Thanks to the partnership of International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), I participated in “The Summer Peace Institute” with University of California, Berkeley from June 3rd to July 13th. The Summer Peace Institute brought together a diverse international group of students (United States, Lebanon, Denmark, Singapore, Philippines, South-Korea, Australia and Japan) with the purposes of inquiry into current world issues related to peace building and human security.
Guided by Dr. Jerry W. Sanders, Chair, Peace and Conflict Studies, University of California, Berkeley, this summer course on Human Security and Peace Building was divided in two parts.
In the first part, through lectures and interactive seminars at UPEACE, we learned about and discussed foundational concepts, current controversies and case studies on topics such as peace building for human security, climate change and human vulnerabilities, economic migrants and international law, globalization poverty and inequality. We also had the opportunity to more deeply explore what we had learned in the classroom through the undertaking of a research assignment and presentation of our findings.
In the second part, an intensive three weeks field study assignment provided us with the opportunity to interact with a variety of both governmental and non-governmental institutions and actors working in the areas of environment, health, food security, education, development, gender equity, conflict resolution and other human security issues. The initial group of students was split into smaller groups that work all around Costa Rica.
I was fortunate enough to be one of six students assigned to Kéköldi. We found ourselves under the leadership of Sebastián Hernández while living within the borders of the Kéköldi Indigenous Reserve. Sebastián directs the reservation’s scientific center within the rainforest. The setting was that I had only previously experienced through television. Waking up by the sounds of the howler monkeys, brushing my teeth while gazing at leaves the length of a man, and spending afternoons in a rooftop hammock listening to the noisy arguments of parrots and watching the toucans hopping through the branches were just a few of the incredible memories of my time in the rainforest that I will hold dear throughout my life.
As if this was not enough to make for a wonderful experience, Sebastián and his family pushed it over the top. Learning of the challenges of keeping the reserve through their eyes, and their noble goals of preserving the habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, as well as, increasing the amount of land they look after was more than inspiring. These lofty goals coupled with such a high sense of purpose are directly in line with their overall belief system, simply that the earth is sacred. The challenge comes when dealing with the world that lies outside the reserve, where their belief is unfortunately not shared.
Sebastián’s warm demeanor and gentle spirit made us all feel at home. We were motivated to do anything we could to help him achieve his objectives. We contributed by counting frogs to record scientific data, helping with the restoration of the hawk observatory tower, and building trails to the waterfall repelling site. The work was sometimes difficult, but always rewarding. Overall, life in our jungle home was as peaceful as it was challenging, but most of all it was very difficult to walk away from. Sebastián had conveyed to us all that one of his goals was to change the way visitors think about the indigenous people and the rainforest. This has been met with overwhelming success. Thank you for sharing your lives with us, and thank you for taking care of Kéköldi.
The other teams had different experiences and we all shared it during a presentation session at the end of the program.
I truly recommend this program, full of interaction with teachers and people working with NGO’s and international organizations. In addition, the variety of students in terms of nationality, background and academic field was definitely a plus. Besides the program, we also had the chance to visit Costa Rica, Paos and Arenal volcano, to do a 4 hour rafting trip, and to enjoy the beach both sides Pacific and Caribbean and their beautiful national parks.
I would like to say a special thank you to the program’s host families and the UPEACE and program Staff for their warm hospitality throughout my stay.