Alumni Spotlight: Leah Spigelman

Leah Spigelman
Volunteer Corps, Thailand, 2007

Leah Spigelman participated in AJWS Volunteer Corps in Thailand in 2007. She received an AJWS-AVODAH Double Impact Social Justice Grant to support her internship with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the UN Mission in Liberia, helping to oversee the Liberia Peacebuilding Fund. Leah is currently pursuing a master's degree at Tufts University.

I am currently in my second year at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where I study human security, conflict resolution and environmental resource policy. I have a particularly strong interest in peacebuilding, since it cuts across these fields. Like many of my classmates here, I spent the summer overseas, "in the field," applying my academic and professional experiences through an internship that exposed me to a new region and new sectors.

I worked for the government of Liberia in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, focusing on its emerging peacebuilding and conflict-sensitivity programs and policies. I collaborated closely with colleagues at the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) who jointly oversee the Liberia Peacebuilding Fund with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This past summer, Liberia passed the five-year mark since the signing of a peace agreement ending its 14-year civil war: an important landmark for a post-conflict country.

Liberia taught me much about the processes of peacebuilding and reconstruction. Working with the Liberia Peacebuilding Fund allowed me to assist in increasing communication among various stakeholders, ranging from UN headquarters in New York to the participants and recipients of individual peacebuilding efforts throughout Liberia.

At Fletcher, I have had the privilege to study with professors who are also practitioners, who seek creative solutions for some of the most serious challenges in our world (climate change, inter- and intra-state conflicts, poverty) as well as the systemic problems in the institutions and mechanisms that have been established to alleviate them. The challenges of poverty and conflict do not have an easily transferable, one-size-fits-all model. In the field of peacebuilding, it is rare to have a wholly successful model even within just one context. Before going to Liberia, I felt prepared for the challenges I would confront both "in the field" and in the international institutions, but living and working with these challenges is different than merely knowing about them.

My internship helped me to continue learning about the means and goals of post-conflict reconstruction, grounding my questions in the context of Liberia. How does a country disarm, demobilize and reintegrate its ex-combatants into communities and family structures? How do communities overcome the fractures suffered by conflict and displacement? How does a country build trust among members of its population who endured and participated in years of structural violence and direct hostility? How does a government draw on resources of the international community to assist in peacebuilding efforts that will take decades, but use funding sources that require large-scale changes in only a few years?

For me, there is also a personal question: how does an international aid worker offer perspective and experience on the process of rebuilding, while supporting institutions that are created, used and perpetuated by the national population? Throughout this year and beyond, I hope to continue engaging in the many challenges to building peace, most importantly because another lesson of the summer was understanding just how high the stakes are in doing this well.