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Insight from IVEP alumnus

IVEP participants stand together in a grassy field.

Editor’s note: Jacob Sankara served at The Conflict Center in Denver, Colorado, as program assistant through IVEP 2017-2018. He currently works as peacebuilding coordinator with MCC in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Top photo: The IVEP 2017-2018 group poses expressively during orientation in 2017 in Akron, Pennsylvania. (MCC photo/Brenda Burkholder)


My name is Jacob Sankara. I’m from Burkina Faso, where I grew up and did all my studies from elementary school to university. By nature, I like to be at the service of others. I find in it a very great satisfaction, not only morally but also spiritually, by referring to the model of Jesus who throughout his life on earth did nothing but be at the service of others. It was in this spirit of service that I met MCC through staff who attended the same Mennonite church as I did.

I realized that MCC’s values, principles and objectives were directly in line with the guiding principles that I have given myself and that make me who I am as a person. My first steps with MCC began with small services such as running errands in town and babysitting for MCC staff, until I learned about IVEP. 

Portrait of Jacob Sankara
Jacob Sankara, 2017. (MCC photo/Brenda Burkholder)

I applied for a job. My application attracted the interest of an organization in Denver, Colorado, working in peacebuilding through anger management courses and other programs they offered to those in need. In this organization, called The Conflict Center, I learned a great deal, and it helped shape me into the person I am today. This place was a learning curve for me and sharpened me to grow professionally and personally.

Through the anger management training I received, I also became a trainer. I was then able to get to better know myself and how to help other people with the same needs. There was also a program called Reading for Peace. This involved reading books with kids. Through that, I learned about kindness and caring for younger generations who represent the future. I’ve also been able to increase my number of friends. The people I’ve worked with have become family and we’ve stayed in touch. 

A group of young adults sit on a curb outside a building.
Jacob Sankara (back row, at right) celebrates Peace Day with other staff members at The Conflict Center in Denver, Colorado in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Sankara)

After my IVEP term, I returned to Burkina Faso. While there, I found that MCC was hiring in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the peacebuilding coordinator position. My dream was to pursue a career in the field of peace in general, and to work with practitioners directly, building their capacity through training, materials and opportunities of various kinds. I applied for the assignment and have been in this role since 2019.

Man stands gesturing at the front of a room.
Jacob Sankara provides training for MCC partners in DR Congo in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Jacob Sankara)

IVEP prepared me for this role in many ways.  

Navigating cultural understanding in Denver was most complex, and at a certain point I felt discouraged and angry. Giving up what has always been a habit or practice is, in a way, giving up a part of yourself, a part of your personality. This is really very difficult to do. But these challenges prepared me to work in a multicultural office. Thanks to the cultural mix I experienced in Denver, I was also able to open my mind to other adventures, such as marrying a Congolese woman.

My IVEP experience also helped me grow my English language proficiency. My English before was just for short, casual conversations. But through this experience I was able to improve my English and now I am very fluent. This has been a game changer for me. What I’ve learned had a huge impact on who I am and what I am doing today. Because of this linguistic immersion, I’m able to act as a bridge between MCC and our partners. All the work with partners is done in French and transmitted to MCC in English. I play the role of interpreter whenever MCC has visitors.  

I’m so passionate about this role. It would never have been possible if I hadn’t had the opportunity to travel and be in a context where English is the main language. These skills have really helped me to perform well in my job. 

Three people stand with their backs to the camera facing a collection of emergency relief items.
MCC staff in DR Congo (from left) Jacob Sankara, Nathanael Kijengu and Jacob Yoder gather before a 2021 distribution of emergency relief items, including food, blankets and cookware, to families in Goma, whose homes were destroyed by volcanic lava. (MCC photo/Mulanda Jimmy Juma)

This IVEP experience has taught me some important life lessons. It has sharpened my ability to organize and run training sessions for partners and MCC staff alike. I’ve increased my adaptation skills, which are still ongoing. Change takes time, and if we aspire to change, we must give ourselves time and let things happen when the time is right. Finally, the spirit of service must not be conditional. Service to others always comes back to us, even if it may be in other forms.


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