Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
My initial days in Bangkok ran together in a blur of honking horns, clouds of chilli spice, immense development and scorching side walks. After arriving as the first of the Rotary Peace Fellows I have watched as the 24th floor of Chulalongkorn University International House filled with the greetings of excited people from all corners echoing down the hallway.
The university is somewhat of a retreat from bustling Bangkok and located adjacent from our housing. The campus is dotted with various scenic points for contemplation under the shade of the iconic raintrees. These may well have been places where students have been battling with readings or contesting theories with their fellow students for nearly 100 years.
On the 8th of January our classes began at the Rotary Peace Centre under the guidance of Martine, the Acting Deputy Director, and our first introductions demonstrated the diversity and wealth of experience among us. A hunger to learn and willingness to share ideas and experiences was immediately evident.
Presentations were made by each fellow to the class providing a snap shot of their area of interest and focus for the next three months. We were transported from Chulalongkorn to the struggles for equitable services and fair working conditions on the tea plantations of eastern India. From India we then went to activist activities that battle to ensure damns do not claim Kurdish land, livelihoods and sacred sites. From Kurdish Turkey to social movements—1 million people strong—that aim to reclaim traditional land in Guatemala and on to the complexities of public prosecution in Philadelphia. In between we stopped off in Malawi, Kenya, Afghanistan, Kirgizstan, the USA, Poland, Nepal, Sri Lanka and more. The stories were alive, punctuated with the spark and ambition of the fellows, their experiences and relationships in the locations of their work.
These presentations followed an introduction by Martine on the contemporary conflict experienced by Bangkok. It appears we are here at an opportune moment to witness first hand the conflict in Bangkok and this significant chapter in the country’s history.
In these first days I became overwhelmed by the similarities of the issues raised in the different contexts and the enormity and complexity of peace and conflict resolution in both theory and practice. Almost every scenario demonstrated the irreversible impact global capitalism is having in creating divide and perpetuating injustice. At the same time to me the links between the presentations emphasised the way that new levels of interconnectedness and mobility in this globalised world offer new possibilities for networks and ideas. Conflict is undoubtedly an unavoidable human experience but by Friday evening my head and heart were overflowing. I retreated back to my apartment to enjoy small, peaceful moments with my family including trusty bedtime stories with simple conflicts with predictable, achievable resolutions.
The coming months will be an indulgence of the mind and spirit, but will no doubt be taxing at times. I feel humbled by the other fellows, their wealth of knowledge and their generosity of spirit and look forward to learning from and with them over the next three months.
Samantha Cooper, Australia
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2014 Session