Backpacking our way to peace: Applying experiential learning to peacebuilding

by Nettie Pardue (AEE Member)

As eagerly as children, we snatched the lumps of the brown sugar and put them in our mouths letting them dissolve into honeyed puddles on our tongues.  We had processed the cane with our hands using a trapiche (hand powered grinder, pictured below), boiled the juice on an open fire, and then poured the liquid into molds to harden. A wise elder, Mr. Lopez instructed us in our techniques. He lived on and owned the rustic farm, a full day’s walk from the nearest road, where our group was enjoying a homestay.  In three hours, we transformed huge stands of sugar cane into the purest sugar we had ever tasted. Together we had found a very sweet spot! 

Eleven strangers from six different countries came together in Costa Rica for the first Practicum on Experiential Peacebuilding (PEP), a pilot program of the Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding (OBCP).  The three male and eight female particiImagepants, aged 23-45 represented five different countries:  Colombia, Israel, Slovakia, the United States and Australia. Along the 9-day journey, participants learned and practiced leadership skills, challenged their own perspectives, explored relevant peacebuilding topics, and developed meaningful relationships with participants who share similar commitments to peace and human dignity. We also learned how to make raw sugar on a homestay experience.

ImageThe expedition was a great and unique human lab providing raw insight into the different motivations and drivers behind the decisions peacebuilders and other personalities make. I feel the precious and raw insights gained on the expedition are already proving invaluable in my further understanding of, compassion and grace for others and where they are in their own journey,” said Giselle Wansa a 2012 PEP participant.

But why experiential learning and peacebuilding?

OBCP fills a unique niche bridging the experiential learning and peacebuilding field with what Todd Walters (2009), calls “experiential peacebuilding.”  The United States Institute for Peace 2010 report, “Graduate Education and Professional Practice in International Peace and Conflict,” finds that U.S. graduate institutions are inadequately preparing students for careers in international peace and conflict particularly in the area of “field experience” and “applied conflict analysis and resolution skills.”  PEP offers an experience-based program focused on applied leadership and conflict resolution skills and taught in a challenging multi-cultural environment through an expeditionary learning outdoor approach. Another 2012 participant testified to the value of the program for her: “I feel more confident as a student and professional in my field; the program achieved its objectives of cultivating compassionate leadership and creating an active network of peacebuilders.” 

 The program aims to achieve four goals related to peacebuilding work:

  • To cultivate compassionate peacebuilding leaders.
  • To explore and learn the methodology and philosophy of experiential

                  peacebuilding.

  • To learn and apply conflict resolution and peacebuilding skills in an

experiential, cross-cultural context.

  • To bring together active networks of peacebuilders.

After a successful pilot program in June 2012, Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding will offer its second PEP program on June 14-23, 2013 in partnership with OB Costa Rica. We are looking for candidates to be a part of our next PEP.  If you’re interested in getting out of the classroom and learning peacebuilding and leadership skills hands-on, please see our website for more info and to apply. We are excited to continue to expand, grow and share our learning about this program and to continue to search for the sweet spot between experiential learning and peacebuilding. 

For more information on the program or to apply: http://www.outwardboundpeace.org/programs/practicum-on-experiential-peacebuilding/

Nettie Pardue is the Director of Programs for Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding and has been committed to the field of experiential education for over 20 years.  She can be reached at nettie.pardue@outwardboundpeace.org

The Outward Bound Center for Peacebuilding (OBCP) challenges and inspires leaders in divided societies to build peace. OBCP is an independent member of the international Outward Bound community. Founded over 60 years ago by educator Kurt Hahn to provide active learning expeditions that inspire character development and leadership, the Outward Bound community now consists of more than 40 centers operating in over 35 countries and works with an estimated 200,000 students annually. Please see our website (outwardboundpeace.org) for more information.

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3 Responses to “Backpacking our way to peace: Applying experiential learning to peacebuilding”


  1. 1 Sarah February 19, 2013 at 10:05 AM

    Wonderful article Nettie! Your work is inspiring and I hope we can collaborate in the future. Sarah @ playforpeace.org

  2. 3 Michelle Mazzeo February 21, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    Great article! Can’t wait to have your group down here at Outward Bound Costa Rica!


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