Interview with Lucia Fetzer (peace expert, Rwanda)

What is your professional background?

I have an interdisciplinary background with a B.A. in cultural studies and an M.A. in European studies. I specialised in various conflict contexts (including Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Bosnia and Sri Lanka). These are also the countries where I gained work experience, mostly with civil society and state bodies involved in international cooperation.

What is your job as a peace expert?

I support the partner organisation IBUKA, which is a network for genocide survivors. Together we have initiated a project in Southern Province in which volunteers are trained in trauma management and conflict transformation. These volunteers then mediate within their own environments when conflicts arise and alleviate the symptoms of trauma that are often linked to these conflicts. In this way they help the reconciliation process in their own communities. I’ve been involved at every stage of project development, in planning, implementation and evaluation. I’ve also supported networking, initiated a regional exchange of experience via Civil Peace Service partners in Burundi, and advised IBUKA on organisational development issues, including fundraising and PR.

Why did you decide to work for GIZ as a peace expert?

The pivotal factor in my decision was my general interest in conflicts and inter-personal interaction. I was curious to see how people in other cultures deal with conflicts. As a peace expert I have the opportunity to explore this at grassroots level and to learn about others and about myself through intercultural exchange.

Tell us about a typical working day.

My working days vary enormously. Mostly I work in the office in the south of the country with the local expert. We discuss matters, document project activities and plan the next steps. Sometimes we are visited by volunteers who tell us about their progress and the challenges they are facing, or by other Rwandan civil society or state partners working in the same field. We often undertake field visits in the three districts in which we are working. Either we hold workshops which are attended by 30 of the total of 90 volunteers, or we visit individual volunteers and their ‘clients’ at their homes to investigate the peacebuilding impacts of our work and to listen to suggestions as to how it could be improved. About one third of my working time is spent in the main office of my partner organisation in Kigali, the capital city. Here I attend strategic meetings to strengthen IBUKA and help mainstream the knowledge on conflict transformation gained in the south within the organisation. I also support communication between IBUKA and GIZ. At regular meetings with other peace experts and partners of the Civil Peace Service, we refine the country programme together. And we’re stepping up cooperation between partner organisations.

How do you find working as a peace expert for the Civil Peace Service programme?

Exhausting and enriching! On the one hand, I’m very much responsible for what I do and have the opportunity to work closely with local partners and target groups, which gives me endless opportunities to make my own contributions and to help achieve results. It’s very satisfying to see the direct impacts of our work on the local population. On the other hand, processes are often sluggish and in some cases destructive. That makes it important to be able to distance yourself and to know just how much you can take. I see the Civil Peace Service programme as very much team-oriented though, and have received huge support and backing from within the programme.

What has been your most important experience as a peace expert?

I’m impressed by the strength, openness and willingness to learn demonstrated by people who have experienced incredible suffering. My role as peace expert gives me direct access to the stories of ordinary Rwandans’ everyday lives, and allows me to see the changes these people go through as a result of the empowerment process we have initiated. Seeing how genocide survivors, who until recently were having problems coming to terms with their own trauma symptoms, are now supporting others and helping them cope with the suffering they have gone through, or how they achieve reconciliation with perpetrators, is a very moving testimony to humanity and hope.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work as a peace expert for GIZ’s Development Service under the Civil Peace Service programme?

If you’re going to work as a peace expert, it’s important that you enjoy intercultural communication, that you have the will to listen properly, and that you’re a good team player. Before you take the step you should take a long hard look at your own ability to cope with frustration and consider how flexible you really are, because few things actually work out on the ground as planned. It’s absolutely essential to have effective, tried-and-tested self-protection mechanisms.