USIP’s Project Coordinator Amanda Munroe worked with participants in the Future Generations Graduate School during the third of the partnership’s international academic residential sessions from March 31 to April 7, this time in Jacmel, Haiti.

Future Generations co-facilitator Traci Hickson works with a student. (Photo credit: Amanda Munroe/USIP)

“Positive deviants.” The term seems bizarre at first glance, but the idea – that positive examples can inspire a broader society – became the focal point of the third face-to-face meeting in a Master of Arts program in Applied Community Change and Peacebuilding, a partnership of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding with the West Virginia-based global non-profit Future Generations.

Empowered with tools to act as citizen journalists, students worked together to write scripts and record sound that would bring attention to the “positive deviants” in their communities, groups or individuals who thrive by choosing peace over violence and hope over despair.

By its own description, Future Generations is “a global network of organizations advancing community-led innovations in technology, health, conservation, governance and peacebuilding.”

Students in the accredited graduate program (there are 21 in the current cohort) must hold a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, excellent English skills, and above all a strong commitment to their local communities. They work over the course of the two-year program to complete a research practicum applying sustainable development and peacebuilding principles in their local context.

Students complete the majority of their studies online, punctuated by four, month-long intensive in-person sessions at the conclusion of each quarter.  Previous residential sessions in which USIP has participated occurred in India and Kenya. This coming October, the cohort’s graduation ceremony will take place at USIP headquarters in Washington, DC, concluding their last residential session in the United States and marking the completion of two years of study.

Program officers representing USIP’s Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding have taught courses in person, including “Conflict Analysis,” “Building Bridges through Intergroup Dialogue” and “Coordination in Post-Conflict Settings” in Kenya and India, while other members of the Academy taught semester-long courses online between the residential sessions.

“Citizen Journalism and Peacebuilding” Media Course

Students record audio for Future Generations course (Photo credit Besmillah Sakhizada).
Students record audio for Future Generations course.
(Photo credit: Besmillah Sakhizada)

In this third residential session, the USIP Academy’s Amanda Munroe, a project coordinator for distance learning, joined the international group in Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast to contribute the course, “Citizen Journalism and Peacebuilding.” Munroe co-facilitated with Future Generations Director of Communications Traci Hickson.  The aim of the course in Haiti was to equip students with the skills to promote peacebuilding and social change by creating positive media projects in their local communities. The week was a combination seminar and sound-editing “lab”, covering both the technical and narrative aspects of storytelling. Students finished the course with a completed podcast recounting an example of “positive deviance” in their community.

Beginning in Kenya, and continuing online, students had been coached in reporting techniques and listened to sample podcast stories from news channels like National Public Radio in the United States. Students were tasked to become “citizen journalists” in their home communities. Each student received a small audio recorder and conducted interviews regarding a particular story they felt deserved more public attention. The first class in Haiti began with watching a TedTalk by acclaimed Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie, “The Power of a Single Story.” Discussing the danger of stereotypes, or “single stories,” and how they develop, Adichie states:
“It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power…Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person...The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Many students were deeply moved by Adichie’s words and began to think more critically not only about which story they were choosing to tell but also how they chose to tell the story. 

After large-group discussions, the majority of the course was spent in small groups and one-on-one meetings, during which students refined their scripts, translated interviews, and pieced together sound and music bites on the open-source audio editing software Audacity.

The course also included a web-conference with Colombian writer Clemencia Rodriguez, author of the course’s assigned text, Citizens’ Media Against Armed Conflict: Disrupting Violence in Colombia. It concluded with a roundtable group critique, where students listened to each other’s podcasts and responded to them based on a set of criteria the group had identified as critical for a meaningful production. Students emerged from the course saying they felt more knowledgeable about the power of media to change perspectives and more skillful at telling an unconventional story. Most importantly, they took home the completed podcasts. Students intend to use them on personal blogs or on organizational websites, or for broadcasts on local radio stations.

“I am a Peacebuilder” Initiative

Podcast topics included stories about women building peace in Nigeria; countering gang violence in Haiti through breakdancing; children and education in Afghanistan; increasing political participation in Burundi; “positive deviant” youth choosing community involvement over violence in Guyana; and alleviating domestic violence in Uganda.

“Burundian citizens are beginning to take responsibility for their future by requiring good governance and respect for their rights,” according to a podcast produced by a student named Eric from Burundi. “In two years, national elections will be held in Burundi. Perhaps this will be an opportunity for Burundians to hold their leaders accountable.”

A student named Santosh from Nepal said women across that country “are organizing community-centered governance and preventing human trafficking.” And Brenda from Uganda said the women of the Karamoja region are “ranscending cultural differences and raising their voices in a call for more peaceful communities.”

The narratives are part of an upcoming USIP Academy initiative titled, “I Am a Peacebuilder”, which showcases the stories of individuals who are applying skills and knowledge gained through USIP trainings to build peace in their countries and around the world. A related Academy video introduces the peacebuilders.

For these students who work daily to bring meaningful change in situations of conflict, gaining the skills to amplify the stories of positive deviance served as another tool for building peace.

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