Student Profile: Fatoumatta Camara – On Transitional Justice and Building Community

Friday, May 3, 2024
Photo of Fatoumatta Camara

“Today, as we stand on the threshold of a new chapter in our lives, I am filled with profound gratitude and hope. Reflecting on our collective journey, I am reminded of the remarkable challenges we have overcome and the invaluable experiences that have shaped us into the individuals we are today”, said MPACS graduate Fatoumatta Camara, addressing her peers as the Valedictorian of Grebel’s graduate class of 2024. Fatoumatta’s long-standing passion for understanding conflict and fostering peace has stemmed from both her own life experiences and those of the people around her. Back home in The Gambia, she was the founding member of an organization called PeaceHub The Gambia, which promotes peacebuilding and reconciliation by empowering women and youth. She and another founding member, who had seen the impacts of genocide on social cohesion in Rwanda, were united by their experiences with conflict and corruption— and their desire to make a difference. 

Prior to attending the University of Waterloo, Fatoumatta intended to pursue a career in diplomacy and international relations. However, The Gambia’s 2017 political impasse, during which half of the population was displaced, changed the trajectory of her career path. “Even though we went to our families in neighbouring countries, it never felt like home,” she says, reflecting on this time in her life. This experience sparked Fatoumatta’s desire to better understand why conflict turns violent, and to explore alternative methods of conflict resolution. In her search for a graduate program, she was drawn to MPACS because of its interdisciplinary approach and the many internship opportunities offered by the department.  

When Fatoumatta began the MPACS program, her primary interests were international relations and good governance, but classes like PACS 602 and PACS 605 strengthened her interest in restorative and transitional justice practices. She was able to apply the skills she had developed in the classroom through an assignment in PACS 602, where she worked with a community-based organization, Camino Mental Health (formerly Carizon), to develop an evaluation tool through participatory observation. Not wanting to evaluate a program that she did not understand, Fatoumatta asked to join in on the trainings herself, and the facilitators agreed. 

“The first time I went to the training, it was really transformative for me because this was something that we were practicing back home … These are concepts we can use to advance peace and social justice.” 

Since then, she has been to five trainings. She has also taken the Advanced Peacemaker Circles Training at UW and has developed a sense of community with the people she has been practicing with. “It has been elevating for me and built my confidence”, she says. 

In her final term as an MPACS student, Fatoumatta also worked as a Coordinator for the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement (CPA), where she was involved with the CPA’s many programs and partner organizations. This desire to affect change through involvement in organizations like the CPA has been instilled in her by MPACS: 

The [MPACS] program’s emphasis on reflective practice, ethical leadership and social justice has inspired me to pursue other opportunities which are aimed at fostering inclusive dialogue, sustainable peace both here in Canada and globally.

When asked about her growth throughout the MPACS program, she laughed and said, “where do I start?” For Fatoumatta, this opportunity to learn and strengthen her skills as a peacemaker has been invaluable. The constant opportunities to engage with her professors and peers, discussing different viewpoints, perspectives, and methodologies, have helped to shape her own perspective. 

I think I have grown a lot, not only academically but individually. I have met a lot of amazing people, learned from them … I have had interesting conversations that have broadened my understanding of not only peace and conflict but human rights, religion, culture, gender… there has been a lot of growth in the past year and a half.

Fatoumatta’s strongest recommendation to incoming MPACS students is to make friends, both within and outside of the program. Coming to Canada as an international student was a challenging adjustment— a self-described “leap of faith”— but the friends that she has made along the way have helped her remain resilient. 

“There is a very vibrant community here, that is amazing with helping to navigate the challenges you face as a student … I would not have been able to achieve the things I achieved without the support and community from the friends I had around me”. 

Fatoumatta wrapped up her time in the MPACS program by presenting her research at the MPACS Winter Research Colloquium. Her research was centered on restorative justice as a practice for healing, and on how colonialism has affected restorative practices in The Gambia. In her paper, she recommends restorative justice practices for juvenile offenders, filling an existing gap in this area of study and applying her passion for restorative justice.  

Ultimately, the MPACS program has strengthened Fatoumatta’s desire to continue exploring restorative justice and become a restorative justice practitioner. Her first order of business as an MPACS graduate, she says, is to finally catch up on her sleep; but the next step in her journey will undoubtedly include working towards building a brighter, more peaceful world.  

By Alivia Schill