Xavier Magazine

Profile: John McCuen

John McCuen
Bachelor of Science in psychology, 1993 | Catholic Relief Services’ country representative for the South Balkans, Skopje, Macedonia

Bubble Buster | McCuen joined the Peace Corps after graduation because “something about being at Xavier had me leaning toward a service-oriented career. I felt I was living in a bubble and could help people in other places who have a lot more poverty than the U.S.”

Fish Farming | Guatamela was his first home. For two years he would go out from his town, a hub of 2,000 with no running water and sporadic electricity, to teach animal husbandry and fish farming to area residents.

Pay Back | “It was extremely rewarding. I saw clearly that in a place like Guatemala, if you’re born poor, there’s very little way to break out of that cycle no matter how smart you are or how hardworking. It’s a very difficult life. I have that appreciation, and it compelled and motivated me to continue.”

Food for Thought | His experiences led to a master’s degree in international and intercultural relations and then to employment with Catholic Relief Services. He went to Macedonia and the Dominican Republic, where he met his wife, Gercia. His year in Macedonia began with his evacuation when the NATO campaign against Serbia started in March 1999. He managed food delivery to a Macedonian refugee camp that housed 32,000 people.

Peacenik | In November 2003, McCuen was given oversight of six countries—Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Moldovo, Macedonia and Romania. Much of his work focuses on building peace between the ethnic Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo. One of the programs he developed is aimed at the youth of Mitrovica whose families are separated, literally, by the Ibar River—Serbs to the north, Albanians to the south. The students are part of a citywide youth council that focuses on improving common problems in their schools such as facilities and developing competitive sports programs.

Baby Steps | “Bit by bit, the youth are coming together to work on a common agenda to benefit both sides,” he says. “The thought is that bringing Serbs and Albanians together is one way to break down the stereotypes and learn about the pain and frustrations they’ve experienced and gain from that. There’s a lot of genuine friendships that have developed.”

Bridging the Past | When an Albanian teen died in an altercation near the river with a Serbian youth, riots erupted. But the youth council members didn’t participate and even called each other to make sure they were OK.

Hopeful | “We do have hope,” McCuen says. “We might get to the point where we have soccer matches and basketball matches together.”

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