Summertime usually conjures up the prospect of a vacation to a faraway place, offering a different culture and surroundings to absorb and, perhaps, even learn a new language. The end result is often a refreshed feeling or a recharged spirit.
While it’s not exactly a vacation for Dacotah Splichalova, Alison Gonzalez and Joshua Wheeler (pictured, left to right), what they are gaining as Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice interns this summer (June 6-Aug. 15) is an experience they won’t soon forget.
“A lot of the excitement for me is the chance to work directly with the program officers,” said Wheeler, a USD senior International Relations major. “They are really the experts. You’re interacting with the people who go to the countries and work on conflict resolution. They impart that experience and it opens up a whole new world to you.”
The IPJ internship program, which runs during USD’s fall and spring semesters and is slightly abbreviated in the summer, gives selected college students the chance to learn how a nongovernmental educational institute works. Interns assist with ongoing IPJ projects run by practitioners in the fields of human rights and conflict resolution.
Wheeler, for instance, is helping Program Officer Chris Groth by monitoring news reports on Nepal and, similarly, with Program Officer Zahra Ismail for Cambodia.
“Every day there’s something new I’m learning. It’s challenging and I’m trying to get up to speed,” Wheeler said. “I’ve been engaged in a lot of research to understand the history, culture and political dynamics within these countries and how it leads into peace and justice updates [we do] so I can connect it to the work of the institute and show how it’s relevant to the work done here.”
While Wheeler’s exposure to the IPJ is more visible being a current student, both Gonzalez and Splichalova are equally impressed and grateful for their opportunity via the internship.
Gonzalez, currently working on a master’s in education at the University of New Mexico with undergraduate degrees from Whitworth University in peace studies and community-based theatre, is monitoring Kenya and Guatemala. She’s also utilizing her teaching skills — she’s a Teach for America corps member and second-grade teacher at Tohatchi Elementary School on the Navajo Nation — by helping IPJ Worldlink Program Officer Debbie Martinez mentor WorldLink youth interns who are focused on global issues.
“I always want to learn new things and I always want to be sharpening my skill set, especially in terms of peace building,” said Gonzalez, who is originally from San Diego. “I came in knowing who I am, what I believe and the work I want to do, but what the IPJ does aligns well with the work I’m doing and that’s empowerment of communities for justice and bringing justice to themselves.”
Splichalova, a junior philosophy major at Oregon State University, is the youngest of the interns, but her past experiences, including international stints in New Zealand, Mexico, London and Canada, and a passion for storytelling resulted in a different focus. Instead of monitoring specific countries, she is examining civilian early warning systems in Asia.
“It’s been a gift to delve into a new, overarching theme,” Splichalova said. “In the past it’s been conflict early warning systems, stemming from things like natural disasters or World War II. Now it’s how people liaise with one another, how you pull groups together. It’s about conflict early warning systems, but with humans and how we interact. And, from there, it’s about how conflict affects civilians, how civilian groups form and work and liaise with government.”
Additionally, she’s helping Program Officer Jennifer Freeman prepare for IPJ’s 11th annual Women PeaceMakers program, which starts in mid-August. Splichalova, a writer and researcher, said she’s interested in the program from both sides— learning about women peace leaders from countries in conflict and getting to read and meet IPJ’s peace writers who tell the story.
“I felt so privileged to meet Jackee Batanda, a 2006 peace writer who worked with Shukrije Gashi from Kosovo. Meeting Jackee, for me, was a big deal. I’d love to one day be a peace writer. I love to tell people’s stories. It would be an honor to be the translator of their story.”
Splichalova and the other summer interns do have writing responsibilities. They research journals, check news reports and speak with program officers to produce concise weekly updates on their respectively assigned countries or theme. Communicating this information presents the interns with a tangible record of sharing IPJ’s ongoing work in peace-building education.
What it also does is give the interns a chance to deepen their sense of what peace is and how it can be applied in other parts of the world.
Splichalova believes peace comes from within. She said it’s important for people, especially those who’ve endured so much conflict, to continue to seek it. “It’s about having that inside peace where you can just be. People in conflict never have had that space, but when that space is created, beautiful things unfold and it builds overall structure,” she said. “It’s within all of us. We need to have that space so we can feel what it feels like.”
Wheeler and Gonzalez define peace equally passionate and hopeful.
“When dealing with other countries and you come in saying, ‘I’m going to resolve conflicts,’ if you don’t understand that country’s culture or world view and you come at it as an outsider, it’s a big detriment,” Wheeler said. “What I believe is needed is what I’ve learned at the IPJ: You want to understand another’s culture and respect it in order to facilitate discussion. They don’t want to violate or disrupt. They talk to people on the ground, to the people who live the day-to-day reality of the conflict.”
Said Gonzalez: “It’s about human relationships, that’s how I’d define it. Peace should be about human dignity. What that looks like, from a broad spectrum, is that every person deserves to have worth. We need to make sure the human aspect is never missing in peace and justice; that we’re all made human by the humanity.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Learn about what past IPJ interns are doing now.