Three Generations of Peacebuilding Family from Argentina Study at SPI

Lilian Burlando and grandson Matias Echazu of Argentina between class sessions at EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute. Photo by Jon Styer

Three generations of a family have recently attended EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute, bringing diverse talents and experiences to campus and then taking their peacebuilding training home to the southernmost tip of the inhabited world.

Psychologist Lilian Burlando, founder of a nonprofit center offering counseling and interfaith dialogue near her home in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, attended SPI in 2006 and 2008.

She’s returned this year to study “Trauma Awareness and Transformation” and “Skills for Conflict Transformation.”

Family follows in her footsteps

Likewise, her family members have each chosen courses relevant to their work. Burlando’s daughter, Ushuaia prosecuting attorney Karina Echazu, took SPI’s “Restorative Justice” course when she attended in 2007.

Karina’s nephew, Matias Echazu – a young banker in Buenos Aires accompanying his grandmother, Burlando, to his first SPI – just completed “Developing Healthy Organizations.”

Lilian Burlando and grandson Matias Echazu of Argentina talk between class sessions at SPI. Photo by Jon Styer

Burlando learned of SPI when visiting the Pennsylvania Quaker center, Pendle Hill. She is founder, director and primary support for Paz y Armonia: Centro de Estudio, Meditacion y Accion (Peace and Harmony: Center for Study, Meditation and Action).

Founder of ‘Peace and Harmony’

She moved to Ushuaia, a city of 64,000 at the tip of South America, to found that center a decade ago, after completing a career in Buenos Aires as a hospital, university and private-practice psychologist and Red Cross volunteer.

Her center offers crisis and grief counseling, memorial services, journaling and “building your spiritual biography” workshops, and interfaith and philosophical studies:

Burlando notes it has no political or church affiliation, and charges nothing for services (though requesting donations for two-day events).

interfaith Quaker-style worship

She facilitates “Quaker-style worship” – a form in which she feels “People of different faiths feel comfortable.” Though raised Roman Catholic (like most Argentinians), she’s the only Unitarian Universalist in Ushuaia.

“People need a place when they don’t fit exactly” in a denomination, she says. Open to all faiths, her center’s literature emphasizes “spirituality,” not doctrine.

Burlando has received small scholarships to SPI via EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

Matias: ‘my first experience in peacebuilding’

“This is my first experience in peacebuilding,” says her oldest grandchild, Matias Echazu, who hopes to apply it in his finance career. Echazu works in the headquarters of the private Argentinian mutual bank, SMSV.

Burlando reports that at Universidad Argentina de la Empresa (the Argentina Business University), “He won’t say it, but he was an outstanding student.”

Carrying the message back to Argentina and beyond

Argentinians remain divided about prosecutions of parties held responsible for atrocities during their country’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship. Burlando feels officials today are “just telling part of the truth. There was violence from both sides,” including insurgents, “not just from the military.”

She cites a different controversy also “burning” in Argentina: gay marriage. As the national legislative body debates legalizing such unions, she notes, gays and lesbians are “little by little, starting to come out of the closet.”

Her center and its trauma-healing work, however, are focused “not in the political arena but in my community. I try to live peacefully.”

In Ushuaia, a popular island tourist site beneath snow-capped mountains, snows in winter are heavy, and days, short. The winter’s first snow fell in mid-May as Burlando left for Virginia: a five-hour flight to Buenos Aires followed by 10 hours to Dulles.

“It’s worthwhile,” Burlando says. She often travels at this time of year, and has seen much of the U.S. She adds, “I keep in touch with the world,” while seeking “new ways to work for peace and understanding.” Following SPI, she will attend a UU theological symposium in the Netherlands.

Burlando hopes more from among her five children and 19 grandchildren will attend SPI, and work at Paz y Armonia.

Chris Edwards is a free-lance writer living in Harrisonburg.