The University for Peace

The University for Peace

Athena Stallcop and Bassem Sedra in the grounds of the University for Peace

Students Athena Stallcop and Bassem Sedra on campus


Situated about 20 miles west of Costa Rica's capital San Jose, the United Nation's institution dedicated to the most elusive of global ambitions is perched some 800 metres above sea level at the end of a precarious, snaking and dusty road.

On the rocky road to UPEACE you pass through some of the most fabulous countryside Central America has to offer. As the road winds steeply uphill you might see Nicaraguan labourers lugging heavy sacks of coffee beans while anyone who braves the drive must negotiate local kids on BMX bikes shepherding skinny cattle.

The BBC's Paul Coletti paid a visit to the Universidad para la Paz.

Listen Listen to his report (5 mins 6 seconds)

The 300 hectares, donated by the Costa Rican government not long after the university was founded in 1980, contain some of the most pristine forest in Central America.

About 160 international students take an MA here in Peace and Conflict studies at a cost of $21,849 each although many have their fees paid for them by sponsors.

Despite the beautiful surroundings nobody actually lives on campus. Some get the bus in from the capital San José, some commute from the sleepy town of Ciudad Colón at the foot of the valley while others elect to live a short walk down the road amongst the locals in the tiny hamlet of El Rodeo.

Athena Stallcop is one of them. The 34-year-old Idaho native has just started her thesis and seems to enjoy the anachronism of carrying the name of an ancient warrior goddess in this peaceful paradise.

Sometimes you have to go for force - like in Rwanda in 1994. If we had intervened in Rwanda I would have called it a just war.

Bassem Sedra

Athena showed me round her student quarters and as we walked up to the small clutch of maisonettes where she and a few other students live she asked if I wanted a mandarin and almost without breaking step casually grabbed a perfectly ripe specimen from a tree. There are no fast food shops in sight and the closest pub is an outdoor bar on a horse ranch which is “almost never open”.

This is not the type of campus most students would recognise. Even the student union building is spotlessly clean.

The Mirador

Situated above the campus lies the Mirador or lookout point. This beauty spot affords a full 360 degree view of the valley. En route through the thick forest you hear some very vocal birds with exotic calls -- if you're lucky you may also get a brief glimpse of some bright plumage. The view upon arrival is stunning -- on a clear day you can see to both oceans: the Caribbean and the Pacific. It's no wonder the students come to the Mirador for serious study and reflection.


The university is not funded directly by the UN. It is financed by a mixture of tuition fees and donations from public and private charitable bodies such as Sweden's Development Agency, the Nippon Foundation and the Dutch Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Students pay for their own accomodation and food -- there is a busy canteen on campus.

First broadcast 2nd January 2009