Deferred, but not defeated

The call to activism started at a young age for Juan Sebastian Mosquera. He experienced violence firsthand growing up in Colombia. At one point, his grandparents were displaced from their home and forced to leave their city by an armed group. The situation unfolding around him was serious; it was also the driving force behind his desire to work as a peacebuilder.

In high school, Mosquera found himself drawn to organizations that work to build peace and prevent violence. He quickly became an active member of these organizations and clubs, all working to prevent conflict and assist in the transition from war to peace.

A cross looking over a bustling city. A cross overlooking Cartagena, Colombia.
A cross overlooking Cartagena, Colombia.

His passion and commitment to social justice led him to an internship at a UNICEF-supported project, which turned into a meaningful career in this organization. In his role as a United Nations volunteer on violence prevention, Mosquera helps develop strategies to identify if a child is at risk of being recruited for armed conflict in remote and rural areas and to activate institutional and community-based protocols to prevent this. His team supports the implementation of programs and strategies for the peace agreement in Colombia.

It’s a challenging role, made even more intense by the global pandemic and government shutdowns. He was previously conducting fieldwork, but now supports the organization on the administrative end and delivers technical assistance to implementing partners and stakeholders from home.

Colorful graffiti on a wall next to a highway. A woman is holding up two doves and a saying above her says 'Peace is Ours'.
Graffiti in Bogota Colombia, translates to: “Peace is Ours.”
Juan wearing a bright blue UNICEF jacket, watches a child play with a soccer ball.
Juan Sebastian Mosquera is pictured in a field visit in the municipality of Soacha, Colombia.

“We should, at the moment with the pandemic, stop a lot of our fieldwork, [but] our fieldwork saves a lot of lives because the armed groups were not in a lockdown as we were,” he says. “They continue to fight, continue to recruit children, so it was very concerning for us.”

His team continues to build strategies that support peace-building programs and continues to check in with their counterparts, community leaders and program participants.

“Keough talks about human dignity and social justice. It was a school that was very engaged in promoting integral human development; I wanted to be part of this.”

During his time at UNICEF, he came across the work of the Keough School’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He was surprised to learn that an American peace institute was leading work and contributing to peace efforts in Colombia. While researching the Kroc Institute, he learned about the Master of Global Affairs program.

“I was drawn to the value of education,” says Mosquera. “Keough talks about human dignity and social justice. It was a school that was very engaged in promoting integral human development; I wanted to be part of this.”

As the semester approached, the pandemic was intensifying in Colombia. Mosquera made several attempts to secure a visa to enter the United States, but the country was heading into a lockdown. Shortly after, the borders closed, flights were cancelled and ultimately the embassies were closed.

“It was a very sad situation for many international students,” reflects Mosquera.

With all options exhausted, the Keough School offered him a deferral until the spring semester. That’s when the student advisory council (SAC) reached out in hopes of connecting him to his cohort and the University.

Individuals on a Zoom video call; smiling, laughing and gestering.
Mosquera participated in a virtual training session with his colleagues from UNICEF.

“We began collaborating together, checking in on our particular situations and becoming friends before getting to campus,” he says.

Mosquera was ultimately elected to the SAC and found himself advocating for not only his situation, but the situation of his entire cohort. From his home in Colombia, he began working with the Keough School and with University administration to better support international students through their local government agencies.

Juan sits at his computer desk.
In March 2020, Mosquera started working from his home in Bogotá, Colombia.

“I know the situation is very complicated for all of us and brings great uncertainty also for the University,” says Mosquera.

Using WhatsApp, he is on regular calls every day with his classmates, discussing their personal lives and figuring out ways to get everyone to campus by the spring.

“I feel like we’ve built a community, even in this strange situation,” he says. “We just met through the internet and exchanged a lot of emails, but I feel like I have also become friends with colleagues and people at the University administrative level. I feel like I am part of the Notre Dame community.”

Mosquera was able to receive his visa and has arrived at Notre Dame to begin the spring 2021 semester. This story was part of a series of international student stories published by Notre Dame International. Read “A semester, interrupted.”

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