Chris François, a Manchester University student, can't exactly recall when or why the interest in peace studies began.
That interest, though, has led to François gaining a pretty big platform.
“When I came to America my first year, I was doing a lot of work with Model U.N., going to conferences and taking peace studies classes here, and I realized that I was getting a different perspective that a lot of the people I knew in political science and public policy weren't getting,” François said. “It was a refreshing perspective.”
Model U.N. is an extracurricular activity in which students typically role play delegates to the United Nations and simulate U.N. committees according to its website, www.bestdelegate.com
François mostly lived in Haiti and Queens, New York, growing up; François' parents worked in dentistry and finances. When it came time to pick a college, St. John's in New York seemed like a familiar and comfortable fit. But when Manchester University reached out via email saying it was free to apply to its Peace Studies Institute, established in 1948 as the first undergraduate Peace Studies program in the world, François applied. The university may have been contacting individuals listed in a “database of international students or something,” François said.
“I didn't know anything about Indiana, it was like the first time I heard about the state,” François said. “I ended up receiving a lot more scholarship money from Manchester, and so I decided to attend.”
François dove into Manchester's Peace Studies Institute, and in November was named an Ambassador of Peace for the Universal Peace Federation, an international federation based in New York City dedicated to peacemaking on many levels. Universal Peace Federation's mission is to organize conferences to empower leaders in the areas of interfaith peace building, strengthening marriage and family and public service, according to its website. A spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Ambassadors for Peace represent religious, racial and ethnic diversity, as well as organize, support or participate in service and relief projects, such as building schools, digging wells or renovating communities in conflict-torn areas.
During an internship in New York last summer, François was able to talk with federation officials about previous work in Haiti with Delice Dental Health Initiative, a nonprofit that has worked since 2015 to improve access to quality dental care in rural and urban Haitian communities.
One of the senior federation members nominated François for the ambassadorship. After an application process and a few more meetings in New York, François was awarded the ambassadorship. Ambassadors are required to uphold the federation's principles of peace and demonstrate leadership qualities in a given sphere of activity. One principle, for example, says peace comes through cooperation beyond the boundaries of ethnicity, religion and nationality.
François' mother, Dr. Geraldine Delice Francois, was also awarded the Ambassador for Peace from Universal Peace Federation in 2007. She was awarded for her work in the community as a dentist, helping people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who could not afford medical consultations, serving as the point person for people throughout pregnancies and more.
“(To know Chris was nominated) feels great!” Geraldine Delice Francois wrote in an email interview. “Chris is doing a lot of great work in Peace Studies and is a very compassionate person, and it makes me proud that I raised my child well.”
Chris François was surprised by the award.
“(Ambassadors) are usually middle-aged, but at the same time they're usually more accomplished in their career,” François said. “There's presidents who have received the Ambassador for Peace Award, like the president of Sierra Leone. Anyone who's working to bring peace, whether it's international or on a state or local level, you're able to receive the award. But for me, I haven't really done anything professionally – I haven't graduated yet.”
Despite François' modesty, Katy Gray Brown, director of the Peace Studies Institute at Manchester, said François has stood out since day one.
“Chris is one of the core foundations of our program,” Gray Brown said. “I think that Chris has some very special strengths in terms of understanding the ways that different kinds of injustice in privilege and oppression intersect with each other.” Gray Brown also said François has a knack for using creativity to address and solve problems from an interdisciplinary perspective.
As an ambassador, François hopes to build contacts of other peacemakers and learn how to better address concerns such as universal health care and child health care in Haiti, working with other like-minded people. François describes the ambassadorship as continuing the mission of bringing peace to the world.
“I already have family members who work in the political realm in Haiti, so I'd really like to leverage these contacts in order to help expand health care access in the country in the next decade or two,” François said. “I've been learning a lot about China and how they are implementing their universal health care program, specifically for the rural population. So I've been trying to come up with a model where I could use what China is doing with their own population and apply that to a Haitian context.”
In the news: Named in November an Ambassador of Peace for the Universal Peace Federation, an international organization, with a website at www.us.upf.org/ambassador-for-peace
Hometown: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Background: Raised in Port-au-Prince, and Queens, N.Y.; involved in peace-related studies since high school
Academic major and career plans/goals: Major in Peace Studies at Manchester University, pursuing an applied study area in mediation and conflict resolution; wants to work in Haitian public policy to help expand health care access