Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

A Life Altering Experience

As one who has never flown outside my country, everything is new.  It was a lesson for me.  After having the message that I was selected to this course I started to learn how to use the computer.  Step by step I have started to learn computer but it is quite hard to learn without proper instruction. However, I am happy to say now I can use the computer somehow.  It is very important to talk about my English language proficiency.  I am not a native speaker so I make mistakes but I don’t take it personally because in my class every one speaks like they are native speaker.  Many times it is a challenge to me.  I can understand somehow, but I have no words to express my ideas because of my poor vocabulary.  Why I am saying these things?  It is a single story of one of the Rotary Peace Fellows in class 18 at Chulalongkorn University.  The Rotary Foundation has given me more opportunities to learn not only peace, but also language, information technology, ideas from others, exchanging experiences, social life, traveling, and many other kinds of knowledge.

With this background I would like to say, I thank Kassapa Diyabedange the Rotary Peace Fellow 2012.  He is the great human being who recommended this program to me.  He has so much to support and encourage me.  I must say he is good Rotary Peace Fellow.  Then I should thank Mr. Andrew who made the arrangements to send my details to Rotary International headquarters in Chicago, and Douglas Riach, my host counselor.  I do remember Mr. and Mrs. Nobouo and Ayako Ito from Japan whose endowment sponsored me. They are Rotarians.  I am very happy to say the staff at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University give us good support.  Specially, it is very helpful  to me for maintain my moral and wonder ideas.

Week 1

It was a big challenge.  I have never faced this type of international gathering before.  I was the first Fellow who was to introduce the lecturer.  He is Dr. Tom Woodhouse from the University of Bradford.  However, I did that and I think it was an amazing opportunity to stand in front of my smart Fellows and introduce Tom.  Tom and Ms. Irene Santiago did an excellent job describing the concepts and values of peace and conflict studies.  They presented to us the nature and types of conflicts, root causes of conflict, gender in conflict situations, and other concepts.  Tom and Irene made a picture for us of the importance of conflict studies.

Week 2

The second week I got a good concepts of analyzing tools that was really helpful from Dr. Erik Melander.  For me the ABC tool was amazing because it was easy to understand compared to others.  I have learned how to analyze conflict and use those tools when I go back home.  Other topics we learned very well were human security, humanitarian law, trends in armed conflict, and peacebuilding.  He presented models, frameworks, and tools for conflict analyzing.  The conflict triangle is one of ways he had shown us to use for analyzing.  In my country I can give many examples of conflicts.  Armed conflicts, racism, drug  addiction, rape, etc.  I think this system is very helpful  me to understand my local conflicts.

Week 3

It was a lovely and enjoyable week.  Jan Sunoo and Romana Buck made such an interesting agenda to teach us.  Jan is a very  good musician.  The great start with music every day was excellent.  Romana’s presentation methods were very creative.  At the beginning there was a multinational cultural topic that we do face everyday.  It was a good chance to understand others and their identities.  Many conflicts derive from cultural aspects such as language, religion, traditions, and customs.  Every nation wants their own identity.  It is very important to understanding about cultural and identity in conflicts.  There were group activities, discussions, and demonstrations to improve understanding about negotiation, mediation, and facilitation.  As humans, we face various matters, problems, and conflicts.  If they are our own or not, we can use these actions to find solutions.

Field study

I am not ashamed to say it is my second flight.  Yes it was an outstanding experience to go and collect information and sharing experiences with each other in the field study.  We were accommodated in a comfortable hotel.  At the first dinner night there was a beautiful cultural show singing, dancing, and drama.  Yes it was a nice concert we all enjoyed dancing with them.  I was very inspired by the hospitality, openness, and good sense of humor.  On the second day we went near the border of Thailand and Cambodia.  It is an international conflict.  In the afternoon we had a meeting with the villagers who were victims of the conflict.  We discussed many topics with the military officers.  The third day we also had meetings with some poor communities.

On the fourth day we had a conformance with EGAT/Sirindhorn Hydro Power Plant representatives.  They showed what the value is of the dam and that afternoon went to observe the Pak Moon Dam.  Later in the afternoon we had a meeting with a community who think positively about the dam.  On the fifth day we visited the Pak Moon Local Wisdom Museum and met community members there who were against the dam and talked about their occupational interruptions.  On the sixth day there was a meeting with a civil society group.  The members gave a description about their ideas and the difficulties around them.

Why did I tell you this story?  On our field study we were trying to learn about natural resources conflict, land disputes, and grassroots civil society movements.  As an observation and as a research it was very successful.  Based on these political, economic, cultural, ethnic, and other backgrounds, big efforts should be made towards solutions.  Also, sometimes important things are hidden behind these backgrounds.

To sum up, I have learned tons of things that I have never had before in my life.  Thank you Rotary for shaping my life and granting me this wonderful opportunity.

Udaya Kantha Suraweera, Sri Lanka
Rotary Peace Fellow
January 2015


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