Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Foundations of Peace (and Conflict)

It's interesting being in a space where you introduce yourself multiple times a day. I'm Diana - in the Peace Ed stream, from Canada - no not Toronto... Why did I decide to come here?... over and over. And I wonder, yet again - who am I? I suppose soon we will start remembering all the people we introduce ourselves to, but for now...

In some ways, this feels like a place I have been journeying towards for a long time and in other ways - a giant leap in a new direction. I have been thinking about grad school for a bit so in that way, this seems like a great fit. People have been often asking, why did you choose peace education (there are 9 streams and they all look super interesting!). I don't know why I find this question so hard - maybe because I am trying to find a short answer. It's like the answer to who I am - always evolving. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend... I am an activist, a dreamer, a schemer, a questioner, a pain in butt...

School has begun this past week with Foundations in Peace and Conflict. Each morning all the students are in one lecture and then we break into seminar groups to discuss and engage in the topics differently. We have been looking at models and methods of conflict resolution, defining peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding and understanding the many factors in conflict. How do you define conflict? How do you define peace? In such a diverse community of students, the perspectives have been broad and the experiences share amazing. All in all it has been interesting. There are two weeks left in the course. We are now beginning to look at what causes escalation in conflicts and what are the factors that can support the reduction or conclusion of them.

Yesterday afternoon I went to San Jose. Over the last week there has been a march around Costa Rica protesting open pit gold mining. Yesterday, following the march there was a rally in a park with bands, dancing and speeches. It was great to be surrounded by Spanish, music and dance.

So begins another week.
Peace to you!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beginning of School

Last week was the beginning of school and orientation at UPeace. It was quite the process with loads of people working to get to know one another and all about the school. UPeace was founded in 1980 - so like me, it is celebrating it's 30th year. What a great year! :)

This year the student body will be close to 180 people, representing 51 countries! It has been really interesting finding out where people are coming from, what they are studying and their background. The bulk of the students coming from Africa haven't yet arrived. There were changes in the visa process this year and many of them are stuck, waiting for their paperwork to be approved. I hope that it gets solved quickly. It will be great to have them here as well.

Monday morning begins the first day of actual classes. Each of the classes this year will run for three weeks with a couple day break between each of them. Thankfully it is one course at a time, if the reading package for the first course is any indication of what will be the norm. The first course all of the UPeace students will be taking, Foundations in Peace and Conflict Studies. After that we will break into our different streams. On Friday I met with our department head and my classmates in Peace Education - what a great group! I am really excited to start the program with them.

Today, I went with a couple of other students to Jaco - a beach, relatively near by. We stopped on the way at a bridge where you can stop and see the crocodiles that live in the river below. As it is rainy season and raining a LOT the river is really quite high and full of silt. This means that the crocodiles hang out on the shore, sunning themselves. Massive creatures - and pretty magical. The weather was lovely for us today - and it didn't start raining until it was time to come home anyway, which was nice. The surf was rough though - so this prairie girl stuck pretty close to shore. It was a great day - which I am sure is going to be the start of a great week!

Thanks to those who have been sending such nice emails and comments - it is so nice to hear from you.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Settling in

I am starting to get set up in my new little place. Figuring out where to find things, where the bus stops are, where my garbage is supposed to go (thinking about my composting worms and how they too would probably like the fresh stuff I am eating here). I found a bookstore - danger! Tomorrow I start the three days orientation. I am excited, but starting to feel a bit nervous.

In May I had the opportunity to go to Colombia with a program called Youth United for Peace with the United Church of Canada. Over two weeks in May we visited a bunch of different communities and met with a variety of partners from different organizations. It has been a bit of a whirlwind since getting back - and I am still reflecting on these experiences in many ways, but have been asked to do some of that in print - so I thought I would share it here too.

The opportunity to travel, to me, is both a fantastic gift and responsibility. I have been blessed with so many different opportunities in my life. The visit to Colombia was challenging, inspiring and humbling. I met incredible people and activists and still feel truly grateful for their amazing hospitality.

It seems that one of the teachings in many paths of faith is that of loving our neighbours and extending hospitality, seeking justice in the work we do. The first place we went to in Colombia was Cartagena, in the north of the country, on the Caribbean Sea. We were welcomed by Obispo Juan Alberto and Yurani of the Methodist Church. They brought to the first part of this journey a gentle and strong presence, both supporting us as we tried to expand our understanding of a country at war - and challenged us in our journey forward in solidarity.

The first day that we were there we began to learn some of the history which has brought Colombia to it's present state, the ways congregations in Colombia are building peace for their communities. Creating a new pathway for Colombia to move forward. To begin this journey as Youth United for Peace we shared bread, wine and fruit. All seeking together yet separate. So many things have been done throughout history under the banner of God's will - yet people of faith from around the world are constructing a new practice of faith, returning to traditions of

Over the next days we met with community members and leaders - people who perhaps took risks to speak with us, facing the presence of police and military to share their stories and history, welcoming us with great hospitality. The people I met I continue to carry in my heart and prayers.

Following the area around Cartagena we arrived in Bogota, in the center of the country. There is so much incredible work happening there, we met with and saw some of the work of Lilia Solano and Justicia y Vida, CEPALC (Latin American Centre for Popular Communication), and the Ecumenical Network of Colombia. I think those will be reflections on their own for another day however.

Near the end of the time I was in Colombia, Jim (one of the Leaders on our journey) and I went to Arauca, which sits on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. It is a place of incredible complexity and easily the most armed place I have ever been. We were there through the invitation of Justicia y Vida to participate in an international forum "Liberemonos de la Guerra: Salida negociada al conflicto amrado". The forum was filled with so many incredible people, sharing their opinions, experiences and knowledge. We met a man named Martín who is yet another person who inspires me. There are such huge challenges in Arauca and yet he brings joy to his work.

As I do each time I go somewhere new - I met people who are doing work that is so needed, with kindness and passion. I met people who helped me to change, helped me to see and hear in new ways and carry with me new stories as we collectively work to construct peace in our homes and communities.

I had a friend once tell me that vocation can be defined as your great joy meeting the world's deep need. I struggle with this - where to find that path, how I will know when I am following the right one, but I feel that this new journey of study will help with that. A space to question, dream and scheme my way to contributing to a better world.

Peace to you

Friday, August 13, 2010

Safely Arrived

For those who worry - I am here in Costa Rica safe and sound. Now for a night of sleep before taking on figuring out where things are in town!

University for Peace

I am supper excited to be heading off to the University for Peace this fall. The university was established in 1980 through the United Nations. Their mission states the goal of the university is “to provide humanity with an international institution of higher education for peace with the aim of promoting among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, to stimulate cooperation among peoples and to help lessen obstacles and threats to world peace and progress, in keeping with the noble aspirations proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.” Great goals!

This year I am going to be pursuing an MA in Peace Education. I am both hoping and anticipating that this program is going to be a wonderful continuation of work I have pursued, with both Canadian and international NGOs - while giving me entirely new perspectives and understandings. Reading about the professors and their diverse backgrounds has me both excited and terrified to begin!

I haven't ever been to Costa Rica before - so I am looking forward to having a few days before school begins to get my feet under me and figure out how to get around. Then comes orientation and meeting the other students who are coming from around the world!

So - off I go! It's almost time to catch my next flight.
Peace to you,

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Countdown to the plane...

Wow - one more day - and I hop a plane and start figuring out the next new step on this prairie girl adventure. It feels a mix of insane and exciting.

I am going to embark on a year of graduate school - at the University for Peace in Costa Rica. Going back to school has felt like a dreamed possibility for quite awhile - and now I am trying to pack up and feel ready to begin. Questions to ask, people to me, daydreams to pursue...

Each time I head off to a new part of the world, there are people who ask that I stay in touch: send emails or phone but I thought this time I would try something new for me as well, so periodic updates to a blog will be one new thing amongst many.

I'd love to hear from you! so drop me a line.

Peace to you,