By Jeffrey D. Pugh, Director of Conflict Resolution Graduate Programs and Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, & Global Governance
In the midst of conflicts over refugees in Europe, xenophobic political discourse in the United States, and border clashes elsewhere, UMass Boston has partnered with FLACSO Ecuador to train and connect a cohort of professionals equipped to handle complex border-related conflicts. The Summer Institute on Conflict Transformation across Borders (inaugurated last June, and running again June 5-24, 2016) brought together professionals and students from nine countries, providing training in negotiation, nonviolent communication, conflict analysis, and proposal development. It also provided space to engage intellectually with challenges presented by host-migrant coexistence, border disputes, and transnational environmental conflicts, among other thorny problems. A visit to the Colombian Refugee Project at the Mennonite Church of Quito provided a forum for participants to hear from refugees their stories of challenge, triumph, and innovation in their adopted country, and for some of the participants to share their own migration story. Trips to the Amazon cloud forest and the northern border with Colombia gave participants a concrete opportunity to understand border issues at the sites where transnational conflicts have occurred.
Jaime Giménez, a participant from Spain, reflected while standing on the bridge between Ecuador and Colombia:
“Human beings artificially create borders. Borders are not a given fact that existed for millennia. They are socially constructed, and as such they can be modified at any moment. Sometimes borders create an artificial wall between people who before the border was established had constant social relations.”
Research has shown that when migrants and the host population interact with each other in meaningful ways to accomplish shared tasks, they are more likely to think of each other as individuals and not as members of a category, and the likelihood of dehumanization is reduced. There is also evidence that international education programs like the Summer Institute can play an important role in connecting people from different countries, and building sustainable networks of peacebuilders that continue to support and empower each other long after the program is over. For both of these reasons, those who would like to build peace across borders should identify spaces in which people of different nationalities can learn from each other, socialize, and bring their unique perspectives together to address shared problems. These spaces can serve as platforms for further action, in which the relationships formed among the participants form social capital that enables them to work together for peace. Applications are invited to join the 2016 cohort: caps.umb.edu/conflict_transformation
This article was originally published in the Alliance for Peacebuilding's Peacebuilding Post (Spring 2016) on March 4, 2016: