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April 15, 2024

Q&A with Ian Manzi (G’23), Program Assistant at the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues at Georgetown University

In this interview, Ian Manzi (G’23), program assistant at the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues at Georgetown University, shares how he employs lessons learned from his work with youth in Rwanda and his graduate classes at the McCourt School of Public Policy in his current role with the collaborative.

Ian Manzi speaking at a workshop
Ian Manzi speaking at a workshop

Originally from Rwanda, you co-founded a peace education and youth empowerment project in Rwanda called Critical Thinking for P.E.A.C.E. What was the impetus for this project, and how did it impact your outlook on global children’s issues?

The project came out of a discussion with a friend on what peace is and the realization that peace does not exist in finality or totality. Peace is not a destination. It is a journey and a process. It is a way of life. Once we came to that conclusion, we quickly understood that it wasn’t enough for our home country of Rwanda to be at peace in the present. We had to find ways to ensure it will remain at peace in the future as well. That’s how Critical Thinking for P.E.A.C.E was born. We started using intergenerational dialogue, community service, and research-informed debates and discussions as ways to engage young Rwandans in thinking and contributing to peace sustainability efforts.

One avenue through which working on this project impacted my outlook on global children’s issues was the understanding I gained around the concept of intergenerational trauma. Learning about the long-lasting effects of individual and societal trauma across generations drove me to start looking at global development and security issues through a child development and protection lens. This experience also brought me a deeper understanding of the way communities find low-resource but effective ways to address issues facing them. It was through my work with young people and communities in Rwanda that I discovered that the path taken by intergenerational challenges like trauma is not a one-way path. It is also a conduit to positive attributes such as resilience, self-reliance, and memory preservation.

You have had several professional experiences working with the Rwandan organization Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, which aims to empower orphaned and vulnerable youth to build dignified lives and contribute to a better world. What are some of the lessons learned from your work with this organization?

One of the greatest lessons I learnt during my time with the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) is that young people, even the most vulnerable, must be the main actors and contributors to their lives. I realized that the moment a young person is labelled vulnerable, the world tends to strip them of the essential right of knowing what’s best for their lives. Once the label is placed, we no longer listen, and we often stop engaging. Instead, we look at them as recipients and beneficiaries for whom we must make decisions and upon whom we must bestow protection. At the core of our work at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village was the belief and the value that every decision and choice had to be made “in the best interest of the child.” I learned that the only way to achieve that is by listening to the children. But that’s not enough. I also learned that the key is to be ready to be changed by what you hear. In the time I spent at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, I learned as much, if not more, from the young people under my care as they learned from me.

What was the most challenging part of your community development work in Rwanda? The most satisfying?

The most challenging part of my community development work in Rwanda, which was probably also the most encouraging part of the work, was proving ourselves as young people with valid ideas and the ability to implement meaningful change. I remember walking into spaces and people openly telling us they didn’t expect us to be as young as we were. We were flipping the script on who could and couldn’t do certain things. We were challenging perspectives and assumptions around the role of young people in our communities and society and showing that young people can take an active and leading role in bringing change and reinforcing the positive legacy of generations past.

The most satisfying part of our work was seeing other young, and even younger, people rise to the challenge and enthusiastically take on active roles in their communities. I remember coming to the realization that what started as an idea shared by two of my colleagues and I became so internalized by many young Rwandans that they started dictating our work. In the end, we didn’t just challenge society’s view of young people and their limitations; we also managed to challenge young people’s view of themselves, and nothing could have been more satisfying than that.

You recently graduated from Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy with a master’s degree in public policy. Why did you choose this degree program, and how have you applied what you learned to your work at the collaborative?

Before starting graduate school, I was looking for a program that would allow me to take the experience I accumulated in the field and transform it into concrete outcomes that benefit, support, and empower practitioners around the world. I was interested in policy development but more specifically the use of information and data in improving efficiency and outcomes in human development interventions in low-resource settings. After experiencing firsthand how passionate practitioners inadvertently burned out due to inefficient and ineffective approaches that seemed to work elsewhere but failed to translate into low-resource settings, I was hoping to find a program that merged the science and the art of policy development. The program offered by Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy was just that.

After graduating, the importance of blending these different world views become more apparent to me when I joined the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues. One of the goals of the collaborative is to create a platform that brings together policymakers, practitioners, researchers and academicians, students, and individuals with lived experience to create holistic outcomes in the field of global children’s issues. My training at McCourt allows me to engage with these multiple facets of the conversation and find ways to link them into sustainable outcomes.

Since joining the collaborative in August 2023, you have been involved in organizing several events ranging in topics from children on the move to children in war. Which collaborative activity has impacted you the most?

The combination of Little Amal’s visit to Washington, DC, and the “Children on the Move” workshop. Not only were these events my first in-person events with the collaborative, but they were also moments when many different elements of my identity as a person were awakened and tapped. During these events, I was an organizer, an advocate, a representative, a frontline practitioner, a connection to lived experience, an activist, an ally, and a life-long learner.

What would you say are essential skills for those interested in working with children and young people today?

Listening—I cannot stress that enough—and being ready to check and challenge your own assumptions. Working with children and young people is a very humbling and transformative experience. You need to be willing to listen and let go of assumptions and old practices. For anyone who is resistant to change and who assumes they know best, it is a bitter and challenging experience.

Finally, can you share the last book that has left an impression on you?

Shaped: Gripping and Inspirational Journey from Grief to Growth (2022) by Barbara Umuhoza.