Heather Payne was a participant in the Forage Center's Atlantic Promise exercise in March 2016. Since then, Heather has worked with the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy and conducted interviews in Beirut for Sovereignty First. In October 2017, Heather was able to draw on her experience with the Forage Center during her job interview for Nonviolent Peaceforce. As an unarmed, paid civilian protection force, Nonviolent Peaceforce fosters dialogue among parties in conflict and provides a protective presence for threatened civilians. Here, she reflects on the exercise during conversations with Forage Center president David Smith and director of communications Sarah Lough.
Q: What are you doing nowadays?
A: I am a Protection Officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan. I live and work in a small community in Jonglei State. Within this community, the organization provides a series of trainings, monitoring, and conducts mobile response training for neighboring villages.
Q: What is the biggest part of your job?
A: Training is a major part of my job. This consists of gender-based violence trainings, community protection trainings, child protection trainings, and early warning/early response trainings. The organization provides these trainings directly to community members, youth, adults, men, and women. The purpose of the trainings are to help support and teach the community about certain types of violence and how to respond to and resolve conflicts that are context specific to this community and in South Sudan. The community can also request support in any protection matters.
Q: How did the Atlantic Promise exercise impact you and the work you are doing today?
A: My experience at Atlantic Promise had some impact when I was in Beirut. The work I did there was quite different from the simulation — for example, I was not working in an emergency context. However, I think the experience I had at Atlantic Promise did help me think about and prepare for mental safety concerns. In my current work for Nonviolent Peaceforce, the Atlantic Promise exercise was important in impressing upon me the need for situational awareness, security needs, and staying on mission.
Q: Can you recall something about the exercise that has helped you in your career?
A: I was hyperaware in the simulation, and that carried over to being in Beirut and now in South Sudan (especially as a blonde American female). I recalled how tiring it was to be constantly hyperaware in the simulation and remembered how important it is to keep a focus on my surroundings while also focusing on my work. I remember how difficult, but important, that was during the simulation. This knowledge helped me prepare for my mental awareness and health, which I take very seriously.