The following post was contributed by Kroc School Master’s in Peace and Justice alumna Andrea Garcia ‘20 (MA).
During my second year of studying at University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, I met Mossarat Qadeem, a Women PeaceMakers Fellow whose life goal was to counter violent extremism in Pakistan. When I asked a question in class about moments of feeling inadequate, overwhelmed, or hopeless while facing such tremendous violence and evil—she responded with compassion in her eyes, “Believe me, when you are thrown into the sea, you learn how to swim. I have no other choice but to swim, and I have to train others to swim also.”
Despite her resilience, Mossarat described the environment in which she worked as lacking interconnectivity, filled with fear and uncertainty, and plagued by rampant ignorance and destruction. Although I would not dare to compare Pakistan with San Diego, California, considering the past 12 months I would say that some of us may feel that fear, uncertainty, ignorance, and destruction are all too familiar.
Andrea Garcia with Women PeaceMakers Fellow Mossarat Qadeem.
In fact, it has become all but impossible to ignore the noise: racial injustice, gender inequality, the ever-growing political divide, climate change, and a global pandemic to top it all off. These are indeed moments of history that we will never forget, though I’m sure some of us would prefer to do just that.
At the time I started at the Kroc School, in 2018, choosing to study “peace” was an easy decision. Little did I know that choosing to study “peace” meant choosing to face the noise for the rest of my life, rather than forget it. In my application for the Master’s in Peace and Justice (MAPJ) program, I remember naively stating that “there had never been a more essential time to study and strive for peace.” Little did I know how true those words would ring for me, for my peers and now good friends, and for most of the world. Achieving global harmony and positive peace is truly critical to our survival as a human species. Mutual respect and tolerance toward one another, despite perceived differences, allow for a heightened level of humanity and increased clarity for the pursuit of peace. The MAPJ program allowed me to discover the importance of facing conflict, the value in learning by listening to others, and the need for engagement in opportunities for advocacy and action.
As a requirement of the MAPJ program, I completed a summer internship with Free to Thrive, an organization that empowers survivors of human trafficking in San Diego by providing them with legal services. I was astonished to discover that over the past several years San Diego has consistently ranked in the top 10 cities in the nation for human trafficking. It was during this opportunity that I first explored the wonderful world of nonprofit grant writing to impact the lives of others. This experience essentially taught me how to share the most meaningful stories so that supporters would grasp the vision and importance of addressing human trafficking in San Diego. It was because of this internship that I was able to advance my peacebuilding work to inspire, empower, organize, and fund human rights work.
The Kroc School and Free to Thrive prepared me for what is now my current role at a nonprofit in East County called Crisis House. For over 50 years, our organization has served the needs of survivors of domestic violence and those experiencing homelessness in San Diego. Our goal is to connect families and individuals to resources to empower them to renew their lives, specifically through housing. Crisis House serves an average of 5,000 individuals a year and houses hundreds of families, veterans, mothers, and their children. Working alongside these survivors has taught me, time and time again, that the people who are closest to the problems are closest to the solutions. Effective approaches like housing first, flexible and holistic services that cover a range of needs, and validation of lived experiences for survivors make a difference.
Andrea Garcia with her Kroc School 2020 cohort.
In my current role as Development Manager and grant writer, I’m honored and humbled to say that I’ve been able to raise nearly $2.5 million to support families and individuals experiencing domestic violence and homelessness. Throughout the past year and a half in this role, I’ve experienced the unbelievable power of community and collaboration. From government and private foundation funding to donations from local businesses and community members, every day I witness people choosing to face issues rather than forget them. It has been a source of hope and inspiration despite all of the uncertainty.
The noise around us is harsh, unjust, and prevalent, yet it is through changemakers like Mossarat, the team at Free to Thrive and Crisis House, my amazing peers at the Kroc School choosing to do the work daily, and others I have yet to meet, who dedicate their lives so that change can be made within their communities. No matter how overwhelming the issues may be, we must trust in our ability to keep learning how to listen to others, practice compassion, and form collaborative solutions. It is this relentless love for others and for a more peaceful world that inspires me to remember that no matter how daunting the waves may seem, there is no choice but to swim and teach others to do the same.
Ready to follow in Andrea’s footsteps? Learn more about the Kroc School’s Academic Programs.