Coming in to IFP, I didn’t quite know what to expect. If I’m honest; I’ll admit that I was skeptical about the difference we can make as sixteen and seventeen-year-olds. How are we supposed to make any real change to these conflicts? Timor Leste, for example, has a nation-wide struggle for peace after having won independence only twenty years ago. There is a lot of history and complicated backstory which seems far beyond our collective ability to solve as students.
The real flaw in my previous thinking is that it is not our duty to ‘solve’ such conflicts. The Jah and Kay experiment was particularly striking for me in that it brought some awareness to the fact that we are in a privileged position – and we want to avoid swooping in with patronising assumptions that we can help because we’re wealthier and studying at UWC. Good intentions they may be, but it is not useful. This is actually exactly what I had thought myself before joining IFP. In a way, it is implying that we are coming from a pre-existing position of superiority – not dissimilar to the historical phrase white man’s burden by Rudyard Kipling which justified white colonisation and forced spreading of Christianity. “We must help”; “it is our duty to help as we have more privilege” – et cetera. I believe the same principle applies here. But something incredibly valuable I’ve gathered is that we will not be teaching – rather, facilitating discussions and helping the delegates develop their own ideas of how to build peace to inspire them to work towards this better future. That’s what seems so wonderful about these conferences to me. A chance for me to learn from these people and to make a meaningful impact on the future.
But this whole evolution demonstrates one of the things I can bring to a conference: healthy skepticism about pre-existing ideas, and an open-mindedness and willingness to change. I would like to think I have strong leadership skills as well. This was hopefully demonstrated in the activity we organised and ran with the grade 5s. I tried to think critically for the activity that could best provoke thought and generate discussion, I took initiative, and supported others in my group who have different strengths and weaknesses than I do. This is very reflective of the type of collaborator and leader I am. Having said that, I am also willing to take on different roles in a team. In volleyball and the musical Aida, I didn’t have a lead role or position but I still think it’s valuable to contribute. It is an important question I’ve had to ask myself: not only is IFP suited for me – but am I suited for IFP? Am I able to follow the lead as well as take it? The answer I think is more complicated than a simple yes or no. I can follow the lead – and am perfectly happy to do so as long as I’m not staying silent to the detriment of the primary aim: scaffolding development and critical learning for the delegates. They should be the focus and we should be helping them to teach themselves.
I hope that when I challenge ideas in others I can help them develop their thinking – but I know sometimes I lack sensitivity and patience. Because I am aware of this, however, I am actively paying attention and improving. This has particularly emerged in my attempts to expand my circle of interaction and meet people. Something else I value is dependency and reliability – I have prioritised attendance to IFP and I take my responsibilities very seriously.
Perhaps my biggest weakness lies in the fact that I have strong opinions and often come across as aggressive or bossy. Ignoring some of the gender politics behind that sentiment, I do think there is some truth in it. I am so eager to engage in intellectual pursuits that I miss some of the nuances of language in dealing with vulnerability and emotions. In other words, I would like to work on actively being kinder when involved in intellectual debate, where I can forget. Despite this, I do believe I have progressed a long way this year. The session on empathy by Catherine Parkin was especially valuable for me; I was able to articulate and put into practice some of the principles which I struggle with usually. I do have my weaknesses, as with everyone, but I hope to learn from my fellow peers and the delegates I may meet. In essence, this demonstrates the fundamental benefit of collaborating as a team: my area of weakness will be strong in another – and vice versa. I have already learnt so much about empathy and compassion from other IFP members – we really are a very diverse group. I also look forward to meeting and collaborating with the Dover IFPers with different strengths and ideas.
My passion for peacebuilding and conflict resolution/prevention has also grown from my decision to take IFP instead of doing the production which are on at the same time. I don’t regret this decision – I have learnt so much from the teacher and student facilitators about the process and myself.
If I am honest, this whole application feels like I am talking an awful lot about myself; but the focus should be on the delegates. These conferences are more about the communities than improving ourselves (which is something to achieve for; but not the primary aim). I am passionate about the flaws in welfare systems and how we can work towards both sustainable human development but also environmentally-positive infrastructure in developing countries – and I will work hard to provide the most valuable experience to these delegates. They are the focus, not us, and this conference really is the opportunity to make a difference to people who really need it – through facilitating positive peace and development.