referred to as WISH – Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope. Many of the Daraja students come from broken homes and extreme poverty. Were it not for Daraja’s free high school education – including meals, school supplies and room and board – they would likely remain in their hometowns not attending school and forced to work.


“There is a real hunger for education here,” shares one of the teachers. And it is visible everywhere on campus. A highly structured schedule means the girls begin with daily chores at 6 a.m., followed by breakfast at 7 and school for eight hours. An hour is provided for physical activity, followed by dinner and three hours of study hall. By 10 p.m., lights are turned off and the students return to their dorms.


Despite the long days, the girls are genuinely appreciative of a Daraja education. They enthusiastically wash clothes by hand, sort beans and clean the dining halls. They do not complain, or yearn for leisure time. Their limited spare time is usually spent studying.


Given Daraja’s goal to support young women’s pursuit of an education, the school provided a platform to continue building on WorldLink’s programmatic expansion. During the month of February, three M.A. students from SOLES worked with me to develop a documentary questionnaire and workshop. We then interviewed 15 Daraja students, learning about their families, values and goals for improving Kenya.


All 77 students then participated in a WorldLink workshop which explored their concerns on various social justice issues. The discussions highlighted frustration and concern over the lack of access to education, especially for young women, and limited job prospects in Kenya. However, the students are also acutely aware of their potential as youth and the role they play in the future of their country. They see education as the most vital step in improving their society and are committed to expanding opportunities for other young people’s education in order to create a wiser, stronger generation of youth to lead Kenya.


In the coming months, the WorldLink Interns will review the footage taken during my time in Kenya to create a documentary highlighting these young women’s stories and dedication to make a difference in their communities. Check the WorldLink page this summer for the video!