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Peace by Piece

Peace by PieceStudents Jessica Anderson, Rachel Bergenfield and Adam Levy will head to Northern Uganda this summer to implement a grassroots project for peace.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.28.08] The idea of world peace as a whole may seem daunting, but when broken up into 100 smaller projects a year, actually making a difference becomes a realistic challenge.

This is the idea behind 100 Projects for Peace, funded by Kathryn Wasserman Davis. Davis, a lifelong internationalist and philanthropist, is the mother of Shelby Davis, founder of the Davis UWC Scholars Program. In 2007 Kathryn decided to celebrate her 100th birthday by helping students at colleges and universities participating in the Davis Program start grassroots projects for peace around the globe.

This year, Tufts students Jessica Anderson (A'08), Rachel Bergenfield (A'09) and Adam Levy (A'08) were one of the 100 groups to receive $10,000 to fund a summer full of peace building.

Anderson says the trio hadn't planned on applying for the Projects for Peace competition, but after recent exposure to the situation in Northern Uganda, an opportunity to make a difference fell into their laps and a need for funding became apparent.

"This past fall the three of us took a class called 'After Violence: Truth, Justice and Social Repair,' which focused a lot on the conflict in Northern Uganda and looked at the role of local practices in the transitional justice process," Anderson says.

For the past 22 years, Northern Uganda has been in the midst of a civil war between the government and the Lord's Resistance Army, a self-proclaimed Christian guerrilla army. According to the Tufts students' project proposal, the conflict has been referred to as "the biggest forgotten, neglected humanitarian emergency in the world, displacing 1.9 million people."

Having spent the summer of 2007 in Northern Uganda doing field work for her senior honors thesis, Anderson was already interested in incorporating local practices into the transitional justice process, or the range of methods through which societies approach issues of human rights abuse as they move from a period of violent conflict toward peace. Pursuing her interest, Anderson joined with Bergenfield to make a second trip over winter break to help Fletcher School student Natalie Parke (F'09) do research for her master's thesis. Parke is currently still in Uganda collecting more information for her MALD thesis titled "Land Insecurity in Northern Uganda: The Impact of Displacement on the Lango Subregion."

"We met with a number of prominent politicians, one being Norbert Mao, the chairman for the Gulu District, and he suggested that a really practical and tangible project that recent Western graduates could do would be to create a casebook of Mato Oput practices," Anderson says.

Mato Oput is the traditional reconciliation process in regions of Uganda that works on conflict mediation between the victim and the perpetrator. The process, she explains, is long and culminates with a ceremony bringing the two groups face to face.

"The big distinction between Mato Oput and Western models of justices is that it is a restorative process, often correlated with a communal society with a basic goal of repairing relationships within the society that have been broken," says Anderson.

"An important thing to keep in mind is that with an individually focused society like America, it is easier to lean toward a retributively based form of justice because the social networks aren't necessarily in place to have a restorative process be meaningful," she adds. "We are not trying to do a full-throttle endorsement of Mato Oput, because I do think it has flaws and needs more work, but I also think it has a lot of potential that should be explored."

Sociology Professor Paul Joseph, director of the Peace and Justice Studies program, says that 85 schools are involved in the competition, with each school holding an internal competition to select winners to go to the national level.

"It is a pretty demanding application process," says Joseph, who coordinated the competition at Tufts. "There can only be two pages of text and one page for a budget, so everything has to be compressed into a pretty small space."

Joseph says about 30 groups at Tufts participated over the past two years, with a mix of students from throughout campus as well as Peace and Justice Studies majors.

"There are some projects that are focused on reducing or limiting direct forms of violence, but there are many more that are looking at so-called structural violence-health care issues or environmental issues," says Joseph, noting that last year's winners, Casey Beck and Austin Blair, completed a project on the impact of global warming on the rising ocean level around the South Sea island of Kiribati.

Students spend the entire summer on their projects, with most creating something tangible to bring back to the U.S.

"Rachel will be teaching an Explorations class on transitional justice so she will be able to infuse the work we did over the summer into that, which will include a multimedia presentation of the process," says Anderson, referring to the ExCollege first-year seminar program.

"With a peace agreement being signed in Uganda, it is an exciting time for the project, because this proves that our work is very relevant at this time. It is exciting to be going over there at this time after spending four years in academia it is nice to be able to do something tangible with what we've learned."

Profile written by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications

 

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