Jirah Kaye Luison (Master of Global Affairs, International Peace Studies, '21)

Author: Matthew Macke

Hometown: Butuan City, Philippines

Program: Keough School Master of Global Affairs, International Peace Studies Concentration

Research Interest: Adolescent and youth participation in governance, especially in post-conflict situations.

You had been working in the fields of peace and development in Malaysia and the Philippines for almost a decade before you came here. What drew you to Notre Dame and this program?

There aren’t many options on peace studies and development all over the world. I didn’t apply to any other programs. I met four students from Kroc five or six years ago in one of the peacebuilding institutes in Mindanao and they told me about this program. I felt that it was what I was looking for because it’s not only theoretical. Policy, implementation, and research are things we discuss in many of the classes and that’s what the people I met told me. The actual work done on the ground really mattered to me.

Children don’t seem to be a major consideration in peacebuilding very often, so what made you interested in youth empowerment?

I’ve always been a child volunteer. I started volunteering for World Vision when I was eight years old. We would perform in a theater talking about child abuse, child labor, and drug abuse. That transitioned to volunteering in the office. Of course, as a child volunteer yourself, you know that you have ideas, but the adults don’t really take them into consideration. That was a big part of my work with UNICEF: making sure that young people and adolescents are not only asked for their opinions, but are a part of the planning process and even the implementation. One thing lacking in many youth programs is a partnership with the children. Don’t only see them as beneficiaries, but partners in development.

Why is it so important to get young people involved in peace and community building?

Because in so many countries half of the population is young people. If you don’t include them at a young age, then they don’t really see the importance of participation when they get older. Maybe they can learn, but it gets harder when they enter the workforce. Again, they already have really good ideas. They’re very creative, resilient, and all these positive things. They know what is good for them. For projects or programs to be successful, I think it’s important to ask the beneficiaries or participants what they actually want and not just assume what they want because that is what you wanted when you were younger.

Sometimes bureaucracy, red tape, and all those forms are barriers to participation. I’m not trying to remove those things, just to make it easier. Communities benefit because the kids are giving back, and the children benefit because they feel like they belong in this society.

Have any of the kids’ ideas really impressed you?

Oh yeah. When I was working with UNICEF, we asked them about activities they wanted to do. One of the ideas was storytelling, but not just in one area. Traveling storytellers. It was for other kids or other young people to know what the stories are from different areas. In the Philippines, in one region there would be so many different tribes with different conflicts and different ways of managing conflicts. What they wanted to do was share those stories, because, for them, stories are really powerful.

Also, the use of social media in everything you do. Young people use social media in so many things, even advocacy. They taught us that social media is the way to go, especially during this pandemic. People barely see each other and it’s put a halt on some activities, but some kids have used social media as a tool to continue the work.

Any favorite classes or professors? Any lessons that have stood out?

My classmates are always asking who my favorite professor is, but I don’t really have a favorite. But there are a few courses I like. I’m taking Forced Migration and Asylum Seekers [taught by Erin Corcoran] and that’s one I really like; talking about the policies and situations of refugees all over the world. I connect it to how young people are always treated and how they can participate in positions made for them.

I also like Decolonial Methodologies [taught by Justin De Leon], because, coming from the Philippines, we have been colonized a lot. 350 years of colonization. We barely have knowledge of anything that really came from the Philippines. Coming here, it was eye opening that our culture is there, but it’s not respected. 

Is there anything you have learned during your time at Notre Dame that you wish you would have known when you were working with UNICEF or Forum Civil Peace Service?

There are many things that we don’t really know in the field. We do things, but sometimes the theory of it gets lost. For example, I wish I could have read more about John Paul Lederach’s work or Peter Wallensteen’s work, because that really could have shaped our work on the ground, especially working with Forum Civil Peace Service. We dealt a lot with conflict transformation and local peacebuilding, so that would have been really helpful for me. We had training within the organization, but it’s different if you read it in class and focus on it.

You said you got involved in volunteering when you were eight years old. How did you get started that young?

My mom was a big part of how I got started, because I saw her volunteer and I wanted to volunteer myself. It was just very inspiring. Also, you meet children of different ages from different schools, so I think that made me volunteer more, too. I learned a lot from them.

Are there any interactions you have had with children that frequently come back to you and inspire you?

I go back to this one experience a lot. One of my first jobs was in Malaysia working with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. At the school for refugees there wasn’t much manpower, so I would teach sometimes. There was this child who was in Grade 1—primary school—and she was already 10 or 9 years old. She didn’t learn how to read and write. I would teach her, but I had to be very patient because, if I didn’t point to the letters and where to put the letters, she wouldn’t know where to write it. We did that for one whole page and I was a little frustrated and annoyed, because it was taking a long time. When we finished, I told her we were done and turned to walk away. As I did, she hugged me and said ‘thank you.’ I felt so guilty.

That memory always reminds me that everyone has different experiences. What I did was so little, but it made some impact on that little girl. I felt guilty, but also happy at the same time. So that’s really one of the experiences that I always go back to, especially when I feel unmotivated or frustrated.