Making the Peer to Peer Connection in Peacebuilding

By: David J. Smith, April 18, 2016

Inspiring young people to engage in peacebuilding work is essential to encouraging the next generation of individuals committed to working for peace.  Often a strategy that involves having  senior professionals talk with young aspirants is used.   It is common to have a panel or group of well-established professionals engage with young people.  Though this approach can be useful in getting young people thinking about what a career path may look like, it can also set up unrealistic expectations.

Amy Calfas (left) of  USIP talking about her work. Mena Ayazi and Penelope Norton, seated next to her.

I was at Northern Virginia Community College/Annandale on April 15 working with international participating in the Community College Initiative Program  (CCI), a State Department funded effort.  This program brings international college age students to U.S. community colleges for a year to learn about the U.S., improve their English skills, and take courses in the fields they are planning on working in, which are frequently vocational related.  The students were from Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Turkey, Colombia, and Brazil.

I arranged for three “under 30” peacebuilders to talk with them about their work.   Amy Calfas, a program assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP); Mena Ayazi, a student at George Mason University and the c0-founder and president of Patriots for Peace; and Penelope Norton, an intern at the Student Peace Alliance.  My goal was to get the international students thinking about strategies they could use when they returned to your homelands in working for peace, human rights, conflict prevention, and related issues.  Even though my panelists were Americans, they could easily relate to the

CCI students working as members of an NGO

circumstances of the students who would returning home.   And because all of panelists had international experience, they were able to understand the international students’ situations and interests.  Amy Calfas talked about USIP programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how USIP can support students starting peace clubs at home.  Mena Ayazi, who is Afghan, shared about Kandahar Treasure, which supports women making local crafts and apparel. Finally, Penelope Norton, talked about her experiences in working with restorative justice issues (a major focus of the Student Peace Alliance) and her work in Guatemala.  The questions from the students were wide ranging.  Some were specific questions about conflicts in their home countries which were at times hard to answer.   But also there were questions about how to start peace clubs, work with local populations, and advance local peacebuilding.

After a break, I engaged the students in a simulation that required them to consider the process of working as NGO workers in a conflict zone.  Working in the fictional country of “Luranzia,” they were required to consider planning, labor, tools, and resources needed to work in promoting inter-religious dialogue and reconciliation.  This activity is from my book Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace.

In working with young internationals, it is important to provide them with an opportunity to learn from U.S. peers who hold the same values and goals in promoting global peacebuilding.  In turn, the Americans also learn from those studying in the U.S.



Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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