Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
“Peace for me is living with my family with adequate basic needs fulfilled,
no fear to move, and speak what I want” (Local woman’s voice for peace in Nepal).
Global voices for peace—from across Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America—are being amplified by Rotary Peace Fellows and our growing network with the support of the Rotary Peace Centre at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. From 8 January to 28 March 2014, I am exploring peace and conflict transformation with 19 other Rotary Peace Fellows—Class 16—coming from 15 plus countries across five continents. Furthermore, the enthusiasm to learn and amplify our peace voices has also been reflected by two female fellows who brought along their babies of three and five months of age – adding two additional younger peace voices.
During out first days together at the Rotary Peace Center, I learned from the other fellows’ as they shared their voices of peace through the presentation of their personal work. Their voices of peace explored a range of broad and distinct issues: ideology vs. other ideology; groups/tribes/clans vs. other groups/tribes/clans; Jewish dynamics, Kurdish and Turkish dynamics, inter- and intra-state/country dynamics all of which have resulted in the displacement of millions of people from their homes, depriving them from of their basic human right (i.e. the right to life, food, shelter, education and health); shifting paradigms of aboriginals; minorities and multi-ethnic issues. In addition, and even more importantly, other Rotary Peace Fellows’ voices of peace focused on: the disproportionate sharing of resources like water, forest and land resulting in unequal access for most. All of our peace voices amplified the challenges posed as an important cost for all of humanity – increased deprivation, inadequate enjoyment of rights and inadequately addressed state obligation.
In more detail, Peace Fellows from the Middle East across to Asia shared their experiences. I learned from a Peace Fellow, from Kurdistan, that mega-dams are being built across the Middle East and local people still have no access to electric power. A Peace Fellow, from Italy working in Kirgizstan, shared that protests driven by civil society’s grievances of unfulfilled state obligations in Kirgizstan have resulted in the displacement of half-a-million people, the lose of thousands of lives, with approximately thirty-thousand households destroyed. Many people had to flee to neighboring countries, such as Uzbekistan, as refugees with no adequate shelter and food. This issue remains to be resolved. Meanwhile, the Peace Fellow from Afghanistan shared that she had spent many years as a refugee/displaced person, and upon returning home found that she had lost her home. In an attempt to reacquire her home legally, she learned that she would have to pay double the cost of her property in legal fees due to the misuse of power and corruption in her country. She has yet to re-inhabit her home.
Moving further East, we, the Peace Fellows from Nepal, provided an overview of our country’s political-economic context, openly shared our experiences on child rights, missing family members, and explored the roles of grassroots women in peacebuilding. Situated at our southern border, a Peace Fellow from India highlighted the exploitation of tea workers while another shared her experiences working with female drug users. I learned that both the tea workers’ and female drug users’ issues were often politicized by the Congress. And, the lives and issues that both the tea workers and female drug users experience and confront cannot be easily summarized well. Meanwhile, a Fellow from Australia, and working in the Solomon Islands, shared her experiences and insights into minorities versus majorities, with a particular focus on the lives of the aboriginal youth of Australia.
Moving to the West, Peace Fellows shared insights, through both skits and direct presentations, into minorities and racism challenges and the practice of restorative justice in the United States. One Peace Fellow from the US shared that women in the US report domestic violence cases to the police. I found this amazing given that in most South Asian countries, women hardly visit the police station to report domestic violence cases for several reasons: they are fearful of the police as they are afraid they may be violated again; they are unable to report their cases as they need permission from their families. I learned that women in the US would tolerate and then directly report their cases as they escalate. In comparison, in South Asia, women are mostly afraid to report domestic violence cases as they feel powerless, struggle to negotiate and ultimately listen and do what their husbands’ require. In most of the cases, women cannot make decisions for themselves. If not following social norms, women can be blamed, disowned from their families and homes—direct threats to their physically security—for not following social practices; particularly for sharing family issues by going to the police to report domestic violence cases.
All the Rotary Peace Fellows shared their amazing peace voices – representing themselves and full of dignity. The Fellows sharing process was full of creativity, mutual support although we did not know one another well – as played out in role-plays and skits; all of which further amplified our collective global peace voices. All the experiences shared rotated around major root causes of conflict often associated with political-economic dynamics around power and resources.
With some reflection, I believe that some voices for peace remain unheard in our global village. As resources are being depleted with identity crisis’s increasing resulting in conflict becoming the general phenomena in the world today. If this is the general dynamic, development and peacebuilding theories need to be critically analyzed and refined toward a paradigm shift for coexistence and trust-building. I have learned a great deal from all the Peace Fellows’ voices, of which resemble my experiences in my home of Nepal – a country reconstructing and developing after a decade long armed conflict that resulted in the death of 13,000 people. When reflecting, I kept thinking: “So what is peacebuilding really about? What should I intend to learn specially about in my focus area to be better enable to serve my community to achieve the positive change that they deserve?” Again, the sharing among all the Rotary Peace Fellows was and will continue to be a lifetime experience for me. I am confident we will experience together some amazing days ahead—over the next three months together. This is a wonderful learning opportunity with sharing from East to West and North to South.
Sarita Karki, Nepal
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2014 Session