Christian Mani, MA-COEX Speaker
Good Morning Dean Lynch, honored guests, faculty, staff, students and friends and families.
I was born in Sierra Leone. During my formative years my country experienced an intense and devastating eleven-year civil war. Everybody in my country experienced the terrible effects of this war. As I grew older it was my dream to contribute to a peace process for sustainable development.
When the war ended I went to work with the United Nations to help with recovery of my country. After that I went to Sudan where the people were experiencing continued war. At the UN we worked on issues of governance, political space and conflict resolution. When I was working there I knew I needed further training to be able to contribute in such challenging conditions.
Being accepted at Brandeis gave me the opportunity to actualize my dream. At the Coexistence Program I met and interacted with many colleagues from all over the world. I leaned from their experiences and have maintained constant contact with them for information sharing and close collaboration.
Upon completion of my studies at Brandeis I went back to Sudan to contribute to the peace process and the capacity building of institutions. I work for Mercy Corps as Local Governance Advisor in the Abyei area of Sudan. It is a USAID-funded Democracy and Governance program in Sudan. I advise the Abyei Area Administration on service delivery and management of the services. I also engage the Civil Society organizations in discussions on community development and security issues.
Because of my education here, I managed to accomplish many things through the tools and skills acquired from my coursework. The strategies of intervention that I acquired in the Coex Program have made it possible to design projects and activities that would ensure capacity building and inclusive participation of all members of the community to identify and prioritize needs and do joint implementation.
The Dinkas and Missiriya ethnic groups in the Abyei disputed area are diehard enemies who have always been fighting each other over grass land, water source and oil deposit. Through the numerous dialogue sessions and regular community consultations with all interest groups, we have been able to ensure the inclusion of many voices in planning and implementation of development activities.Through the conflict mediation and negotiation skills I acquired from the Coex program, I have been able to organize community consensus building and dialogue sessions between leaders and youth of opposing ethnic groups. This has been successful because it established a forum where the two parties started seeing issues from the other's perspective. They realized the essence for frank talks and the need for collaboration in developing their communities.
To achieve a cohesive shared society where every individual or group of people is a valued asset in the effort to promote the culture of interdependence and collaboration, a conflict sensitive approach to programming is a key element. I have been able to acquire this competence from my training in Brandeis.
This is my story. Each of my colleagues graduating today have their own stories of how they bring the valuable lessons we have learned here into the world.I feel very proud to be part of the Heller School community and privileged to be part of the prestigious Coexistence Program.