By Shabnam Mondal
The whole journey is a reminder. Reminders are lessons in themselves.
The struggle to connect the professional to the personal
The past two months of being an intern at PaCSIA (Peace and Conflict studies Institute Australia) has opened up a new door of curiosity in my mind. Being a student of journalism and international relations, I realized a while ago that if I wanted to make any amount of difference in the world, I’d have to pick and choose which worldly issues I cared the most about and wanted to invest in. If I didn’t decide what I care the most for, I would be too diversified to have a meaningful impact on things that truly mattered to me. Meaning that I might develop new skill sets and larger amounts of knowledge, but a lot of skills I’d acquire would be surface level.
When I was placed with PaCSIA, I had an inkling that it was beyond my comfort zone of professional and academic knowledge. This was because the organization works with conflict and peace studies, conflict resolution and relational peacebuilding, largely focusing on Papa New Guinea, Bougainville and other surrounding areas. I am however an India student divided between Bangladesh, West Bengal and Delhi. My political focus has mostly been the politics and relations in the Indian subcontinent, USA and the Middle-East. This makes the politics of the Southwest Pacific countries very new to me.
The conventional way to approach any tangible issue one faces during a placement would be to come up with a professional answer that is a process moving from A to B to C and finally to a solution. However so much of a challenge in an internship is firstly, to care and connect to the goals and ideas of the organization. The first week into working, I was presented with a large amount of information that I had to consume. This led me deep into Papa New Guinea and Bougainville politics, both internal and international. Civil conflict, mining exploitation, questions of independence, and entire country’s history of the last few decades were to be explored.
Why this is important for me to address is because; in knowing the politics of the region I was supposed to work with, led me to an old-held belief (now forgotten) – that no matter what part of the world we are in, so much of our political struggle is similar to each other. Working with PaCSIA was a reminder of our political commonality, something I’d forgotten in academia, and came to realize again while I was conducting research for PaCSIA on a new creative media plan and writing some content. There was no space for the emotion of politics, or oneself, or even ones identity. There was no space for connection or political empathy. Everything was statistics, lessons, lectures, intellect, and knowledge. Only the basic necessities.
Designing a media plan was a task meant to be executed carefully because of the sensitive nature of the work PaCSIA does. My skills as a journalism student were required, mixed with the political intelligence inculcated in academia. The right things had to be said in the right way with the emotional intelligence required of knowing when I didn’t know enough to be drafting content.
My focus was creating content about the region of Bougainville, somewhere I didn’t know much about, if anything at all. The initial stages of research, both reading, but also watching videos, listening to Bougainvilleans talk about themselves and their home, the things that concerned them, their art and lifestyle and how they wanted their conflicts to be resolved was quite a revelation in that manner. Here was this place far away from anything I recognized or knew about, but their language sounded like one I knew- close both to my mother tongue (Bengali) as well as the Hindi vernacular.
The people looked similar to ones I’d left behind in my home country, they had the same sense of laughter and community, and even similar kinds of crafts they indulged in. Here was an entire population of talented, complex, political human beings that existed outside of the conventional hard power politics of first world countries. Most importantly they had their own style of dialogue and peacebuilding and wanted to pioneer their struggles with their own people.
Working with PaCSIA has given me access to a fort of knowledge, but the most primary lesson at the end of the day has been that even in difference and distance, the stories can be similar, the people as warm and proud of their identity, and that there truly is power in dialogue and the will of a community, in building a country.