Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
We talked a lot during our first two weeks at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University about connectors and dividers—what brings people or groups together and what drives them apart—in conflict situations. As soon as Class 18 Rotary Peace Fellows arrived, we looked for ways to connect with each other. In fact, our tallest Fellow found many of us on Facebook and began friendships and organizing workshops even before we arrived. We were so keen to meet each other that we threw open our doors to see who had arrived and threw open our arms to greet those we had only known virtually.
When you look at conflict situations around the world, dividers are typically differences in religion, language, ethnic group identity, or over resources. Class 18 has all of these as potential dividers, but they are used as connectors here. We connect through sports, food, curiosity about each other’s cultures, traveling, the arts, children, and celebrations. We put business cards on our doors, leave them open, send messages, hang out and play in the hallways signaling to each other our desire to connect. So far, I do not see any dividers on the horizon.
Do we behave this way just because it is our job to connect as peacebuilders and Rotary Peace Fellows?
I don’t think so. I believe that it is our human nature, and, in the case of the Rotary Peace Fellows, also our calling. Just about an hour ago, our “chief” fellow posted a Nelson Mandela quote about how love is our nature as children and that we learn to hate as we grow up. I believe we are natural connectors, and we learn to divide or see certain circumstances as divisions. We, as Rotary Peace Fellows, obviously did not unlearn love or the ability to connect. I know this about myself and I hear it from my classmates.
During our class work on conflict assessment, it was clear that we were all looking for long-term sustainable solutions. There are teachers, restorative justice and traditional mediators, and police officers among us. It occurred to me that it mattered who was sitting around the peacebuilding table. If we teachers were not present, would anyone have thought of education as a solution for peace? Had there not been mediators, would we just create more violence and economic burden for already devastated economies? If our resident nutritionist were absent, would the donated, stored and processed food be enough for the children, elderly and infirm? If we saw peace as only part of our jobs, would we care so much about the outcome?
For me, teaching is connecting, especially when the teaching context supports connectivity. Education is often thought of as a long-term solution to the peace process, meaning little if no peacekeeping money is available. However, during our class conflict analyses nearly every group mentioned education as a connector. If you have ever had a passionate, caring teacher in your life, you know the power that this can have on a child and in relatively little time. Imagine if every teacher were a peace educator! As a curriculum developer for a children’s peace studies organization and a long-time educator, I know that every subject can be taught through the lens of peace.
I had the very fortunate experience of working as a Waldorf teacher for five years in Central Mexico, my home. If you don’t already know, Waldorf education is education for peace, although you won’t find this in any of the peace literature. It was created by Rudolf Steiner during the rise of National Socialism in order to create a more peaceful society. Its philosophy, based on Steiner’s anthroposophy, takes into consideration the child’s and the teacher’s spiritual health as well the academics of empathy such as music, art, movement and language learning. Cooperation is prized over competition, the group over the individual building bridges between people and cultures.
Many of us Rotary Peace Fellows are the main bridges, or connectors, of peace in our communities through the various agencies or projects we work with. When we were starting to work on our individual conflict analysis last week, I realized that there was a large communication gap in my community amidst growing insecurity. There is a large ex-pat community that by and large does not speak Spanish and the local Mexican community who do not speak English. There is also quite a large economic gap between these groups, favoring the foreigners. I have been talking to peacemakers and well-wishers on both sides about what the issues are and find they are isolated from each other. Then, I realized that I could be that connector through a peace education program I am hoping to bring to the community.
The Rotary Peace Center in Bangkok is the chief connector of our new peace community that is Class 18. Together we are creating our own super-culture of peace during these three months. We are connected to each other forever by this experience, to the Center in Bangkok, to Rotary, and to our communities. Calling all connectors to the peace table!
Wendy Coulson, USA
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2015 Session