Six Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS) students from Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo were selected to attend the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) United Nations (UN) Office Seminar on November 1-3, 2023. The three-day event held in New York City invited student delegates from across Canada and the United States to gather with one question in mind, does the UN matter? 

This past July, UN Secretary-General António Guterres presented his Policy Brief on A New Agenda for Peace, an outline of his vision for peace and security based on international law. Students learned, discussed, and evaluated this new agenda, applying learnings to their own context and listening to perspectives from fellow students. The seminar offered an opportunity to engage with presenters from the fields of UN diplomacy, international NGOs, and MCC experts and partners. Hosted at the Church Center of the UN, faith-based advocacy was also a prominent topic, alongside general discussion and learning about calls to reform the UN.  

“The UN doesn’t have as much power as I initially thought they did,” said delegate and first-year PACS student, Barak Kline. Upper-year PACS student Rhys Fitzpatrick added that “there seems to be frustration from many peacebuilders due to geopolitical barriers,” noting that it is often up to individuals within the UN to do the best they can to work around them.  

The trip provided students with the opportunity to step out of the realm of their textbooks momentarily and learn first-hand the realities that surround the peacebuilding sector. “The honesty of the speakers regarding deficiencies of the institute has inspired me to look more critically at the systems that govern our world,” shared Rhys. He believes that the UN “certainly has the capacity not only to matter in peacebuilding but to be the driving force behind it.” 

There was no shortage of diverse perspectives and stories as UN representatives flew in and presented from countries across the world, such as Korea, Sweden, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – to name a few. “It was enlightening and encouraging to hear about peacebuilding efforts actually happening around the world in real places, with real people,” said Barak. “Too often I only hear of conflicts at their peak and not of peacebuilding in action.” 

Throughout the event were moments of worship, biblical reflection, and presentations from Mennonite speakers. PACS student Katrina Janzen spoke about her learning of faith-based advocacy within the UN. “Hearing from MCC partners and staff who are connected with the UN around the world was inspiring,” she reflected. “This conference highlighted how faith-based organizations can play an important role in advocacy both locally and globally.”

Barak said he was reminded that “we serve a God of peace and that it is God who empowers us to do His will on earth.” Four of the six students individually reflected on one common outcome of the event – a newfound increase in their drive and passion for peacebuilding. Through thoughtful discussion with other students, and UN leaders, and exposure to behind-the-scenes of the peacebuilding sector, this conference enhanced student interest in PACS. “Sometimes while studying Peace and Conflict Studies, it can be hard to predict a future career in the field,” said delegate and final-year PACS student, Renee Lee Wah. “This conference helped me place into perspective what we learn in class and piece it together with the real-world impact.”  

The end of the three-day conference was marked with a time of open sharing where Barak noted that he became emotional listening to his peers share reflections from the short time they shared together as a community. “My emotions empowered me and inspired me to strive for peace in new ways that I don’t understand currently,” he said. “I still have some reflecting to do. I am inspired by the calls to reform the UN as there are gaps and power imbalances that need to be fixed.” 

Empowering. Inspiring. Memorable. These are the words the students used to describe their days in New York City. From kickstarting their careers to walking through Times Square, Barak, Rhys, Katrina, and Renee returned to their studies with new energy, perspectives, and drive for their field.

By Farhan Saeed  


If you are thinking about a career in transformative peacebuilding, community leadership, entrepreneurship in conflict management programming, or a career with community and international development organizations such as the United Nations, education systems, law firms, social services, refugee resettlement program support, and more, come study Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Waterloo.