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Peace from home: thoughts of a peacebuilder during Covid-19

By Giovanny Rincon Alvarez

How should I work for peacebuilding under remote mode? This was the question that I asked myself a month ago when I started my Applied Field Experience (AFE) with RTI International. I wonder it because I have dedicated my life to working for peace in the field, in contact with people, providing assistance on site. I do not have the answer yet, but I hope I will be willing to respond to myself in a couple of months once I have finished this unique experience as a Rotary Peace Fellow.

Giovanny stands in front of the Old Well on UNC's campus.
Giovanny on UNC’s campus.

Annually, Rotary International offers the possibility to each Peace Fellow to immerse during the summer in the reality of peacebuilding around the globe through the AFE. In my case, it has been the opportunity to discover the peacebuilding response in an unexpected first global lockdown and an occasion to explore the capacity response and decision-making process in a headquarters organization. For these reasons, I decided on the International Conflict and Transition Internship with RTI International (RTI) among others. RTI is one of the most prestigious independent nonprofit research institutes dedicated to improving the human condition around the globe. This organization provides research and technical expertise to governments and businesses in more than 75 countries, improving living conditions in issues such as health, education, and governance.

Nevertheless, the context generated by COVID-19 and the case of George Floyd in the United States permitted me to rethink tough questions. Is it possible to respond to peace demands amidst lockdown meanwhile the social injustice continues? How to deal with the past when the wounds of violence are so deep in society?

This summer has been unforgettable, in many ways it is unlike any other. Due to the global pandemic, everything in our peacebuilding plans was affected, including my AFE arrangements. Notwithstanding, RTI decided to permit the internship under an unedited remote mode and Rotary International supported me in the adaptation of a workplace at home. RTI has been a great place to be during this pandemic and social unrest in the southern US.

Because my Applied Field Experience was moved on-line, I have experienced the relevance of adaptation and taking advantage of new technologies to face the challenges of peacebuilding at home since humanitarian necessities continue and even increased. As part of my duties, I have been supporting the team reviewing the response of our Institute in Africa. Thus, I have evaluated the local demands and the international capacity to bring support and advocacy facing the new global pandemic context. At the date of writing this blog, I have completed my first month as an intern. The experience has been an opportunity to perform substantive work in two projects. The first is an initiative for positive youth development in Somalia. I have supported the team in the implementation of soft skills for violence prevention and understanding shifts and adaptation of the field office during the pandemic. At the same time. I have supported the formulation of a proposal that seeks to consolidate the peace efforts in Mozambique where a the peace agreement was signed in 2019 after several attempts to end the political violence.

Protests at UNC. Photo credit: The New & Observer article243238551.html

As the world strives to navigate the social and economic effects of novel COVID-19, the horrific murder of George Floyd captured on video has exposed to the world the impacts of structural racism festering in American society. However, this situation triggered a global mobilization, as evidence that social injustice assembles people’s solidarity. Waves of citizens raised their voices and protested against violence against Black people. The reactions to the death of George Floyd have reignited a dialogue about the reality that racial inequity in America stems from deeply rooted systemic and institutional racism. The racism that has deep roots in American history and continues to this day in various forms prompted the civil rights movements of the 1960s, which showed that nonviolence could transform adverse realities to some degree. However, something is different today compared to the social unrest in the 1960s. The numbers of cities with recent protests refusing violence against Black people in the US were uncountable. These were a multiracial and intergenerational clamor demanding justice.

Paradoxically, during my internship, I have been involved in projects spreading peace and reconciliation while real challenges are at home, inside of the US. I realized that when wounds of injustice are so deep in society, these tend to mutate into social polarization in the post-conflict period; and this period might be extremely long depending on our capacity to leave barriers constructed upon the false idea of superior groups over the essence of the human being.

Giovanny sits at his home desk looking at the camera, ready for this first day.
Giovanny Rincon on his first day. Home office supported by Rotary International. Photo by Johanna Murcia.

Finally, I have been participating in other high-level initiatives, including a global dialogue about new issues in development during the post-COVID-19 period and two networks in Latin America about lessons learned and misinformation spread concerning this world outbreak. I hope to share my final reflections and these experiences in two spaces in August, firstly in the annual Internship Showcase with leaders in RTI, and complementarily with the graduate students at UNC in a traditional space led by my Master Program in Global Studies.

This AFE has permitted me to continue my career as a peacebuilder and improve my professional skills formulating projects from a multicultural perspective. Additionally, working in a large organization in the US in this unique moment is an invaluable experience. Reviewing these four weeks of Internship in the global context, I have mixed feelings. On one hand I feel that the humanitarian and peacebuilding sectors are doing the work; however, on the other hand, we can do more, and we have an obligation to do more and to keep striving to turn our knowledge into practice, so that we may able to respond even under remote mode.

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