Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
When I signed up to write my blog during the last week of the fellowship, I assumed my words would flow easily, with plenty of content to draw from. I was right about having plenty to reflect on, but now I struggle with the dilemma of not knowing where to begin, with such an abundance of information acquired in a short time.
One of the goals I made for myself during my time as a Rotary Peace Fellow was to expand my framework of peace studies and conflict analysis in an international context. I aimed to broaden the scope of these lessons while focusing on a particular case study within my own work. As Program Coordinator at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Poland, I work with students and adults of various ages and backgrounds throughout the year, facilitating educational experiences on Polish-Jewish history and the Holocaust. Because of the rich, remaining history in Poland and the contemporary revival, learning about the past, present, and future in-situ unfolds naturally, utilizing remnants of pre-war Jewish life, historic and active synagogues and communities, as well as former camps such as Auschwitz, all of which dot the landscape. My colleagues work on fantastic anti-discrimination programs and trainings with local police officers and school teachers, for example. Yet what remains challenging within the structure of the programs I coordinate is the What Next? element; not only teaching about the specific history, but broadening its lessons in a global context. How can we learn about the past for the sake of improving the future?
Throughout the fellowship, we were fortunate to have dozens of lecturers who were specialists in different fields, speak of their own experiences. This allowed me the opportunity to cross-compare broad commonalities of peace and conflict. Conflict analysis tools, for example, were new to me as I work in a context typically characterized as post-conflict. Engaging with tools such as these, among others, allowed me to think of the conflict I analyze regularly in new ways and our time in the classroom was certainly meaningful. However, the most valuable elements of the fellowship, for me, were my classmates and the Rotary staff, who I had the opportunity to learn from in-depth over an extended period of time.
This engagement culminated during our final weeks, on our field study to Cambodia. This experience had a particular significance for me because of the genocidal history of the country, from which I was compelled to learn. It was my first experience studying this type of history outside the European context in-depth and in-situ. My background in Holocaust and genocide studies still did not prepare me to understand the atrocities; I even felt uncomfortable drawing on my knowledge to understand such a unique historical trajectory. Yet I felt equipped to question familiar themes that arose: the dilemma of victim versus perpetrator, challenges of preserving memory, and broader themes such as Othering, discrimination, victimization, and power struggles.
Over the past three months, a growing section of my notebook has been dedicated to applying these lessons of learning from various conflicts towards peace, in many contexts. Not simply the one we each happen to work on. I am pleased to say the entire experience was meaningful in many ways, and these ideas will continue to expand. This entire process reinforced an imperative theme for me in peacebuilding: the sense that each of these conflicts are not [insert nationality, religion, race, etc. here] rights, but human rights, and working towards this perspective will allow us to feel that all of humanity is “our people”.
Dara Bramson, USA/Poland
Rotary Peace Fellow