Posted by: ourvoicestogether | October 30, 2007

The First Step to Making Change is Saying, “We Can.”

The First Step to Making Change is Saying, After returning from the Balkans with my Peace and Conflict Resolution class, I am left feeling like an expert only of “conflict,” and more clueless than ever on the idea of “resolution.” As one of my classmates accurately stated, “the more you know about the problems, the less a solution seems possible.” The truth is that the more informed you are about political, social, and economic conflict, the more helpless you feel as a citizen, and as a human.

During the three weeks our class spent in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, we met with a large variety of people, all familiar in some way with the ongoing post-war conflict in the Balkans, and the political instability of Bosnia-Herzegovina: a situation so precarious, its “government” teeters on crisis daily. We heard from members of the State Department, as well as doctors and nurses, writers, historians, journalists, students, professors, NGO founders, religious leaders, radio and television personnel, and citizens directly affected and devastated by the war. We listened to all sides of dispute, and we recognized only one consistency: all sides constantly stated that “there are three sides, three histories, three truths.” They were all willing to acquiesce that all sides were valid, but that theirs was, of course, “most valid.”

We were also told repeatedly things like: “Don’t try to understand the Balkans” or “If you leave the Balkans without any idea of what you have learned, don’t worry.” At first we were slightly insulted by this. After all we did feel like we were learning a lot, and that we did have a rather good understanding of the situation. As time went on, however, we realized we were almost completely unable to conceptualize “solution.” On one of our last meetings we were told by an international advisor to the Bosnian government that we were now “mini-experts in an area that no one cares about.” We were left feeling somewhat informed but completely helpless.

Upon my return to the U.S. and specifically to my internship at Our Voices Together, an organization that promotes a civil response to terrorism, I was reminded of a conflict much closer to home. I began to wonder how I would begin to apply what I had learned in the Balkans to the many problems the U.S. is currently facing.

In my short time studying in Washington, I have become most aware of the feeling of helplessness that plagues most people who study both national and international conflict. What Our Voices Together hopes to do, is take away that feeling of hopelessness on the civic level, and replace it with an array of possible actions that can be taken so that individuals can make a difference.

While eavesdropping on one of my superiors, I overheard some of the actions that can be taken, through OVT, to work against terrorism. For example, opening your home and hosting a student from Afghanistan, supporting schools from all parts of the world, hosting a forum in your community to discuss what terrorism actually is, taking part in book clubs, raising money to pay a doctor’s salary, donating to build homes, schools, hospitals. There are even ways to go abroad, for people who feel that they would like to be physically present in the work that they fund. The easiest part of making change, it seems, is finding people who wish to take part in these movements. There are so many people of all different backgrounds who want to be involved with peace promotion. The difficult part is figuring out how to engage and organize activities so that change can actually occur.

What I hope to learn through my studies of Peace and Conflict Resolution and through my internship at OVT, are the ways to build the means by which individuals like myself can provide the necessary changes that they wish to see. Though solutions to a large spectrum of issues may seem impossible, Peace is not an unrealistic goal. Whether on an economic, political, or social level, understanding of the problems, while complex, will only lead to educated and informed decision-making when it comes to determining available solutions. No matter what part of the world we are looking at, the first step to making change is saying “We Can.”

–Jillian Vicinanza

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