A Day in the Lives of the Women PeaceMakers
The following is adapted from the Fall 2008 issue of the Peace & Justice Compass.
Every fall, the IPJ comes alive with the presence of four very special women, its Women PeaceMakers. During their time in San Diego they engage with the USD and local communities through speaking engagements and classroom visits, and have their stories documented by Peace Writers and the documentary film team of Sun & Moon Vision Productions (SMVP). While their lives and courageous work in their home countries are shared through these different mediums, their everyday lives here in San Diego sometimes remain a mystery. This is an opportunity to share a “typical day” for these individuals whose personalities and rich experiences and interests bring so much to the University of San Diego campus.
It is dawn over the Garden of the Sea and the Casa de la Paz, the small Spanish-style guest house where the peacemakers reside. Life begins to stir as Shinjita Alam, Sylvie Maunga Mbanga, Zandile Nhlengetwa and Olenka Ochoa – brought together by their quest for peace – begin their day.
The PeaceMakers check their e-mail and call friends and family in distant time zones to stay connected to events back home. They open the doors to the two suites on the second floor as the sounds and smells of breakfast drift through the Casa.
Sylvie and Shinjita meet over coffee with undergraduate students wanting to hear firsthand about the conflicts they learn about on the news and in the classroom. Zandile chats under a tree with a student reporter from USD’s The Vista, while Olenka hops on her bike to get to know the campus that is her home, if only for a short while.
Four Peace Writers gather at the Casa before heading off with their respective PeaceMakers for their daily interviews. They pair off and scatter to different corners of the campus looking for a quiet place to talk, share stories of work and life and probe sensitive issues that have sometimes been left untouched for many years.
Writers return to their offices to work on the stories they have just heard, as the PeaceMakers grab lunch and prepare for the rest of the day.
Zandile walks to the mail center to send fabric back to South Africa for her community income-generating projects. Olenka attends a local City Council meeting to observe how it differs from Municipal Council meetings in her hometown of Lima. Shinjita meets with M.A. students in the Peace and Justice Studies program who are studying Bangladesh, while Sylvie networks by phone and e-mail with American organizations fighting to end sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
All four PeaceMakers walk down the Marian Way hill to attend English class, provided through USD’s English Language Academy. They laugh over mistakes and difficulties in pronunciation, and learn new idiomatic English expressions.
Olenka pays a visit
to Father Joe’s Villages in downtown San Diego to learn about their projects for underserved communities. Sylvie meets with a professor in the Political Science department, as Zandile lectures on the legacy of apartheid in South Africa to an African History class. Shinjita diligently works in the Casa on her talk for their community visit to the American Association of University Women, and on her PowerPoint presentation for the Women PeaceMakers Panel.
Volunteers arrive to take the PeaceMakers to buy groceries and sightsee. Olenka loves the water and chooses to visit the local beaches. Zandile and her volunteer head to Fashion Valley to window shop and try new flavors of ice cream. Sylvie and Shinjita go to Costco to purchase laptops for work and families back home, and then stop by the Asian market for fresh fish.
Dinner. The PeaceMakers try preparing new foods, such as tofu, they have purchased. Sharing spices and flavors from different continents, they teach one another music and dances from their regions – often accompanied by YouTube videos.
Sylvie’s filming session with SMVP begins on the first floor of the Casa, and for the next three hours she tells of her childhood and family, the political situation in the DRC and her work on various levels to fight sexual violence. Shinjita and Olenka head off to a lecture on campus, while Zandile stays home to watch news about the upcoming American elections. Her interview with her Peace Writer the following morning will be peppered with questions about the American electoral system.
The women prepare to sleep and get ready for the busy weekend ahead. Olenka will join a humanitarian border visit with the Trans-Border Institute, leaving bottles of water for people crossing the desert. Zandile has many activities planned with a local church in which she has become active. She will join Shinjita and Sylvie to attend a candlelight walk for human rights, organized by a local chapter of Amnesty International. The weekend is also special, as a volunteer will arrive Sunday morning to take them to Disneyland!