Ciara Gallagher

Ciara Gallagher  – United States/Ireland

Protecting human rights above all else

“Our generation can turn the tide,” proclaims Ciara Gallagher. To reach this conclusion, she experienced diplomatic processes at their highest level and found them thrilling. She pursued many diverse interests, however, before realizing her future lay in international mediation.

Though her father is an American citizen, Ciara grew up in Canada, her childhood “painted in the fiery colors of the Montréal Fall,” she says. While attending the University of Toronto, Ciara took part in the Peace, Conflict, and Justice Program, focusing at one point on the issue of the Balkan intervention. The expertise she gained led her to work in a peace program in Kosovo. She didn’t speak the language or know anyone there, but at least the girl she roomed with in a Kosovar home spoke English. Ciara discovered that in Albania, “family is a universal language. We formed a bond without words, and we communicated, laughed, and loved.” The parents introduced her by saying, “This is my new daughter from Ireland.” Ciara says she’s overjoyed to return and celebrate her new sister’s wedding next year.

While in Kosovo, she traveled all over the Balkans and met EU Special Representatives, foreign ambassadors, and politicians in connection with her work. One day, she met “an elderly grandfather who in feverish Albanian frantically brought me, eyes full of tears, to each member of his family individually.” Astonishingly, he wanted to thank her. “He said that each one of them was only alive because of me, because I had a passport from a country that contributed to the NATO intervention.” It was heart-wrenching.

Ciara published two articles on peaceful intervention in the Balkans, but nothing will ever matter as much as going to an unknown place and finding “a connection, love, and life-long bonds with no language but your own humanity to communicate. That gives me faith in conflict resolution.”

She attended the University College of Dublin in Ireland, and, though a global citizen at heart, her poetic Irish heritage flows from her pen: “Beneath grey veils covering emerald fields and winding old stone walls,…you can feel your ancestry rolling through the hills, the wild sea, the sweet soil, the smell of turf fires, and the vibrations of vibrant, bustling cities filled with music….You won’t ‘find our like’ anywhere else.” At UCD, Ciara co-founded the visual arts society, and her creative strategies as head of PR for the Literary and Historical Society contributed to its status as the largest student society in Europe, swelling to over 5,000 members the first week alone.

Her years of debating helped her qualify for the European Debating Championship in 2013 in Belgrade.While training for the competition, her Irish team had to become thoroughly versed in Balkan history and post-conflict politics in order to argue any stance on debate topics, creating a lasting interest.

In the Fall of 2014, Ciara joined the first-ever Irish delegation to participate in the National Model United Nations through the UCD Law Society. This MUN was the largest in the world and would take place in New York and include special sessions at the General Assembly. There had never been any specific campus funds for this, but the School of Politics and International Relations was supportive and partially sponsored Ciara in this student-run initiative. Just getting there required rigorous fundraising in addition to six months of tireless research and day-long simulations. They had little to go on and no travel budget for preparatory tournaments as most other delegations did. “We had amazing volunteer coaches, though, and we had heart—we believed in ourselves,” Ciara says. The team aimed to demonstrate their worth for future students as well and “to do Ireland proud.” Though in her final undergraduate year at UCD, she gave up evenings and weekends to keep up her grades and prepare to face formidable competition.

The team made its flight to JFK but couldn’t afford the hotel with the other delegations for the whole trip. They also “squished 3-to-bed at an AirBnB by Grand Central with banjaxed (cracked) windows, and by God if we didn’t feel like the luckiest people alive!” Their mission as a special committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) was to examine regional arrangements in Africa.

Assigned to cover Denmark, the team met the Danish Permanent Mission for a strategy setting session that included the Ambassador. He taught them how to “triangulate between the African Union and China to position one’s self as an unofficial mediator.” On “meltdown Tuesday,” the AU walked out while China issued serious threats, but Ciara says, “I was calm and I was ready.” She mediated and their paper passed unanimously. While supporting her team, Ciara had managed to de-escalate and re-negotiate, finding something in herself she didn’t know she had. Working beside delegates from all over the world restored her faith in her generation; they were “so hardworking and so full of talent and goodness and hope.”

Ciara found this experience intensely fulfilling, but the awards ceremony with “His Excellency, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon!” was pure glory. Ciara won an Outstanding Position Paper Award, and her team took the highest award for Outstanding Delegation.

Ciara was awarded a Global Leadership scholarship to go to South Africa for a program in leadership and conflict resolution through the Bridge Education Abroad (BEA) Institute. She stayed afterwards to do fieldwork for her master’s thesis, funded through a Fritt Ord scholarship, and conducted field studies in South Africa that included fifty interviews “from Jo-berg to Cape Town, to the villages, and the Bush.” She tells of an elderly homeless man sitting on a piece of cardboard. From her spot on the pavement, she asked him a question. He didn’t speak until he scavenged for a piece of cardboard for her to sit on as well. “I will never ever forget that kindness. The beauty of the raw humanity I encountered will stay with me.” One man said, “Can you believe it!? ME being interviewed! Someone asking me, ME! Seventy-two years old and in all my life, no one has ever asked to know what I think! What a thing!” He laughed for joy. Through these people and their life stories, Ciara learned a stunning lesson: the power of listening.

She is currently attending the University of Oslo in Norway, where she says the fjords claim her heart. In the future, she hopes to work with the UN either in peace negotiations or with C-34 Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations. She wants to be a mediator “to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. To protect our human rights and our humanity above all else.”

Aware that everything she has, “my access to education, my rights, and freedoms…were paid for in blood….I want to take the privilege and voice I have been afforded and use it to help provide alternatives to a gun. To say, I see you, I care, and I will wade out of the bloody waters with you.”