By Ben Silverberg, MSc-GH student
Photo by Conference on Inter-Americas Peacebuilding
A peace activist, local author, and former Fulbright fellow. These were a just a few of the global health scholars speaking at the Conference on Inter-Americas Peacebuilding, hosted this month by the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University. Just as we recognize there is a world beyond the US borders, there is one outside of Duke, and the highly-educated region around Durham is no exception. The student-led conference hosted 40+ attendees from five area colleges and universities, including Duke, and we were privileged to hear from locally-based representatives of non-profit, governmental, and community organizations seeking to make the world a better place not just abroad, but here at home.
“Do something about it!” was the rallying cry from Gail Phares, regional director of Witness for Peace Southeast. Through observing conflicts abroad firsthand, her NGO seeks to report back to American policymakers and bring about change. Whereas charity has a built-in hierarchy, this solidarity implies equality. It also teaches us to be humble, which reduces the chance of future conflict. In a very timely reflection, she observed that with the recent Papal selection of the Argentine archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, disagreements between Latin American nations were temporarily forgotten. Indeed, equality is the foundation of peace-building, and she and others were hopeful the new Pope can affect change not just for Catholics, but for the global community.
Peace is not just the absence of violence but the process of healing and growth. This profound insight, made by a later panelist, reminded me of my coursework at Duke in social policy. I also thought back to what I’ve learned in my bioethics class as I heard other remarks on the “crisis of justice” and whether justice and peace were mutually exclusive. As speakers from Curamericas Global and RTI International, also based in the Triangle area, detailed their organizations’ projects, I was excited to see current work in my own communities of interest, even as specific as Huehuetenango in Guatemala. It is amazing to me how rich central North Carolina is in terms of collaborations and opportunities at local institutions and organizations. Like a push-pin on a map, there are many threads branching out, but all roads return home.
Sometimes it feels like working in global health is a Sisyphean task, where some other problem will become the biggest once efforts to stanch another are successful. This conference detailed specific, varied projects that lead to education, policy, and change – a focus on successes rather than perseveration about all the work that remains to be done. Indeed, keynote speaker Dr. Jennifer McCoy, who, among her many accomplishments, worked with the late President Hugo Chavez, former President Jimmy Carter, and others to broker peace in Venezuela, reminded us to reflect on why successful interventions were successful, but also to analyze past mistakes and missed opportunities.
I’m continually amazed at the plethora of opportunities to meet and learn from North Carolinians who are working to drive change in some area of global health. With such high-caliber, eloquent, and prolific speakers, I left the conference inspired and ready to bring my learning and passion back to Duke, and then around the world.