Category Archives: Uncategorized

Black Lives Matter

By Jessica Ciccarelli

Black Lives Matter. I can barely begin to express how excited I was to see the KIPJ including the Black Lives Matter movement in The Art of Peace symposium. On a campus where “majority white” and “white privilege” seem like massive understatements, it was breathtaking to see the Institute for Peace and Justice take on such an important peace and justice issue.

Kimani Fowlin and Renée Watson, in their “Poetry and Performance for Peaceful Protest” workshop, gave us inspiring performances, vital history and understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement, and invaluable emotional context for the incredible loss taking place across our nation – not only today, yesterday, last month or last year, but for decades. Renée and Kimani pushed deeper understanding and compassion, while still taming some of our “white fragility” with realizations that privileged white students are not the only ones who think police brutality is a recent phenomenon. Still, we have so much to learn.

They began their workshop with a personal performance. “If we expect you to make yourselves vulnerable with your own pieces,” Renée said, “then we need to share some of ours.” As Renée shared a piece of poetry with us, Kimani danced to the rhythm of her words. Next, they put us in a circle and asked us each to say one word about what we were feeling at that moment. Hopeful. Afraid. Nervous. Excited. Broken. Joyous. Each of the twenty to thirty attendees spoke their feelings to life in a circle of strangers. Then, having made ourselves vulnerable, Renée and Kimani played music and asked us to place sticky notes with a few personal words on walls of pictures of African American Men and Women lost to police brutality. An emotional process for all involved, I’m sure, but perhaps more emotional with the realization that we have long since passed the point where we could ever give voice to every name of every individual lost to ignorance, lost to denial, lost to an enemy often seen only to those victimized by it. We are responsible for the structures of violence upheld by the construct of superiority carried in the color of our skin.

We separated into groups and were each given a story. Some older, others newer. Each one the tale of an African American life lost to police brutality. This story became the impetus, first for the conversation, then for the poems, and last for the protests. After a few read their poems aloud, we each took a favored piece of our poems and put them together in theatrical presentations for peaceful protest. What a powerful way to get people emotionally invested in what is too often a very divisive issue!

Each of the groups gave their presentation to the workshop. Some sang, others chanted, most including the power of repetition. So we continued chanting, singing, and repeating similar essences.

A young black man.

Killed in the process of being arrested for crimes that often don’t exist.

Killed in terrible ways.


Head trauma.


So much blood.

By the end of the workshop, we could no longer find reason in the murder of so many thousands of black lives, so we did like so many before us have. We took our anger and pain to the public spaces of USD and showed others what we had just spent two and a half hours struggling over. My only sadness comes with knowing there were so few students to witness this incredible journey Kimani and Renée took us on.

USD is a campus that prides itself on change and impact, but still is so dishearteningly disconnected from the reality of racial privilege and racism in America today. I was overjoyed, I am overjoyed, to see the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice join hands with USD’s Black Student Union in an exploration of how art can be the impetus for changing the incredible violence and police brutality taking place against our black brothers and sisters. If our peace and justice institutions don’t stand up against injustice, then who will?  Thanks to the IPJ for taking on such an important issue, and thank you to the BSU and Renée and Kimani for taking us through such a difficult conversation in such an exceptionally inspired way. I know I learned something and I believe most everyone else would say the same. It is through workshops like this one that we can finally start being the change we want to see in the world. Because it really is through acknowledging our own privilege and changing ourselves that we can really start changing the structures and institutions of violence that the quest for peace demands we change.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

News in Review: Cambodia – December 8, 2015

Yem Chhrin is escorted by police officers into the provincial court in Battambang province, Cambodia, on Thursday. Photograph: Reuters

Cambodia News in Review, December 8, 2015

Cambodia’s deteriorating political climate has attracted international political and media attention. U.S. and EU lawmakers have demanded that Prime Minister Hun Sen drops the arrest warrant against opposition leader Sam Rainsy [of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)], who remains in exile in France. The impact of climate change on the future of Cambodia and other low-lying developing nations is being addressed this week at the UN climate change summit in Paris. Also in the news, an unlicensed medical practitioner has been sentenced to 25 years in prison after 270 residents in Roka commune in Battambang province are infected with HIV.

Cambodia Contemplates its Future In Relation to Climate Change

The UN climate change summit in Paris is taking place from November 30 to December 11, 2015. At the summit, Cambodia and other developing countries are expected to appeal to developed countries that produce greater carbon emissions for assistance to mitigate the impact of climate change on their own countries.

The credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s recently listed Cambodia as the country (out of 116) most impacted by climate change, with its government holding the lowest rate for “creditworthiness.” The United Nations lists it as one of the top 10 countries in the world most susceptible to climate change, notably as a low-land country prone to droughts and flooding. Nearly 74 percent of Cambodian workers are in agriculture, which has endured major losses from drought and flooding. Some communities in Cambodia have already been trying out disaster and climate change mitigation education and training programs for a few years. Since 2011, nearly 33 secondary schools and 15,000 farming families in Tbaung Khmum and Siem Reap provinces have participated in climate change and disaster mitigation education and training programs.

Bopha, Phorn. Underprepared Cambodia Vulnerable to Climate Change. Voice of America. November 27, 2015.

Danaparamita, Aria. Youth Gather to Talk About Climate Change. The Cambodia Daily. November 30, 2015.

Naomi-Collett Ritz. Climate Change Curriculum. Khmer Times. December 1, 2015.

Unlicensed Medical Practitioner Sentenced to Prison for Causing Mass HIV Outbreak in Battambang Province

After 270 residents were infected in the rural Roka commune in Battambang province, Yem Chrin, an unlicensed medical practitioner, was found guilty of “operating without a medical license, intentionally spreading HIV and torture and acts of cruelty that result in death with aggravating circumstances.” Chrin has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. Unlicensed healthy workers and clinics are common in rural communities where access to state healthcare is lacking. Nine unlicensed doctors were ordered in February to shut down their practices. Villagers have complained that is it now significantly harder to find a provider, especially if they may have an emergency in the middle of the night. Moreover, due to high levels of corruption in the country, Cambodians often do not trust their doctors to be well-trained, and will seek medical advice in neighboring countries when they can. The lack of licensed practitioners still has roots in the period of the Khmer Rouge regime when physicians and their families, along with professionals including scientists, teachers, engineers, and lawyers, were eradicated.

Hour, Hum. Cambodian Health Worker Sentenced to 25 Years For HIV Infections. Radio Free Asia. December 3, 2015.

Hunt, Katie and Rebecca Wright. Unlicensed Cambodian doctor jailed for mass HIV outbreak. CNN. December 3, 2015.

Reaksmey, Hul. Doctor Who Caused Mass HIV Outbreak in Cambodia Sentenced to 25 Years. Voice of America. December 4, 2015.

Opposition Leader Sam Rainsy Remains in Exile, as Political Talks Deteriorate

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy remains in France in exile, as an arrest warrant awaits him back home in Cambodia. CNRP members boycotted a parliamentary session last week, citing concerns over Rainsy’s warrant and lawmakers’ safety, after two CNRP lawmakers were beaten severely following a session by pro-CPP (Cambodian People’s Party, the ruling government) military members in civilian clothes. Sixteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat and Republican, penned a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, relaying their “deep concerns about efforts to disrupt the development of democracy in your country” [Mara, The Cambodia Daily]. Members of the European Parliament passed a resolution in which they threatened to review their substantial aid package to Cambodia unless Rainsy is able to freely return. Foreign Minister Hor Namhong seemed unfazed by the West’s pressure while at a recent charity event in Phnom Penh. He remarked at the event: “The E.U. parliamentarians and the U.S. parliamentarians have their rights [but] I see and believe that our country under the leadership of Hun Sen is advancing to build our country to grow in all sectors… With funds or without funds, we will continue to advance. From now and onward, Cambodia will always progress forward and not go backward or stand still. It always goes forward from one month to another and from one year to another” [Mara, The Cambodia Daily]. The political collapse in Cambodia has gained increased international media attention, as the International New York Times published a piece from Ou Virak, president of Future Forum, a policy research institute in Phnom Penh, calling for a change in leadership in Cambodia, and not from the opposition CNRP. Cambodia’s youth, who are technologically savvy, were heavily mobilized for the 2013 election. They make up approximately 3.5 million of 9.5 million eligible voters in Cambodia, and continue to advocate in online and public forums for political change. Cambodians are increasingly frustrated that critical issues nationally are not being addressed by politicians, including rising economic inequality, and electoral and institutional reform.

Dara, Mech and Alex Willemyns. Opposition Lawmakers To Boycott Assembly. The Cambodia Daily. November 30, 2015.

Dara, Mech and Alex Willemyns. US Lawmakers Call for End to ‘Persecution’ of Opposition. The Cambodia Daily. December 7, 2015.

Thul, Prak Chan. TV anchor seeks to be Cambodia’s political peacemaker to avoid conflict. Reuters. November 30, 2015.

Virak, Ou. Cambodians Deserve Better. The International New York Times. December 4, 2015.

The Beauty Behind the Dust

By Jessica Ciccarelli

Sometimes, if you aren’t careful, you miss the beauty for the dust. I think it’s easy. You just get so preoccupied by what you see as wrong with a situation that you forget to ask what anyone else thinks and, perhaps more importantly, you forget to find the good. To me, this seems especially true in situations of poverty. The more impoverished a community is, the more unlike what is known, the more people from the outside, people like me, forget that it is still someone else’s normal, everyday life; and, that in the midst of their everyday problems, they find their own solutions to everyday issues. If only we’d zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture we’d see that there is a lot of good going on — even if it is on the periphery. This is the single most important lesson the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies contributed to my internship in Kenya this summer: We have to look at the big picture to create sustainable peace.

If you look at the two photos above, they both depict the Mathare slum community in Nairobi, Kenya. The first photo is a close-up of Mathare’s houses and the community. If you look closely, you’ll see the rusted, tin-metal of the houses and colorful clotheslines. The second photo shows a zoomed out view of Mathare. You can still see the rusted tin of the houses, but now you can also see people walking, youth working and a beautiful, community sack garden. So, it is not so much that the first photo is wrong, but that it doesn’t show all of Mathare. I was missing part, and I wouldn’t have realized how important the rest of that picture was without the lessons of the Kroc School. My professors would want me to put it this way:  In every situation there is a multitude of actors at many different levels contributing. Each one has its own role and motivations and to promote peace we absolutely must acknowledge and address all of them.

The youth in Mathare are incredible. They took my breath away each and every day they showed me their homes and community with nothing but passion and generosity. They contribute so much good to their communities — they really are changing things from the inside out. I wouldn’t have seen that quite so clearly if it weren’t for the values the Kroc School instilled in me. Values of openness, multi-level thinking, appreciation for the role of all people and all actors, and the truth that I am not now, nor should I ever be, “saving” anyone, merely playing a role and helping in a way that should eventually be no longer needed. I think you should love the people and the place you work in. But, you should love them in a way that says you understand that one day you and your love will be irrelevant, and that’s okay.

I may not have spent my summer mediating or designing peacebuilding projects, but I did carry these values of peace and justice with me all the way to Nairobi, Kenya. I carried them with me and gained so much more for it. I carried them with me and realized what it means to say we have an obligation to “do no harm.” I’ve now walked into impoverished communities in two different countries. This summer I carried the values of peace studies with me. Two years ago I did not. Reflecting back I think I was lucky the first time to have done no harm. I realize now, having spent a year intensively studying peace and justice, that if we aren’t careful it is easy to do harm and not even know it. Loving a place, a people, is a beautiful, incredible thing. It’s a gift, but merely loving them is not enough. Peace studies showed me how to use that love to contribute to sustainable peace. Thus, it is in that respect that I am indebted to the Kroc School, the staff, and the professors, for teaching me that peace is often an exceptionally bold venture championed best by the most humble of people. Thank you, Kroc School, staff and professors, for teaching me that the greatest question I can ask a community is how I can serve.

The views expressed by Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Interns are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

Direction of Myanmar’s Reform Hinging upon Upcoming Election

October 22, 2015

By Kendell Tylee

1,171 constituencies. 6,100 candidates. 90 political parties.

On November 8, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) will host an unprecedented “free and fair” multiparty election. This will be the first general election in Myanmar since 2011, when a nominally civilian, military-backed government was elected, ending 50 years of authoritarian rule. In the past four years, international sanctions have rolled back and Myanmar has opened up to limited outside investment and press freedoms. However, the reforms have been inconsistent and the government still faces international condemnation over its treatment of minority ethnic groups, notably the Rohingya. And, in defense of a so-called “disciplined democracy,” the military-drafted constitution states that 25 percent of the Hluttaw (parliament) must be comprised of appointed, unelected members of the military, who have the power to veto changes to the constitution.

This past August, IPJ Director Dee Aker and Program Officer for Strategic Peacebuilding, Kara Wong, visited Myanmar as part of a trip highlighting the importance of voter education in this upcoming election. Wong came to the IPJ from Myanmar and has over seven years experience working with local civil society. Responding to an invitation from Wong’s former colleagues, they collaborated with a consortium of international and local organizations. The consortium includes four local organizations Nyaungshaung, Myanmar Egress, Hornbill, and Scholar; three international NGOs (and one foundation) International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Democracy Reporting International (DRI), Danish Institute for Parties and Democracy (DIPD),;and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF). Together, they are delivering a comprehensive strategy focusing on capacity assistance to the Union Election Commission (UEC), civil society, media and other electoral stakeholders.

IPJ partner organization FNF is specifically focused on preparing trainers with the knowledge and skills to support voter education within their own communities, with the goal of conducting 160 trainings and reaching 8000 voters. Informational pamphlets, videos, and comic books are ready to be distributed and translated from English and Burmese into local languages and dialects.

During the IPJ visit, Wong conducted a two-day training with local groups, emphasizing the importance of minority rights as they relate to elections. In the midst of the heavily-spouted promise of “free and fair” elections, her presentation reframed minority rights as privilege and encouraged discussion around creative solutions and responses to the presence of privilege in an electoral cycle. Importantly, she made the presentation interactive—breaking the participants into small groups to share ideas around how to help citizens connect the act of voting to their everyday concerns and struggles. At the request of FNF and in response to widespread fear that unmet electoral expectations may lead to post-election violence, Wong had participants interview potential voters and develop strategies for managing voter expectations. It is important to emphasize that reform is an ongoing process that will take place well beyond November 8.

It is logistically difficult to run an election in the largest country in Southeast Asia, particularly in what is considered to be its first truly democratic election in decades. As Wong notes, “in Myanmar you are facing roadblocks to integration of new information and behavioral changes. Older generations who have lived through the dictatorship have this longstanding fear [of the government] and remember getting arrested for getting involved in politics at all.” In addition to personal and familial security concerns, apathy persists for those who feel that previous elections did not deliver the change they expected.

War and weather have also hindered current voter education and campaign efforts. Even in ideal conditions, not all of the country is easily accessible. For example, some areas in northwestern Myanmar, bordering India, can only be accessed by elephant, and political groups trying to campaign lament the further lack of access due to weather and to communal fighting in various states. Heavier than normal rains this season have caused flooding, mudslides, power outages and transportation issues. INGOs poised to work with communities on voter education and democracy-building are now instead responding to a humanitarian crisis. Long-standing regional and communal conflict presents additional challenges. While after two years of negotiations, the existing government, negotiators and armed ethnic groups inked a ceasefire agreement on October 15 the agreement remains highly contentious. Of the 21 armed ethnic groups that consider themselves stakeholders in the negotiations, only 15 were selected to participate, and of those only eight signed the pact. Many groups in the north have refused to sign, including the Kachin Independence Army, which is still sparring with government troops.

The Union Election Commission (UEC) is tasked with running the election. The UEC has been accused of aligning too closely with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Voters have expressed frustration that the voter registration is a cumbersome process, and that the UEC is non-responsive, shifting blame to the registrants themselves. The list of candidates on the ballot is ever-changing. Foreign election observers have been kept from accessing certain parts of the country, at times being required to pay $600 for a regional visa into the area. It is also a challenge to extend free and fair elections to those residing outside Myanmar as historically proxy votes have been manipulated in close elections. This week, voters nationwide are reviewing the voter rolls to ensure their information is correct. Common complaints are that deceased voters are listed, but eligible voters have been purged since the last election. Myanmar’s Rohingya population, a persecuted ethnic minority in Rakhine State, has been rejected from the rolls. Rohingya have been issued white temporary resident cards, suggesting an eventual path to citizenship. However, in March, the cards were deemed invalid for voting, despite many Rohingya living in Myanmar for generations. In September, Foreign Minister Wanna Maung Lwin defended the government’s decision when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He equated the Rohingya as “white card” holders to lawful permanent residents, or “green card” holders, not being able to vote in the U.S. As the statement drew international condemnation, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with the foreign minister to express his concern over the marginalization of the Rohingya and other minority groups who had been previously eligible. Rohingya who have been serving in the country’s Hluttaw are barred from re-election.

As Myanmar carries a promise of reform, there remain great challenges to the country’s political transition. The IPJ hopes to continue to support community partners who are helping voters feel informed, encouraged, and empowered when it comes to their vote, this anticipative election, and the future of their country. November 8 will be a historic day in Myanmar, but November 9 will establish its direction.

Zumzang Dau Dai and Zoncy, founding members of IPJ community partner and youth-led peacebuilding initiative DIVERZE Youth Arts Platform are featured performers in The Art of Peace: Creative Approaches to Conflict Resolution, November 11-14th. Zoncy is the campaign manager for prominent women’s rights activist and NLD candidate Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe.

The views expressed by Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Interns are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

News in Review: Cambodia – October 13, 2015

Photo credit – Nora Lindstrom, International Alliance of Inhabitants

News in Review: Cambodia – October 13, 2015

Despite 35 years since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia still reels from its aftermath. Current events this week in Cambodia exhibit the regime’s continued effects on Cambodia’s workforce, currency, land distribution, mental health, and political process.

Cambodia Minimum Wage Increases

After weeks of negotiations between unions, the government, employers, and manufacturers, the Cambodian Government has confirmed that the monthly minimum wage for garment workers will increase from $128 to $140. The $12 increase is far less than what unions were seeking, and more than what manufacturers had lobbied. Though a wage of $135 was agreed upon, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a $5 government-supported subsidy, increasing it to $140 per person, in a suggested politically-motivated move. Two unions have not signed onto the deal, protesting that the new wage does not match inflation or provide a living wage. Meanwhile, the Garment Manufacturers’ Association’s Secretary-General Ken Loo warns that if buyers do not also start paying the factories more, they will start to close up, resulting in divestment in the country.

Carmichael, Robert. Cambodia Raises Monthly Minimum Wage to $140. Voice of America. October 8, 2015.

Kitya, Tha. Cambodia Raises Minimum Wage For Garment Workers But Unions Remain Unhappy. Radio Free Asia. October 8, 2015.

Vannak, Chea. Minimum Wage Gets Boost. Khmer Times. October 8, 2015.

Cambodia’s Currency: Riel vs. U.S. Dollar

Cambodia is heavily dependent on the U.S. dollar. It accounts for 90 percent of banking deposits and 83 percent of total transactions within the country. In 1992, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) intervened in Cambodia for peace operations, and brought the dollar with it. At the time, it was an optimistic alternative to Cambodia’s currency, which had been susceptible to inflation. And, recently Cambodia was one of the few Southeast Asian countries to not be severely affected when China devalued the yuan. However, with a desire to be autonomous, and global downturn in the strength of the U.S. dollar, the National Bank of Cambodia is trying to switch over to their local riel, which may be prove to be a complex transition.

Cambodia aims to reduce dollarization.” Xinhuanet. September 29, 2015.

Is It Time for Cambodia to Wean Itself Off the Greenback?Knowledge@Wharton. The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. October 6, 2015.

Peter, Zsombor. “World Bank Says Cambodia Will Weather China Slowdown.” October 6, 2015.

 Human Rights Defenders and Residents Arrested over Protesting Land Evictions

On October 7, a subpoena was delivered to the wife of Mr. Ny Chakrya, Head of the Human Rights and Legal Aid Section of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). It stated that Mr. Ny Chakrya should appear before the Investigating Judge of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 21, where he will face charges of “public defamation”, “acts of slanderous denunciation”, and “publication of commentaries to put pressure on jurisdiction,” involving prison time. It is the latest in a series of arrests of human rights defenders, activists, and residents (including 76-year-old grandmother Nget Khun) protesting massive resident evictions attributed to World Bank-backed development projects. About 3,000 families have been evicted from their homes, and those remaining have endured massive flooding; Boeung Kak Lake, once a source of livelihood for many living by the lake, has been filled with sand to make way for shops and high-rise condominiums.

Phorn, Bopha, Michael Hudson, Barry Yeoman, and Ben Hallman. “World Bank Fails To Stop Attacks, Arrests of Villagers Protesting Big Projects.” The Huffington Post, The Nation, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. September 10, 2015.

Pomeon O’neill, Alexandra. “Continued judicial harassment against Mr. Ny Chakrya.” Worldwide Movement for Human Rights. October 12, 2015.

Witnessing Cambodia with Pen Chanborey.” The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). October 12, 2015.

Post-Khmer Rouge: The Killings Stopped, but the Psychological Trauma Carries On

It has been forty years since the Khmer Rouge first instituted its ruthless regime, with 1.8 million people dying over the course of five years. While 70 percent of the current population was born after the regime, Cambodia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and only 50 psychiatrists provided for a national population of 15 million people. The reconciliation process is fraught as people struggle with living next-door to the alleged killers of their family members. The post-conflict trauma is evident in subsequent generations. Youth have reported depression, stress and insomnia, attributed to school studies and relationships, but particularly to financial struggles and family members who are sick.

Sophanna, Roath. RUPP Youth Mental Health Day. Khmer Times. October 7, 2015.

Zweynert, Astrid. Cambodia seeks way out of post “killing fields” mental health crisis. The Thomson Reuters Foundation. October 5, 2015.

A “Culture of Dialogue” and Accusation of Plotting a Coup

This week, the Foreign Minister of Cambodia accused the opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) of plans to “topple the government.” The 2013 national elections were close, heavily disputed, and accused of being rigged by the National Election Committee, in favor of the currently ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). After a long deadlock, the two parties agreed to work on peace-building and working together in a “Culture of Dialogue.” But, now it is theorized that the CPP has used the “Culture of Dialogue” to undermine and neutralize the CNRP, and its previously vivacious fiery vigorous leader, Sam Rainsy. The opposition party insists it is not planning a coup, but helping “build a strong democracy” and looking to the 2017 and 2018 elections. All the while, some political observers have expressed hesitation that if it backs down in critiquing the CPP, it could lose the next election; and, with 10 opposition activists currently in jail, this is something it cannot afford to do.

Harfenist, Ethan. “Cambodia’s Withering ‘Culture of Dialogue’.” The Diplomat. October 12, 2015.

Kitya, Tha. “Cambodian Opposition Slams Foreign Minister Over Claims of Coup Plot.” Radio Free Asia. 12 October 2015.

Reaksmey, Hul. “Hun Sen Each Declare Confidence in Upcoming Elections.” Voice of America Khmer. 12 October 2015.

Lessons I’ve Learned – Stories from Kenya

By Jessica Ciccarelli

Nairobi’s streets are wild—an organized, yet chaotic masterpiece unique to this “City in the Sun.” That’s what I realized the day I stepped foot in Nairobi. The smells, sounds and sights all have their own distinct Nairobi twist. There’s nothing quite like navigating this assault to the senses. Imagine, if you can, the smell of barbecued beef (Nyama Choma), garbage, sweat, and nature at the exact moment you are hearing and seeing cars, buses (matatus),  motorbikes (bodabodas), camels, goats, push carts and any combination of security officers from Nairobi’s dozen different security agencies holding what look, at least to me, a lot like AK47s. Simply, strangely, I miss this Nairobi chaos.

Kariobangi youth leading goats to pasture

Kariobangi youth leading goats to pasture

Who am I? I am a graduate student at the Kroc School of Peace Studies that was given the opportunity to traverse these wild streets, to befriend the line where Nairobi’s rich greenness becomes as sparse as the income, and to call it a program requirement for my school. I interned this summer with organizations that live and work in communities which many people—local and international alike—fear entering, and it was in those communities that I fell in love with that beautiful city and its residents. There I became irreversibly interested in the work of the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ). This internship with the IPJ gave me a unique and new love that showed me the beauty that can be found in struggle if you open your mind and heart to it.

I had the honor this summer of working with three incredible organizations: Chemchemi Ya Ukweli (Kiswahili for Wellspring of Truth), Catholic Relief Services and Caritas. With Chemchemi Ya Ukweli, I interviewed actors at every level of Nairobi society to better understand the relationship between youth and police. This led me to communities all over Nairobi – from the lavish, upmarket areas to the more impoverished, informal communities. Riding this line between upmarket and informal gave me a depth of understanding around identity I could have gotten nowhere else. While working with Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, whose work is largely based in the informal and impoverished communities, I wandered around the settlements in Kariobangi and Mathare. There, I met countless youth who permanently changed the way that I think about what are considered informal communities and informal employment.

Matatu ni matata - "The terrible matatus!"

Matatu ni matata – “The terrible matatus!”

I learned a great deal from this internship with the IPJ field program in Kenya and there are many things I will carry with me as I transition this fall from my role as a student of peace to someone who helps build it. Knowledge like the value of local voices that goes beyond meeting basic demands for local buy-in and insists on real, local, grassroots initiation.

Following this introductory post about my work in Kenya, I will be writing a series of pieces dedicated to my experience with the IPJ in Nairobi. In these, I will have the opportunity to share some of the big lessons I’ve learned. The posts will explore four different themes: 1) How the teachings and values of the Kroc School of Peace Studies aided and influenced my practice this summer; 2) How external actors engage with local communities—how to avoid “slum tourism” or “the savior complex”; 3) Youth and police identity in Nairobi; and finally 4) Tribal identity in Kenya. In these posts, I will not only share some of the lessons I learned this summer, but I will also try to show how the methods and values of the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice are exceptional and have shaped both my field experience and the lives of the individuals I met.

The views expressed by Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Interns are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the IPJ or of the University of San Diego.

Meet Daniel Orth, MA, IPJ Program Officer for Strategic Peacebuilding

The IPJ added two program officers for strategic peacebuilding to its team earlier this year. Daniel Orth, MA, has worked at Conflict Dynamics International and with Search for Common Ground in Zanzibar. In addition to field work later this summer, Orth and Program Officer Kara Wong, MA, are planning this fall’s Peacebuilding and the Arts Symposium at the institute. 

Q: What brought you to the field of peacebuilding? What has been your trajectory to this work and the IPJ?

From an early age I’ve been interested in understanding why people get into conflict with each other and trying to help people solve their problems. While conflict can be incredibly destructive, conflict also creates the space for progress. By working through problems in a constructive way, we can build better, stronger relationships.

In middle school (a dark period for everyone as we struggle to determine who we are) I became a peer mediator to help my classmates work through problems they were having with each other. During my undergraduate studies, I took part in the Washington Semester program at American University where I studied peace and conflict resolution. We traveled to the former Yugoslavia to meet with a wide range of stakeholders, and I was inspired by the passion all of these individuals had for repairing their society. For eight years I taught U.S. history to middle school students and encouraged them to think about how people have used conflict (not only violent conflict) to try to advance their objectives — sometimes for good and sometimes not.

I began my graduate studies at the Fletcher School thinking that I wanted to focus on international development, but during my first semester I enrolled in a course on conflict resolution theory and quickly fell back in love. I spent the summer between the two years of my master’s degree working in Zanzibar with Search for Common Ground, and during my second year dedicated myself to a project working with Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews.

If someone asked me what I wanted to be doing at this point in my career, I would have written a job description nearly identical to the one for the program officer for strategic peacebuilding position at the IPJ. I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of an organization committed to working over the long-term with local partners by listening and responding to their needs.

Orth worked with Search for Common Ground in Zanzibar

Orth worked with Search for Common Ground in Zanzibar

Q: Who do you consider your professional mentors?

At the Fletcher School I had the good fortune of studying under and working alongside Professor Eileen Babbitt. Through her I learned a great deal about the practice of conflict resolution, and over the past two years she has shared with me her experience and been a great mentor and friend.

Q: What has been the most important experience you’ve had working in the field? What experience taught you the most?

I once went to meet with a local partner organization to discuss the work we were doing together. As we sat down, I started asking a lot of questions and listening. After a few minutes I realized that rather than working together as partners, our two organizations had been in a very unequal relationship with one side dictating terms to the other. By figuring out the strengths and weaknesses, needs and concerns of both our organizations, we were able to build a much healthier and more productive partnership.

Q: What aspects of your position as program officer are you most looking forward to?

All of them? I am excited to continue the incredible field work that the IPJ team has been committed to for many years, and I am looking forward to building on the many successes that we have already had working alongside our local partners. At the same time, the prospect of creating new relationships with new partners excites me. As someone dedicated to education, I am also anxious to work with the IPJ’s interns and the students of the Kroc School of Peace Studies. While I am certain that my knowledge and experiences can benefit them, I also know I will be inspired by them and learn a great deal from what they have seen and done.

Q: Is this your first time living on the West Coast? What will you miss about the East Coast?

I was born and grew up on the East Coast in Lancaster, Penn., and later lived in New York and Boston. For nearly 10 years I called New Orleans and the Gulf Coast my home. It was finally time to make it out here to the West Coast.

Without a doubt the thing I will miss most about the East Coast is being close to my family. My brother and his wife, who live in Maryland, just had their first child and for now I’ll have to be a Skype Uncle.

Besides that, as a former history teacher I’m partial to the history of the East Coast — Tea Parties, Liberty Bells and all that. While I know California has a rich history, of which I’m anxious to learn more, I feel more closely connected to the stories from back east. That being said, I became pretty enamored with the history of Louisiana after teaching it for five years, so maybe the tales of the Bear Republic will win me over after all.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or a favorite author or book? Do you have a motto that you live by?

My grandfather (who turned 90 last year) has always said that if someone were to die tomorrow, make sure there isn’t anything that you wish you would have said to them or done differently for them. In this era of constant distraction and divided attention, I think this is an important reminder to always try to be present in the moment, to give people your full attention, to listen to them, and, ultimately, to make sure they know they’re loved.

I love reading, so it’s very hard for me to pick out a favorite author, much less a single book to call my favorite. But one book that has been important to me throughout my life is The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. The book was always a personal favorite growing up, but I had no idea of its illustrious history until recently: a favorite of FDR and Gandhi, banned by Franco and burnt by Hitler, and accepted by Stalin as the only non-communist children’s book. Ferdinand’s willingness to be different, to do what he wants despite the norms and expectations of bovine society has always inspired me. I just gave a copy to my nephew when he was born last year and hope that he too will find inspiration in the story of a little bull.


Meet Kara Wong, MA, the IPJ’s Newest Staff Member

Kara Wong is the IPJ’s newest program officer for strategic peacebuilding. Originally from Canada, she spent seven years living and working in Myanmar before joining the institute.

Q: What brought you to the field of peacebuilding? What has been your trajectory to this work and the IPJ?

A social activist from a young age (I organized my first demonstration at age 10 and my first public sit-in at 14) I had initially planned on a career in law. I specialized in international justice as an undergraduate, studied human rights law in grad school and worked for an international criminal law foundation straight out of school. It was only after I started working in the field that I realized that the law has little meaning if the communities that it is meant to protect have no relationship with it.

This awareness led me to delve into rights education, which led me to the deeper understanding that social change hinges on our ability to sustain and nurture relationships. I have since become a connector of people, places and issues. I co-founded a school that brings youth from different ethnic and religious backgrounds together to study and live alongside one another. I led cross-cultural immersion programs for American high school and university students in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China. And now I am with the IPJ, an institution that is a respected convener and connector of global peacemakers and agents of social change. I feel very blessed and very excited.

Q: Who do you consider your professional mentors?

My mentors and teachers have been my students. I have had the great privilege of working with some incredibly inspiring young people. They have taught me and continue to teach me how to forgive and let go of old stories and beliefs, how to lead from a place of humility and how to live a committed and passionate life.

At its core, peacebuilding is about being willing to face your own shadows, to recognize and celebrate the light in others and honoring what connects us all. It is about believing in and working toward a world full of possibility and opportunity. By modeling for me how to be the best version of myself, my students have helped me show up better in my work and my life.

Q: What has been the most important experience you’ve had working in the field? What experience taught you the most?

In 2009 I co-founded Kant Kaw Education Centre (KKEC), a community-based centre in Yangon, Myanmar. Breathing KKEC into life was a labor of love: from creative visioning over tea to hauling furniture and washing walls, to the long, sweaty hours of teaching in crowded classrooms in 100-degree heat. My greatest learning came the day that I decided it was time for me to leave the school. It was a painful but powerful realization that as community-facilitator, as a peacebuilder, my ultimate goal is to work myself out of a job — to give my heart to something with the objective of one day no longer being needed.

Q: What aspects of your position as program officer are you most looking forward to?

What excites me most about this position is the opportunity it affords me to learn, create and share all at once. Having a home at the IPJ gives me access to some of the most inspiring changemakers of our time, to learn from people who are actively seeking out and putting into action innovative solutions to global challenges. As one of the program officers overseeing the IPJ’s international field projects, I have the chance to contribute to creating new and innovative projects that integrate the wisdom and best practices passed on by our peacemakers, distinguished speakers and community partners. Finally, as part of the Kroc School of Peace Studies I have the chance to share my learning and help students to connect their coursework with real people, real communities and real issues.

© Copyright 2015 Mark Lumley. All rights reserved ( September 15, 2014

© Copyright 2015 Mark Lumley. All rights reserved ( September 15, 2014

Q: Is this your first time living in Southern California? What will you miss about living overseas?

This is my first time living in the U.S. period! So far San Diego has been treating me well. I love the sunshine, the ocean, the desert and the diversity — it seems as if no one living in San Diego is actually from San Diego.

What I will miss about living overseas is the life in all the in-between spaces. There is a lot of head-down commuting in the U.S. What I loved about some of the communities I’ve been blessed to live in is how easy it is to connect and feel connected as you go about your day. You shop for your dinner in the markets as you walk to work; you get your shoes fixed while you eat your lunch at a street side food stall; you make a new friend and hear about the new noodle stand opening up as you make a phone call at the public phone. I’m looking forward to continuing to connect with San Diego.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or a favorite author or book? Do you have a motto that you live by?

Recently I have been re-reading some of Kahlil Gibran’s poetry, and a piece that has always spoken to me is his “On Reason and Passion”:

“… Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.

If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid seas.

For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.

Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that I may sing;

And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.”

Reason. Passion. – basically a two-word summary of how life led me to the IPJ.

Training with Women Peacebuilders in Turkey

IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail recounts her experience from two-day training in Turkey on September 25 – 26, 2013.

Training Attendees

For two days 18 women peacebuilders from 13 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia came together in Istanbul-a city rich in history and diversity. The training entitled “Women In Peacebuilding: Enhancing Skills and Practice” was put together by Mediators Beyond Borders, an international mediation capacity building and advocacy organization, and facilitated by myself and four other skilled and experienced trainers with Irish, Iranian, Indian and American roots.

Over our time together we practiced skills, shared experiences, laughed, cried, danced, sang, and shared our collective wisdom and stories of struggle and success. Among this powerful group of women were three IPJ women PeaceMakers, Radha Paudel (2012) of Nepal, Rashad Zaydan (2011) of Iraq and Vaiba Flomo (2010) of Liberia.

Radha the founder and president of Action Works Nepal (AWON), known as a true changemaker and “someone who makes things happen” shared with me as we were saying our goodbye how participating in the training had further built up her confidence. Through our two days together she uncovered the realization that despite not having formal training in mediation prior to this—these were skills and tools she was already using in her work everyday.

IPJ Program Officer Zahra Ismail with Women PeaceMakers Radha Paudel and Rashad Zaydan

For myself, being in the presence of such passionate, inspiring and powerful women left me bubbling with motivation for all the possibilities that lay ahead. As we move forward, the hope is to provide a platform for continued mentorship, support and exchange ensuring that these women, often working in isolation, have a constant reminder that they are not alone.