Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Our Class 18 Rotary Peace Fellows have arrived at the Center and commenced their three month session. Throughout these three months, they will each be submitting a blog. As always, blogs are the personal reflections and opinions of the author and do not necessary reflect the opinions of the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Rotary International, The Rotary Foundation, any government, or governmental entity.
Where to Start?
My host counselor is former US Ambassador Margaret McMillion. She was the Ambassador to Rwanda a decade after the genocide. It was the genocide in Rwanda that forced me to grapple with how to reach peace. In 2010/2011, I attended the Inter-American Defense College in Washington DC, an institution for rising leaders of the Western Hemisphere. Alumni include the current presidents of Chile and Guatemala. What affected me the most was the two-week session on peace operations. Brent Beardsley, who served as General Dallaire’s executive officer with the peacekeeping forces in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, taught. I realized then that we continue to have no good answers on how to confront situations like the genocide. It has haunted me since. We need solutions.
One of my heroes, US Member of Congress, Representative Tammy Duckworth, was born in Bangkok. She later worked for Rotary International. One of her undertakings while with Rotary International was to supply wheelchairs to Thailand. Little did she know at that time that she would be without legs. She lost her legs when her helicopter was shot down during US military engagement in Iraq. She made and continues to make lemonade out of lemons.
Why am I here?
My academic and professional shortcoming is that I do not possess the requisite intellectual framework needed for bringing peace. I know what I do not know; that is, how to achieve peace. I am here because the Rotary Peace Fellowship can provide that which I lack – the intellectual and practical training needed to achieve peace.
My career goal is to have the skills, knowledge, and influence to ensure real peace. I believe the opportunity to study, as a Rotary Peace Fellow, peace and conflict resolution at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University’s Professional Certificate Program in Bangkok, Thailand will provide what I need. The peace I seek is not the “post-conflict peace” of places like El Salvador and Guatemala where violence continues under another name, that of organized crime. That is not peace. It is simply violence under another name. Whether a child’s life is taken in a shoot-out between warring entities or between drug cartels, the result for that child and her family is the same. Part of my life includes being deployed to Colombia. Currently Colombia is engaged in peace negotiations with its guerrilla opponent, the FARC. Yet even if a formal peace treaty is signed between the Colombian government and the guerrillas, I fear that the violence will not abate but will increase. I want peace, not violence under another name.
What is the added bonus of being in Bangkok, Thailand, at Chulalongkorn University for the Rotary Peace Fellowship?
To paraphrase Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “Let me count the ways.” I get to learn a new language, a new culture, a new climate. For example, Chulalongkorn University’s color is pink. It is pink because King Chulalongkorn, for whom the university was named, was born on a Tuesday. In Thailand each day of the week has its own color. The color for Tuesday is pink. (The other colors are yellow for Monday, green for Wednesday, orange for Thursday, blue for Friday, purple for Saturday, and red for Sunday.) It makes me wonder why coding days of the week with colors is not part of the culture I have experienced in the Americas, Europe, the Pacific, and Oceania. Another approach to life concerns eating. In Thailand one eats with a fork and a spoon. A knife is not part of the eating cutlery. The customs and courtesies regarding hierarchy in Thailand remind me of the military. In the military the “subordinate” salutes the “superior.” In Thailand the “subordinates” wai the “superiors.”
I also have the opportunity to experience other unique aspects of Thai life.
• I got to see my first live Muay Thai fighting match. A fighting ring was set up alongside the traffic next to the stadium and people could spectate.
• I got to experience my first Thai massage. There is nothing docile about it.
• And I am crossing streets in Bangkok. I am learning to cross the street right when another pedestrian crosses it. That practice and strategy makes crossing the street less life-threatening.
I anticipate learning much during my time at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University and look forward to implementing what I learn. I am very grateful to Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation for giving me this opportunity.
Cornelia Weiss, USA
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2015 Session