Surrounded with a constant influx of news reporting on global tragedies, most Americans find themselves feeling helpless about their ability to make a positive impact on the world. With almost 11 percent of the global population living on less than $2 a day, the future can appear bleak. However, positive change happens when individuals decide that they cannot accept the global conditions they see on the news. Peacework, a nonprofit based in Blacksburg, Virginia, fights complacency and poverty to create real change in the world.
Peacework was born in 1989 in the midst of the Cold War. The organization was created in response to the devastation in Nicaragua caused by conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. Peacework’s first project brought together college students from both the United States and Russia to rebuild Nicaraguan houses destroyed in the conflict. Since then, the nonprofit has developed its outreach internationally. Peacework fights global poverty by teaming up with universities and international agencies to create projects that empower poverty-stricken locals to develop self-reliance.
Peacework’s philosophy integrates educating and equipping college students in the United States and aiding individuals and communities around the world. Peacework coordinates trips with any universities that are interested in a service trip, with a willingness to send them all over the world. By expanding the worldview of young people and inspiring them to make a global impact, Peacework hopes to create a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Over the last few decades, Peacework has collaborated with many international organizations to create global change. Their projects have included anti-trafficking initiatives in Thailand, agricultural development programs for farmers in Vietnam, healthcare expansion in Belize and financial literacy curriculum in several different countries. All their initiatives are centralized around the idea that self-reliance and self-determination are the best gifts that can be given.
The Borgen Project had the opportunity to speak with Steve Darr, the founder and current Executive Director of Peacework, to learn more about the organization’s mission.
The Borgen Project: What is Peacework’s primary goal?
Darr: “To ultimately bring people together across cultures and nationalities around a common purpose; technically it’s cross-sector collaboration and different areas of development.”
TBP: Why did you found Peacework?
Darr: “I had always thought that universities needed to provide more opportunities for undergraduates to apply their studies in a global context. There were hardly any opportunities to do that in the developing world; there were plenty of opportunities to go to London and Paris but not to South Africa, India, or any other developing country and I thought that was valuable. At the time, there was a war going on in Central America sponsored by the United States on one side and the Soviet Union on the other side and the people in Nicaragua were caught in the middle. Many communities had been devastated by the fighting, and so I thought that launching this program would be a great way to bring students together from across conflicting political perspectives and work together to create a more peaceful world; thus the name Peacework.”
TBP: How has Peacework evolved as an organization?
Darr: “There aren’t as many areas where we are actually working in conflict situations now, the programs have evolved more towards giving an experience of different cultures and places and people in order to better understand the world and create a more peaceful future.”
TBP: Why is the work Peacework does so important?
Darr: “It broadens people’s horizons tremendously at a very formative stage in their lives. As they are developing the skills and knowledge for the rest of their lives this is a tremendous opportunity for them to use these skills and talents where there are critical needs.”
TBP: What is the most difficult part of your job?
Darr: “The most difficult part is the internal management because there are financial challenges as well as administrative challenges that are never-ending, but it is all worth it because of the tremendous response that I get from the people who have participated in this program as well as from the communities in which they work.”
TBP: What is your favorite part of your job?
Darr: “To see their (the students’) worlds change more than anything else makes it all worthwhile.”
TBP: What would you say to people who question the impact of a short-term service trip?
Darr: “You haven’t been.”
With determination and hard work, Steve Darr and Peacework have made a positive impact on the world. Their work serves as an inspiration to citizens of developed countries that we can enact positive change on a global scale.
– Julia McCartney