“When I was in Hebron, heading through checkpoints meant our Palestinian guide had to show his ID while I breezed through,” said Jessica Dyck, 2015 graduate of the Master of Peace and Conflict Studies (MPACS) program. “He wasn’t permitted to walk down certain streets in his hometown while I could. I was struck by how this mirrored what I have read and learned about apartheid South Africa.”

After Jessica graduated with a Bachelor of Arts she was hired at an engineering firm working on proposals, but she knew she wanted more. “My time at the engineering firm helped me understand how parts of the world work, and MPACS helped me understand how I can be part of positive change in the world,” she said. In her application to the MPACS program Jessica also wrote “I want to leave a footprint behind that helps show the way forward to a better world.”

One of Jessica’s first initiatives towards peace and equity was shortly after graduate school when she packed her bags and headed to East Africa to work with the Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives. What was initially a six-month contract became 15 months as Jessica’s involvement with different projects grew. Posted in the capital city, Lilongwe, she worked closely with Group Savings and Loan Associations – a micro credit union format that empowers people to loan, save, and manage their funds.

Following her time in Malawi, Jessica worked several contract positions before finding full-time work as a Senior Program Manager and Consultant. Jessica is glad to be doing work that supports organizations to identify and transform their core conflicts. “After studying in MPACS, I feel an obligation to use my time and energy to build a more just and equitable world,” said Jessica. She does this through her work and through volunteering in her community.

After a learning tour with Mennonite Central Committee to Palestine and Israel ignited a passion for peace and justice in the region, Jessica has volunteered with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC)’s Palestine Israel Network (PIN) Working Group, whose mandate is to educate constituent churches and advocate for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel. That work has included organizing events like a podcast study club, facilitating the Palestine Land Exercise (similar to the Kairos Blanket Exercise), and hosting speaker events like those with former UN Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestine Territories, Michael Lynk, who spoke on human rights and international law.

Speaking to the unique trajectory of her career, Jessica is grateful for the flexibility of the MPACS program. “I used to see it as a choose-your-own-adventure semester,” mused Jessica. “The variety of courses I took and experiences that I was able to take part in enabled me to expand my knowledge and helped me to secure jobs across different sectors.” Jessica also had the opportunity to work as a Research Assistant under PACS Chair Reina Neufeldt, and was part of a team that published a research paper – an experience that provided her with meaningful feedback and the confidence to continue growing in the field.

During her time working in Malawi with MUSCCO and its partner agencies, Jessica used knowledge from the MPACS program to lead workshops on conflict resolution with the objective of equipping her colleagues with new tools for and increased confidence in their Conflict Resolution Skills and creating a space in which participants find support in their colleagues. Jessica noted that there was very little encouragement or constructive criticism of her work until one day when she was travelling back from two days of leading workshops. Her colleague looked over at her and said, “Jessica, you have left a stick in Malawi.”

“What does that mean?” Jessica asked.

“You have made an impact here by giving knowledge to the people. You will be missed,” he explained.

“This was an unexpected and appreciated gift,” Jessica said, reflecting on his words. “It feels appropriate to update my ‘leave footprints’ goal and instead will continue to try to leave sticks in the places that I live and work."

By Farhan Saeed