Inside USD

IPJ Program Energizes Women PeaceMakers

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When IPJ Interim Executive Director Dee Aker introduced the four speakers Tuesday night in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre, she did so by profession: “we have a lawyer from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a teacher from South Africa, a community organizer from Bangladesh and a political activist from Peru.” 

Sylvie Maunga Mbanga, Zandile Nhlengetwa, Shinjita Alam and Olenka Ochoa come from different countries and possess different job titles, but since arriving at the University of San Diego in September, they’ve strengthened their expertise in their vocations as peace builders. 

The eight-week Women PeaceMakers program, held each fall at USD since 2003, brings four women from around the world who have worked on peacemaking and human rights issues in their respective countries. Made possible through a grant by the Fred J. Hansen Foundation, the program enables the participants to meet, connect and to examine new paths to peace, while sharing their stories with a new community.

“This is a great opportunity for us so we can stay together and we can learn from each other and know each other’s stories,” said Alam, who has a degree in social welfare from the University of Dhaka and has worked to spotlight the link between poverty and conflict and its effects on women of Bangladesh. “This has been a good learning experience for me because when I was in my country, I felt I was alone on a mountain. I have come here and found I am actually not alone. There are other people doing the same thing and they are beside me and they are supporting me.” 

Each participant provided a presentation on their respective country to explain issues, concerns and the steps needed to work toward peace. Tuesday’s panel was the latest in a number of events tied to the Women PeaceMakers program. Earlier this month each of the women gave more detailed discussion of her work during a public conversation with Aker and an afternoon audience comprised of USD students, faculty and administrators. 

In late September, a conference entitled “Crafting Human Security in an Insecure World” was held. This international working conference addressed global acceptance of violence and other issues that obstruct peace building and deny human security. Louise Arbour, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, was the keynote speaker and the conference featured two days of informative workshops with several guest speakers. 

This year’s PeaceMakers bring a wealth of experience. Ochoa, who was a human rights activist during Peru’s civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, remains committed to work to end violence and discrimination of women in her country. 

“I have learned more about how women can play important roles in society and this is encouragement for me,” said Maunga Mbanga, a lawyer who works with local organizations to fight against sexual violence against women in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

Nhlengetwa, a survivor of political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, a teacher and a champion of various peace-building activities necessitated by the violence and apartheid in South Africa, has enjoyed the program, both for what she is learning about peace building, but also about her colleagues. 

“I think it has been a profound experience for me. To bring women from different areas with different experiences and live together is wonderful. It’s not all about the professional information that we share, but it is also about us being women. Although I am from South Africa, I am still connected to other women.” 

Nhlengetwa is making an impact back home, too, even before she returns to her homeland in November. She purchased fabrics with part of the small stipend given to each of the Women PeaceMakers and sent it home to be made into clothes for children in the community. Any additional clothing will be sold to provide money to send children to school. 

For more information about the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice and the School of Peace Studies, go to

 For expanded biographical information about the 2008 Women PeaceMakers, go to

To watch an IPJ video with comments and testimonials about the September conference held in conjunction with the Women PeaceMakers, go to

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