Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
I was encouraged to apply for the Rotary Peace Fellowship by a former office colleague of mine, Pushpi, who was a Rotary Peace Fellow at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in 2007. After attending a competitive interview and being short listed for the Fellowship, I spent several sleepless nights in writing a 2,000 word essay that would articulate well to the selection board my work experience as a peacebuilder and how I intend to use the training I receive in my work back in Sri Lanka. The deadline to upload all documents was 1 July. From the 29th of June, I tried and tried but could not upload the documents as it was showing some error after completing part one of the online application. I panicked and after frantic emails to Emily and to our local Rotary counselor, Sahan, who was in charge of all applications, I tried on my official email and was successful in uploading the application on 1 July.
We were informed that the names of those selected will be released by 1 November. I remember very well how I got up on the 2nd of November around 3.am to check my email (Sri Lanka is almost 12 hours ahead of the USA) to see if I had made it and there it was – a mail of congratulations on my selection.
On the 4th of June I was invited by my sponsor club, the Rotary Club of Colombo Regency, as a guest speaker to make a presentation on the peacebuilding project I am working on, which is TEAM Sri Lanka, a project using the tool of sport to promote peace and reconciliation.
I arrived in Thailand on the 8th of June and my host counselor Sansit was at the airport to meet me. My counselor kindly took me to his house for breakfast and got his driver to drop me at the Chula accommodation. After checking in at my assigned accommodation, the first Rotary Peace Fellow I met was Akiko from Japan. We were just finding our way and looking for internet connections and later on I met Petra and the rest.
On the 9th I went to the Rotary Peace Center office to get my internet password. I met the Deputy Director, Jenn, who warmly welcomed me. I expected to see a very matriarchal lady with big rim glasses with thick lenses, but to my astonishment she was a very young warm person and had a charming personality.
On the 10th it was orientation where I got the opportunity to meet all the other Fellows. The gender balance is equal which was very rare for me as most courses I attended have been male dominated. All the participants are from diverse countries and professions, are well educated ranging from professors, to mediators, to police officers, etc. We were briefed by Jenn on Thai culture, the do’s and dont’s, etc. She spoke for two whole days nonstop, and at the end of the day had a smiling face. Her energy mesmerized all of us.
When we started the class on June 15th, we had already made friends with each other not in cliques but all as one big group. There was no divide. Most of the time we go out in groups for dinner and other outings. The first week of lectures were done by Professor Tom Woodhouse and Irene Santiago. The group exercises were very interesting as we shared our knowledge and learned from others. Professor Woodhouse’s topic on using sport as a media development tool interested me as I am handling a similar project in Sri Lanka using the sport cricket. He said the game of sport helps to unite people in changing their attitude and behavior.
On the 16th we had a game theory exercise in the afternoon where we worked in two groups in two different rooms. We were not allowed to go out except the negotiators of the team. Suddenly I had the urge to use the washroom and made one bee line to the bath room. Suddenly a voice from behind shouted “Jerome, where are you going?” I turned around to see who it was and it was Jenn playing her part in the exercise. She said I could not leave the room and I said I had to use the washroom, so she guided me to the washroom area asking not to look at the other room. I was in fits of laughter laughing to myself.
The topic gender and violence by Irene was very informative as it was the first time I was able to learn about this subject. She mentioned the importance of getting rid of gender biases men and women normally have and involving both at every level in decision making is helpful in making progress in this field.
I see the effort and commitment made by the entire Rotary team to make our stay memorable and comfortable, as well as their commitment to make us professional peacebuilders which will make a better place for the marginalized and violence affected communities we work with.
Thank you Rotary for giving me this opportunity, especially my sponsor club RC of Colombo Regency for making it all possible!
Jerome Senanayake, Sri Lanka
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2015 Session