Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Preparing to come to the Rotary Peace Centre at Chulalongkorn can be a bit of a daunting experience, as one doesn’t really know what to expect. What will Bangkok be like? Who are these twenty other participants that I will meet and what is their background? Will they be able to learn as much from me as I hope to learn from them?
When we met up on the first day, we realized our group was a vastly diverse team. Our group includes members from a diverse range of locations including Nigeria, the Cayman Islands, Russia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan, India, Pakistan and Canada. We have policemen, teachers, journalists, lawyers, NGO workers, academics, and more. It is fascinating to hear about the others work and culture. They range from stories about meeting Taliban leaders in the Swat valley of Pakistan, to hearing about Pirate Week; a traditional event in Cayman islands, where locals dress up as pirates, drink rum, and pretend to kidnap the government. We also have people who have worked in areas plagued by the armed group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, as well as separatists in the Molaku Islands, or even migrant workers crossing illegally into the US.
We met on the first day for our orientation, which would introduce us to the course, each other, and give us an understanding of Thai culture. Our orientation was lively; we learned everything from how to hail a taxi, to the correct way to use a squat toilet; when squatting, be sure to face the door, not the wall behind the toilet. Learn from other people’s mistakes. We were told how to wai (traditional Thai greeting), and became more familiar with the Chulalongkorn campus that we would be calling home for the next three months. We also learned that we would be doing a domestic field trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, as well as an international trip Mindanao in the Philippines. Although I couldn’t be more excited about this destination, I feel bad for Delfo (our team member from Manila) who will just be going home for the international trip, rather than travelling to an exciting new country like the rest of us. While there, we will get first-hand field experience in Mindanao, and learn more about the Muslim minority that is indigenous to the area, as well as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that claims to have been fighting on their behalf against the Filipino government.
Other questions are important to wonder; why am I here and what do I want to gain from this experience? Though a simple question to ask, it’s one that warrants a long response, since we have a large amount to gain from our time here. We stand to gain an incredible professional training from the guest lecturers and staff members, learning about the causes and process of conflict, as well as the policies that can be implemented to mitigate the harmful effects of war while also building peace.
In addition, we get to live and stay in Bangkok for three months, becoming intimately familiar with the city and its history, culture and food. We get to go on a city tour to see the temples, monuments, race courses, and perhaps even some local muay thai (I am personally most excited about the latter).
All in all, the next three months should be exciting and fun. We will come intimately familiar with many important topics, including local politics and the recent coup, as well the politics of the region, and the state of conflict in general. But perhaps most importantly of all, we will learn – and always remember – to make sure to face the door when using a squat toilet. You don’t want to know what happens if you don’t.
Will Plowright, Canada
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2014 Session