My UPEACE Experience
Author: Gale Mohammed-Oxley
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 02/02/2011
An Organisation of American States and a University of Peace Scholarship brought me to the shores of Costa Rica. Having heard little of this University I did not have any idea of what to expect and held no expectations. The flight over was good/safe , my entrance to the country was questioning as I looked forward to see something of a Welcome sign at the airport as I would see in the Caribbean when any group of guests were entering the country. The taxi driver was efficient as he pointed out places of interest along the way to my rental apartment which I had to change eventually by the kind and gracious Department of Admissions.
The entry to the University was also one that lacked welcome. However that was soon to be dismissed by Rosario Gutierrez who explained the happenings on Campus, gave us folders of information and took us around the grounds to learn the different places on Campus. What struck me most was the presence of hammocks in strategic places for students to relax.
Then it was on to my class to be greeted by a very efficacious facilitator in the persons of Victoria Fontan and the calm cooling presence of Professor Virginia Cowagas. I reached just at the call of class. What struck me again is that there was no opening prayer or acknowledging of the divine. There were many African members due to the specific nature of the course- Curriculum Design for Peace and Conflict Studies – for the Great Lakes Population. It was a pleasure to be among so many nations of differing backgrounds, culture and languages. The accents I heard during introductions made me feel that I was at the tower of Babel, with the change that we all can speak so we all understand.
Then it was off to lunch from what I will like to call the ‘public relations’ manager – Edgar – of the UPEACE. The cafeteria was a buzz of faces with differing languages and nationalities. Having come from a country with a similar background this made me feel at home. What I felt amazed about was the fact that all these people are advocates of one kind or another to some aspect of life and humanity that they want to see improve. It was amazing that both students and facilitators mingle like any other café, discussing issues and the energy accompanied such discussions. This was truly an experience.
In the afternoon there was a reception for new students (henceforth every Monday for the three weeks of the January Institute) with some staff in attendance. All introduced themselves and it was another wonder moment to hear the various countries these people came from – North, East, West and South – in the world. The short social gathering afterwards allowed new and old to mingle and make new friends.
UPEACE is a truly globalised community with its mandate to improve the livelihood of humanity. The spectrum of ideas, cultures and interests existing among humanity can be seen and experiences here. The proverbial saying ‘birds of feather flock together’ is ideal as we saw with the ‘brown bag’ sessions during lunchtime when scholars were given an ear by peers to listen to their presentations and give immediate feedback to their ideas while they eat their lunch. Then there was the excitement of the transportation by the designated buses on schedule. To me the most impressive was the security that gave a visible presence and checked areas on time every day and night. They looked sincere and conscientious in their duties. Some could not speak English but their expressions of care and safety gave you a secure feeling. You felt taken care of when these guys in uniform appeared.
Another feature of the UPEACE campus was the library, computer services and copy services. The staffs there were very efficient, gracious and cordial. Always ready to please. The medical staff was also there to give medical advice and dispense supplies if what you needed was in stock. The administrative building is in a very strategic position away from the classrooms. You have to climb steps, as the buildings are on split levels, to reach the offices of the Earth Charter Initiative, the Peace and Conflict Monitor, the Information Technology Department and other administrative services. Physical activity is a must on this campus.
I will say that life at UPEACE Campus is contemplative to those who are authentic in their quest for Peace. You are forced to sit back and examine the lives of others as you hear their stories, experience the different cultures and share your presence with other people of differing backgrounds and professions. The landscape is breath-taking as the campus faces one of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes and stands on the path to a hikers trail to the Pacific Coastline. You hear the rustle of the wind as it moves through the trees and if you are a historian there are monuments around the campus grounds where you can make contact with one of your favourite peace personalities. The staff is trying their best and the students need to come with a more hopeful vision for the future. As I leave the campus I am motivated to begin a link between UPEACE campus and the universities in the Caribbean. I know that the Caribbean has a lot to offer the peace process and there will be many more Caribbean students attending UPEACE in the future. Thank you O.A.S/UPEACE/U.N.
Bio: Gale Mohammed-Oxley Managing Director at G.O.International-Consultants in Education, Trinidad and Tobago.