1. What is your job? What issues do you work on, where, how, and with whom?
I am Program Coordinator for the Peacebuilding and Rights Program at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. The Program takes a comprehensive approach to peacebuilding, and addresses a range of issues including humanitarian assistance, human rights, economic development, and political participation. We focus on strategies to break the cycle of violence through activities such as intergroup dialogue, conflict resolution education, strengthening non-profit organizations, and cooperative projects with social and economic benefits. We have implemented projects in Sudan, Turkey, Sri Lanka, the Balkans and the Caucasus.
2. Why is your work important? In what ways does it make a difference?
In every area affected by conflict, there are people working hard on the ground, despite many challenges, to address the root causes of conflict, promote reconciliation, and seek positive societal and political change. The work I do is important because we collaborate with these individuals and organizations to increase their impact through the exchange of resources, training, dialogue, innovative projects and partnership building. No one individual or group can address the complex challenges of peacebuilding alone. The collaborative activities we support in civil society have the potential to build mutual understanding, which may influence decision makers, shape public opinion, and support the conditions necessary for sustainable peace.
3. Please describe a typical day, or a particular day that offers a good example of your peacebuilding work.
From July 6 to July 8, 2011, my co-trainer Bonnie Miller and I ran a Training of Trainers program in Colombo, Sri Lanka to prepare 92 Sri Lankan trainers to lead workshops on social harmony and conflict resolution with incoming freshmen throughout the country. Our participants represented diversity in age, ethnicity, geographic representation, profession and religion. The common denominator was that they all wanted to volunteer their time and energy to promote a culture of peace among Sri Lankan students.
The training was based on a curriculum I had co-authored for Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Higher Education to help students develop practical skills in conflict resolution and peace-building. I had been in Colombo just few months earlier meeting with Ministry of Higher Education officials, professors, students and grass-roots peace-builders to finalize the curriculum. They helped me to assess conditions in Sri Lankan universities and adapt the curriculum to the needs of Sri Lankan students.
The training took place in a training center outside Colombo. Bonnie and I were picked up from our hotel in Colombo every morning with enough time to prepare our materials review our agenda for the day. With so many activities to cover, our days were packed from about 9:00am to 7:00pm, broken up by occasional tea breaks and lunch together.
Each day, we’d review our goals for the day with everyone and start with an opening reflection, where participants would read quotes on peace from various religions. We used a mix of PowerPoint presentation, short lectures, participant handouts, small group discussions and role plays to guide participants through a variety of interactive activities. Every day, they explored different themes such as intercultural understanding, active listening, mediation and group problem solving, drawing from examples in their own lives and communities. Every activity offered a chance for them to practice their facilitation and presentation skills.
The third day was perhaps the most exciting. Despite initial language and cultural barriers, by this point, participants had become very comfortable with sharing their ideas with the whole group. We led an exercise on envisioning the future where in small groups, they discussed the kind of society they wanted future generations in Sri Lanka to inherit in 2030. They explored what needed to happen in the next 1- 6 years to make their visions possible. Each group’s presentation was more inspiring than the next. We posted their answers on chart paper throughout the room.
Later that afternoon, the Minister of Higher Education came to visit, along with a camera crew. After handing out certificates, we broke out into small group circles for everyone to share their hopes for Sri Lankan Universities as a result of this program. The Minister went from circle to circle listening with great interest. We closed the training with a speech by the Minister recognizing everyone for their great contributions. I’ve since kept in touch with many of the participants. Their dedication to peace in Sri Lanka continues to inspire me in my own efforts to build peace around the world.