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A Cultural Awakening Leads to Abundance of

Conflict Resolution Opportunities

Buzz McClain, George Mason University News

1 September 2015


Image: School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution student Vanessa Cardenas is serving an internship at Genocide Watch in Arlington, Va. Photo by Alexis Glenn.


Growing up in the Manila suburb of Cainta Rizal in the Philippines, Vanessa Cardenas admits she was one of the lucky ones, living in gated communities and not really paying attention to the slums she was driven through on her way to church or the mall.

A move to Fairfax, Va., as a young teen opened her eyes to what she left behind: Social imbalance in a dysfunctional society.

“I finally saw a functioning society and knew something was wrong with the process” in the Philippines, she said. It dawned on her that conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be rooted in the traditional form of active combat.

“There can be slow structural violence,” she said.

The move awakened her instinct to help others. Cardenas is a senior at George Mason University, with a double major in conflict analysis and resolution and global affairs. She focuses on transitional justice, a field that delves into post-war reconstruction and reconciliation and investigates possible crimes against humanity.

Cardenas is also learning Arabic; is an officer with Agora, the campus conflict resolution student organization; and spent the summer as an intern at Mason’s Genocide Watch. She also volunteers with Open International, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit founded by fellow School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution student Khady Lusby that helps assure academic success for children in Senegal, particularly girls.

Cardenas, an Oxford Honors recipient, created the Transnational English Tutorial Initiative for Open International. Volunteers from Mason and Catholic University offering English language lessons to school children in Senegal via Skype.

“The project encourages global citizenship,” she said. “This not only teaches the inspiring and incredibly driven young women in Senegal, but is also a life-changing learning experience for the tutors themselves.”

Grades have improved and enrollment in the school has increased as parents have transferred their children to the school with “the American tutors.”

She hopes to implement the project in the Philippines with more Mason volunteers.

As an intern at Genocide Watch, she was immersed in human rights issues, wrote briefs, created a website and scoured the world’s news sources for indications of incipient or continuing genocides—the targeting and killing of a specific ethnic population. It’s a duty she does not take lightly.

“She’s fabulous,” said Genocide Watch founder and president Gregory Stanton. “She’s creative and can help us with the technical things that are extremely important to us, and she’s just a joy to work with.”

Cardenas is an example of a new generation of young people, Stanton said.

“In the 1980s, almost nobody knew what genocide was; the field was just beginning. Now we see it’s a huge problem and young people want to change the world, not just get a job and get a paycheck. It’s inspirational to be with people like Vanessa.”

Write to Buzz McClain at


Copyright: George Mason University News 2015

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