From Nathalia: I DID SIGN UP FOR THIS…
I decided to apply to Rotary Peace Fellowship in 2019. The whole program seemed perfectly fit for what I have done and for what I wanted to do in the future. I was ready to reflect on the first four years of the historic Colombian Peace Agreement, to enhance my academic background, to sharpen my leadership skills, and to be part of a great group of people; Rotary Peace Fellows.
I hurried to learn about Rotary Foundation, the incredible work they do, the different programs they have. Also, talk to other fellows, understand the differences between the Peace Centers and recognize which were a better fit for my personal and professional goals. 2019 was an exciting year, full of conversations, new connections, and meetings, even zoom meetings. When I was selected as a Rotary Peace Fellow, I felt so accomplished. Later, when accepted at UNC, I started getting ready. That included getting ready for one of the most incredible summers of my life. I planned to intern either in an Asian or African country, to build network connections with experts in the field of transitional justice and development, and to travel to places I never have been. Then, a global pandemic hit, and I thought, I did not sign up for this…
A YEAR IN THE MAKING
Covid-19 pandemic changed everything, including the plans I had for the next year. There was a lot of uncertainty about what would happen: if I could even travel to Chapel Hill or meet the other Peace Fellows. Another major concern was the internship. I did not know if I could travel during the 2021 summer break; if the world would be back to normal or if I would be able to make it. Uncertainty became the only certainty I had. We all were trying to make sense of a whole new reality, which was in constant change.
The time passed and it was clear I would not be able to travel to Chapel Hill on time to start the academic year. I realized that Covid-19 was an uninvited guest that would stay longer than expected, which caused anxiety as well as the opportunity to push myself to find new paths.
I decided to change my plans and make the most out of the virtual academic setting and my presence in Colombia. Hence, I decided to keep my job as a specialized attorney and start my master’s program. That allowed me to keep contributing to the implementation of the justice mechanism of the Colombian Peace Agreement and start my journey through the critical perspectives to analyze globalization. It was perfect but not easy! I was able to gain new analytic tools to better understand the problems on the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms and to advance criminal cases that I have been working on, so victims could have answers to their questions and feel justice was served.
That period showed me the possibilities and the advantages that the change in plans brought for me.
Consistent with that goal, make the most out of the current situation… which sometimes is translated in a more colloquial note as: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Well, my lemonade turned out sweeter than I thought.
2021 arrived and it brought the possibility to move to Chapel Hill. It was a challenging semester. Classes were 100% online, I was settling in the new place and still dealing with the pandemic reality. However, time at home made settling in less challenging plus the help of amazing Rotarians and Peace Fellows made it easier than planned.
That year full of uncertainties and difficult situations was the preparation for what the summer would bring… resilience was never more important.
Planning my internship for the summer was an unexpected challenge that I was able to overcome, in part, thanks to the resilience that I built the previous year.
Due to immigration law requirements, I was not allowed to intern outside campus, and because of the legitimate health concern of Rotary, I was not allowed to travel outside the US during the summer. That meant that my only choice was to be an intern at UNC.
It was not an easy process. Understanding that I could not travel or be part of one of the organizations I planned was frustrating. But the lessons from previous months and that mindset push me to make the most delicious lemonade out of this time. It took some time to reorganize the priorities, set a plan and take action, but I did. I could not travel to Africa, but I was able to remotely learn as much as I could about the continent.
Thanks to the help of many people, including the former Peace Fellows, I got in touch with two professors in public policy. They offered me a position to collaborate with the research they were conducting. It was a perfect opportunity to be familiarized with new fields of knowledge, sharpen some of my writing and research skills, and learn about Africa. The research directed by Dr. Sullivan is analyzing the link between military aid and human rights in many regions around the world, including Africa. As a research assistant of that project, I am understanding the military aid provided by the US to countries such as Somalia, Kenya, and Nigeria. Based on that I am assessing the relationship between human rights abuses committed in those countries to find ways to improve security sector assistance. It has been an enriching project because it has allowed me to complement my experience as a human rights lawyer by exploring the human rights situation in some African countries, their compliance with international standards, and the challenges for the rule of law. Furthermore, I have learned about the modes of security sector assistance, the different programs created by the US government to collaborate with other nations to ensure security, and the challenges that arise in a particular context. Also, researching in databases, understanding the meaning of the information provided, and contextualizing quantitative information has been new and pleasantly enriching. Being part of this research has allowed me to explore and question the role of rule of law in the security sector, which is key for sustainable peacebuilding.
The second research that I am being part of is about climate change in Africa, the current situation, the impacts in societies and people’s lives, as well as the possibilities to correct the path and benefit from a greener economy. I never thought I would research climate change because it has never been a topic of my academic or professional focus. However, collaborating with Dr. Hazen has shown me the interconnections between climate change and peacebuilding, the importance of addressing extreme weather mitigation and adaptation mechanisms in conflict prevention. As a result of this research, I will have a clear sense of the synergies of conflict prevention and mediation, and action against climate change. Additionally, the report about the state of climate change in Africa will be used to train the State Department professionals that will be deployed in the African continent.
The third part of my summer has been dedicated to advancing on my Master’s research. I have been learning the requirements I must meet to engage in research with human subjects, the challenges that it will bring, and getting clearance from UNC to conduct interviews around the interconnection between sustainable development and transitional justice.
I DID SIGN UP FOR THIS…
A challenging year, full of lessons and accomplishments, prepared me for overcoming the difficulties that getting ready for summer would bring. Getting the position as a research assistant in two projects and working on them helped me realize that I did sign up for this, even though it has not been as planned or imagined. The obstacles that I encountered during the first year of the program prepare me to make the most of my internship. This period has been full of the joy of learning, knowing academics in new fields, and challenges me to discover unexpected interests that have strengthened my peacebuilding skill set.