Diana Campos Quiroz, Class 19 (2020-2022)
Twenty Blogs for 20 Years
Diana Campos is a recent graduate of the Master’s in International Development Policy (MIDP) program at Duke University and a member of the first Rotary Peace Fellow cohort to complete their studies over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic – an impressive accomplishment considering the significant disruption to academic life and the inability to study in-person until the second year of the fellowship. Despite many challenges, Diana made the most of her fellowship, developing meaningful relationships with other Rotary Peace Fellows and a support system which facilitated her personal growth and led to a position as a Program Coordinator at CDA Collaborative Learning Projects. She now works to prevent and transform socio-environmental conflicts, specializing in environmental peace, biodiversity conservation, community participation, and policy reform.
I grew up on a farm in northern Peru with my grandparents and parents. Our community believes cooperation is vital to make positive changes, create new opportunities, promote constructive dialogue, and increase community participation and as well as the accountability of local authorities to improve households’ well-being. However, working in the socio-environmental field in Peru, I saw poor coordination and partnership between communities settled close to extractive industries operations. There are significant conflicts between mining companies and communities in my country, where rural communities live in poverty and mining activities impact their main source of subsistence, such as water and soil.
After finishing my bachelor’s in biology in Peru, I worked building capacity in water quality monitoring and environmental leadership in communities – mainly indigenous communities – impacted by mining activities in the Peruvian Andes and oil extraction and exploration in the Peruvian rainforest. In this fascinating job, I learned that building cooperation and trust is challenging, but people can work together if they find common ground. My interest in learning about similar issues in other contexts took me on rewarding work trips to Colombia and Australia. There, I worked closely with rural and indigenous communities building technical capacity in environmental monitoring and learning their customary practices in natural resource management.
Training environmental committees in the Peruvian rainforest
After several years of working hand in hand with communities, private companies, and the government, I faced complex problems which required holistic solutions and approaches. I am convinced that the wellbeing of people and the environment and economic activities can peacefully coexist and result in thriving communities. My passion for contributing to sustainable changes and building peace motivated me to return to school to study for a master’s program. I wanted to learn and develop the skill set needed to tackle pressing socio-environmental problems that undermine communities’ security and peace.
I found the Rotary Peace Fellowship by researching conflict resolution and peacebuilding programs. The more I learned about the program, the more motivated and determined I became to apply for it. I dreamt of this opportunity countless times. I was thrilled about the program and for the opportunity to be a part of an international student community committed to making changes. But the COVID-19 pandemic hit four months after I was awarded the fellowship to study in the MIDP program at Duke University. Countries closed their borders and cancelled international flights, and the U.S. embassy did not issue student visas in my country and others. As a result, my dream fellowship switched unexpectedly to a virtual program. I completed the first year of the program and the internship online in the middle of so much uncertainty and fear. I struggled during this time, mainly due to the language barrier – I was living in a Spanish-speaking country while taking online classes in English – and the inability to socially interact with my classmates. However, from the time the program started, I felt a strong connection with all Rotary Peace Fellows. We had get-togethers on Zoom to get to know each other and build a support system needed to overcome isolation and the master’s program workload.
After sixteen months of Covid-19 lockdowns and studying at home, I got a student visa and could not believe that I was about to fly to Durham, North Carolina to start the program’s second year. Once in Durham, meeting the Rotary Peace Fellow cohort was lovely and memorable. We had many meaningful gatherings and conversations. My second year was emotionally and intellectually INTENSE. I got homesick every other day; in-person classes were tiring, and my curiosity for learning new topics drove me to take challenging courses. I kept thinking, “I cannot make it. This is too challenging and hard. I just want to go back home”. During my studies, though, I learned that crises are excellent opportunities to build resilience. Still, it requires a deep root causes analysis of the crisis, problem, or conflict to identify solutions. So, I applied conflict analysis and public policy analysis approaches to my personal experience to understand what I should do to feel better and take advantage of the program (solutions) by tackling my old beliefs and habits (problems). I also recalled that collaboration is crucial for making lasting changes and building resilience. Through counseling and coaching, the Duke Wellness Center was my big collaborator in facilitating my personal growth.
A few months later, I felt better and gained self-confidence, and my perspective on this experience changed positively. I enjoyed writing my master’s project and participating in the Rotary Peace Center’s annual conference because I started living my purpose: building peace and justice. I also got motivated to look for job opportunities internationally in environmental peacebuilding – my passion – to apply the skill set I gained during the program. It was difficult to handle the workload of the last semester, where you take courses, work on the master project, and prepare for the Rotary conference. I decided to apply for jobs due to the strong support from the Career Development program at Sanford School at Duke during this process. Marion Pratt, director of Sanford Career Development, guided me and trained me to write effective cover letters and perform well in job interviews. Marion’s support was crucial to build self-confidence, particularly for interviews when English is not your primary language.
After reading my leadership paper in the Rotary Capstone class, Prof. Francis Lethem encouraged me to reach out to CDA Collaborative Learning (CDA) to explore potential work collaboration. He also highlighted that my core values match CDA’s values which I consider very important. When I googled CDA, it showed a job description calling for applications for its newest project. I applied for it, and right after graduation, I started working for CDA as the Program Coordinator of the Environmental-Fragility-Peace Nexus Collaborative Learning. My role at CDA now is to research environmental vulnerabilities and drivers for conflict, peace, and resilience in conflict-affected communities in fragile countries. In this project, we center on indigenous communities due to their strong resilient capacity to thrive in times of crisis. Most recently, I visited the Nisenan tribe in Nevada City Rancheria in Northern California, where intense and frequent wildfires happen, which put settlements and the ancestral land of the Nisenan tribe at risk.
Meeting with members of the Nisenan Tribe in Nevada City, California
Listening to the tribe´s stories was a powerful experience. It inspired me to continue searching for new spaces to listen actively to communities that suffer the most and continue struggling; however, they have strong capacities, tools, and knowledge to conflict management and adapt to adversity such as extreme climate variabilities. This experience also has awakened my curiosity to know more about the indigenous tribes’ struggles and leaderships and how climate change is an opportunity to create cohesive and cooperative societies as a pathway to peacebuilding, which is one of my main career goals. The Rotary Peace Fellowship has been a great experience and an opportunity to learn how to build lasting peace, prosperity, and resilience. It has also connected me to a vast network of peacebuilders, change-makers, and organizations that work collaboratively in developing innovative ways to build peace.