UN Student Seminar: Lessons Learned From Haiti and MCC
Isaac Halas was one of forty-two students that attended the MCC UN Office's student seminar from October 13-15, 2016. This year's seminar explored themes of the UN's involvement in Haiti over the past 15 years. MCC Haiti advocacy staff, Ted and Katharine Oswald, helped lead the seminar by offering presentations on Haiti's history, the international community's response to Haiti's 2010 earthquake, and current social and political issues. Isaac is the winner of a blog contest where students were asked to reflect on their experiences at this year's seminar.
When someone asks what I study in school, I give them a broad, memorized speech about Peace and Conflict Studies and how it “analyzes conflicts and seeks to transform that conflict to reach a peaceful conclusion through dialogue, understanding, and mutual respect.” The following response is relatively uniform: “That’s cool. What do you want to do with that?” My reply is the same each time, “I’d love to work for the United Nations,” as I sheepishly divulge my improbable desire. Yet, bit by bit through my education I find myself getting surprisingly closer to my dream. This came to a vivid realization when I was given the opportunity to attend the MCC United Nations Office’s Student Seminar in New York in mid-October. It was an unbelievable learning experience that developed and solidified my desire to work for the UN, and now for the Mennonite Central Committee!
To be perfectly honest, I went into this seminar knowing very little about Haiti other than scattered facts about earthquakes, hurricanes, and cholera. I was intrigued by the prospect of learning in-depth details about the country. My other reasons for attending the seminar were to see if the UN was indeed somewhere I could see myself in the future, and also to learn about MCC and its global involvement as a faith-based organization. Needless to say, all my eagerness to learn was met with an equal passion to teach by the seminar presenters. MCC is a substantially larger organization than I had known, with a strong presence and influence around the globe. It devotes itself to advocacy for human rights such as dealing with migration and displacement, food justice, promoting demilitarization, and peaceful conflict resolution.
The speaker that inspired me the most was Doug Hostetter, the Director of the MCC UN Office. He spoke of his time working for MCC in Vietnam as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. As a Peace Studies student I am intrigued with how people handle themselves during times of war, and Mr. Hostetter offered a valuable perspective. He spoke of how he tried his best to help the Vietnamese people deal with the war around them: he taught English and befriended the locals in the small village where he was posted. He told of an exchange just before he was to leave Vietnam at the end of his service; he had asked a Vietnamese man, “How do I stop the violence?” To which the man replied, “You are like a man standing under a waterfall with a bucket, trying frantically to throw the water back where it came from. Go home and build a dam.” Mr. Hostetter understood the powerful metaphor for the American violence experienced by the Vietnamese people. He took it with him to America where he remained with MCC as an advocate for human rights, and to spur on the MCC ethic to build the figurative dam against violence through political advocacy. I believe that this real-world experience is what we need in order to understand one another, and to deal with conflicts effectively through mutual respect in a non-violent manner.
The history of Haiti, I learned, is rich and fascinating. Though it is subject to gross inequality, poverty, chronic political instability, and environmental onslaughts, the people of Haiti demonstrate inspiring resilience and unconditional love for their homeland. We heard from many speakers who all shared a love for Haiti. In fact, it was one of the most notable features of their talks. Their love and respect for Haiti surpasses all boundaries of economic, political, and environmental hardship.
Isaac Halas is a Peace & Conflict Studies major studying at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in BC, Canada. He has intense interests in global, political, and environmental development. He is a member of the UFV Global Development Association, and will be among the first graduates of the new PACS program at his university.