Telling the Story: Conversations Become a Powerful Peace Education Tool

Kent State students share lessons from Colombia in Rwanda

A trio of Kent State University students took the lessons they learned on an education-abroad trip to Colombia earlier this year and used them as a framework for promoting peace education practices at a global peace conference in Rwanda. 

The group shared their presentation on July 12, in Kigali, Rwanda, as part of Peace Education in an Era of Crisis, a global peace conference being sponsored by Kent State’s School of Peace and Conflict Studies, Kent State’s Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education, the University of Rwanda and the Aegis Trust, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing genocide and crimes against humanity. 

The students met during a study abroad trip to Colombia in January 2023, and when the peace conference issued a call for proposals, graduate student Camille Tinnin felt the trio would have something worthwhile to contribute.  

 Kent State senior journalism major Sophia Lucente of Coraopolis, Pa., left, and Kent State graduate student Camille Tinnin, right, give a presentation on peace through storytelling, on July 12 in Kigali, Rwanda at Peace Education in an Era of Crisis.
At right, Kent State doctoral candidate Camille Tinnin presents at the peace conference in Kigali. At left, senior journalism major Sophia Lucente

Tinnin, a doctoral candidate in political science with a concentration in conflict analysis/management, and a New York native; Sophia Lucente, a senior journalism major from Coraopolis, Pennsylvania; and Isaac Halaszi, a senior from Delaware, Ohio, majoring in peace and conflict studies and philosophy, collaborated on the presentation based on their experience in Colombia. 

Part of the peace struggle in Colombia, following the signing of its 2016 peace accords, was the dismantling of various groups, including guerrilla fighters, paramilitary government fighters, drug cartels and the farmers who grew coca for them, Lucente explained. 

The trio focused on two individuals, a former guerrilla fighter and a former coca farmer, both of whom shared their stories post-conflict.  

Halazsi said each was doing what they felt they had to do to survive the conflict.  

Learning the stories firsthand, Tinnin said, and in relation to each other, forced the students to see all sides of the war and how making peace cannot be an easy process. 

“Building peace is a constant process,” Tinnin said. 

The Colombia course that brought the trio together, Peacebuilding in Colombia, was developed by Sara Koopman, Ph.D., assistant professor of peace and conflict studies, in collaboration with Universidad del Rosario. The course focuses on the peace-building process in Colombia, which recently ended one of the world’s longest civil wars by negotiating the world’s most inclusive peace agreement, which addresses gender, race and sexuality. The provisions were controversial, and Colombians voted against the first version of the accord. The course teaches about the conflict, the peace process and ongoing struggles to implement the accords, with a focus on inclusive peace measures. 

Kent State senior peace and conflict studies major Isaac Halaszi, of Delaware, Ohio, gives a presentation on peace through storytelling, on July 12 at Peace Education in an Era of Crisis, in Kigali, Rwanda.
Isaac Halaszi, a senior from Delaware, Ohio, majoring in peace and conflict studies and philosophy, collaborated on the presentation based on their experience in Colombia. 

Participants in the education-abroad experience were able to meet with people from various communities, who had various differing experiences during the conflict and after the accord who are now working to build peace. 

Lucente, who also is in Rwanda for the education-abroad Kigali Summer Institute course on the Rwandan genocide, said the Colombian trip focused on going into smaller communities and talking to the residents about the conflict and how they are actively working toward implementing the tenants of the peace accord.  

“One of the themes of our trip in Colombia was peace education through storytelling,” Lucente said. “The Colombian experience made us think of this idea of peace education through listening to other people’s stories.” 

Tinnin said one of her goals was to create an academic component from the Colombia trip, by gathering data from the trip, organizing it and using it to engage other students in that process, as a sort of participatory research project. 

Listening to the narratives of the Colombians expands the idea of conflict and shows how complicated the situations can be, Tinnin said. Watching how individuals process such complex situations, and then seeing how others can examine their processes, can be a powerful lesson in fostering understanding, she said. 

“Seeing people’s different approaches based on their disciplines and their personalities is really cool, and I’m excited to talk about that and learn through other people,” she said. 

Lucente, who hopes to pursue a career as an international photojournalist, said one of the stories that stuck with her most strongly was that of a former combatant in the war, who was recruited by one of the militia groups at a young age.

“He would go in and out of this forest to fight, and now he’s one of the managers of this community and he does all these different projects to build the community up, so his life has kind of switched to something completely different,” she said. “It was just interesting to hear because it doesn’t excuse anything they did during the conflict, but it paints a more well-rounded picture. That’s what we’re presenting on how the storytelling creates a more well-rounded picture of a conflict and of the people involved.” 

Halaszi, who is considering law school after graduation and a possible career in immigration and human rights law, said he was impressed by how, no matter what the locals had been through during years of conflict, most were focused on preserving their history and improving their communities. They used their storytelling to share not only what they had been through, but as a way to further understanding of what had happened to them, individually, and to their communities and country. 

“At the end of the day, they all wanted to share their stories and make sure that they were understood by us, and by other people coming to visit,” Halaszi said. 

Since all three shared a similar takeaway on the storytelling aspect of creating understanding, Halaszi said they felt the topic would be pertinent to the Rwanda peace conference.  

The trip, Tinnin said, also taught her a great deal about the current contentious state of American politics and how easily political conflicts can tip into violent conflicts. 

Lucente said she saw how the Colombian people were creating peace on a daily basis. “It’s something that’s being built. It’s not just something that happened once the peace accords were signed. They are building peace every day through their communities.” 

The conference concludes July 13.

POSTED: Thursday, July 13, 2023 06:58 AM
Updated: Friday, July 28, 2023 02:24 PM
Lisa Abraham