Interns: Vida Chechman, Alexa Withrow
Volunteers: Marianna Moreno, Luis Segovia, Brenna O’Brien, Alejandro Eros, Serena Tesoro
Mentor: Jennifer Bradshaw, Program Officer at Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice
“Peace is one of the ways that we can conquer violence, if we put it into practice.”
-Marianna Moreno, Season 1 Youth Peace Leader
For our first meeting as a Thread, we thought it would be fun to do a group picnic on campus. We took the time to get to know one another by discussing our passions and interests. As Interns, we were immediately struck by how passionate and curious our Youth Peace Leaders were about peacebuilding. Each of us went around in a circle and shared why we were working with SFI this summer and why we chose International Peacebuilding as our Thread topic.
Our Thread was very diverse: two of our Youth Peace Leaders, Marianna and Luis, traveled across the border to join the program from Tijuana, Mexico. We learned that our Thread represented Ireland, Mexico, Iraq, Italy, America, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Hungary. Within our small group, there were many different perspectives and a great richness between us.
Once we got to know why each member was there, we started defining group intentions and goals for our summer together. As Interns, we opened the space for the Youth Peace Leaders to share ideas around projects or themes. We wrote down things like, “I want to get out of my comfort zone”; “I want to break stigmas amongst minorities”; “I want to explore and understand different cultures”; and “I want to show people that our differences make us stronger as a community”.
We began to brainstorm how we might make some of these goals come alive in our project. In the digital age, we naturally floated towards social media and creating something viral. A documentary soon came to the idea board and Serena, one of our Youth Peace Leaders, was excited at the thought of practicing her passion for film and photography! In our very first meeting, we had nailed down a common purpose and a project that incorporated creative passions.
Our goal: To inspire youth to explore different communities and break out of their comfort zone through a film documentary of their own experience.
Filming the Documentary
In the meetings that followed, we chose which cultural centers we would visit and determined the best times to visit them. Each of us were assigned to identify opportunities in the community where we could engage with different cultures and people throughout San Diego and Tijuana. We learned quickly that exploring diverse communities was not far away in a distant land, but right here in our own backyard just miles away.
Our first destination was the Hsi Fang Temple in University Heights. We received a tour by Venerable Miozang and he showed us the temple and Buddhist shrine. The Venerable explained the foundations of Buddhism and the symbolism throughout the temple. “Anyone can be a buddha,” she explained; “buddha refers to an enlightened person who sees the truth of life.”
The next stop was an event taking place by the NCRC at the Islamic Center of San Diego. The event was a restorative circle conversation with members from the community surrounding the topic of “Civility in Politics”. We all participated in the restorative circle and interviewed participants afterwards to get their perspective on peacebuilding.
Our third excursion was a trip across the border to Tijuana, Mexico. One of our American Youth Peace Leaders, Alejandro, crossed the Border with Interns to spend an afternoon exploring Tijuana with a tour led by our Mexican resident Youth Peace Leaders. We started the afternoon by visiting Playas De Tijuana and the murals that are painted along the International Border. We took some time to discuss the impact of the border while walking on the beach. Luis also shared what he loves about being Mexican. After the beach, we grabbed some tacos at one of their favorite taco shops called Taconazo Playas. We took turns deciding which taco was the best and talked about other amazing dishes that Luis and Marianna are fond of in Mexico. After eating, we headed to Zona Rio and walked through the museum and outdoor area. We stopped in front of some beautiful trees to get an interview with Marianna, where she expressed her opinion on why people don’t visit Mexico, as well as why they should.
For our last community exploration, we attended the Bon Odori festival at the Japanese Friendship Gardens in Balboa Park. We walked around the park itself and took advantage of the opportunity to interview youth from all over the world. While some of the team focused on interviews, others visited the Timken Museum and admired the Spanish architecture. When the festival began, the group walked throughout the gardens, admiring their beauty, and stopped at the lantern making tent to create their own lantern for the Toro Nagashi lantern ceremony. Each Youth Peace Leader took turns adding to and drawing on our team lantern. They drew bible verses and added our team name and symbols. Later, they explained on film what they drew and why. As the sun started to set, the Toro Nagashi festival, a ceremony honoring the dead by releasing lanterns into a pond, began. Brenna walked our team lantern to the edge of the pond and let it go. The whole Thread watched as it floated towards the others.
After visiting and filming so many places, we had hours of footage. It was time to start putting the pieces together during the editing process. We quickly realized that this was a bigger task than we imagined. Our Mentor, Jennifer Bradshaw, stepped in to help the team create a narrative that would be accessible to our audience and meet our team goal. She stepped into a project management role in which she encouraged us to identify hard deadlines and resources while being realistic with what needed to be done in the time we had left. With her help, we created a narrative that acted as the bones for our documentary, filmed the missing pieces and got to work on completing our project. This was essential for us to tie everything together in a way that made sense and told a story for youth, by youth.
“Youth are passionate and ready to make change. We need to ensure we give them space to do what they do best and amplify their peacebuilding work whenever we can.”
Jennifer Bradshaw, SFI Season 1 Mentor and Kroc IPJ Program Officer for Women, Peace and Security
At the beginning of the program, our Thread was set on creating a documentary that would inspire youth so much that it would go viral. After spending weeks planning, organizing, traveling, filming and editing, the group realized that going viral wasn’t the focus of our intentions anymore. We were proud of the work we did and if the film was able to convey a powerful message to even one person, this would be our viral.
From our perspective as Interns, this group had a terrific learning experience. We learned that youth are passionate, informed and ready to make change NOW. The paradigm shift that occurs in this program can be challenging as we give them the tools to make change and allow them to be in the driver seat as the project takes form. By asking the youth what they want, what their priorities are, and how they want to proceed, it continues to place the ownership in the hands of the youth so that they are truly in charge. While we all had expectations of the documentary from the beginning, our specific expectations of the project changed over time. The failures, challenges and successes of the group became learning opportunities for everyone involved, a great value that we can take with us after this program. Our advice to other Interns would be to let the youth dream big. Don’t decide for them what is realistic or not. Simply ask the questions, and let them drive, giving them resources and assistance along the way.