Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
It is Monday afternoon, June 8, after I had checked through customs and immigration before taking a peep up to inhale deeply the Thai air and exhale loudly. It had been more than 24 hours since I last felt the sunshine, which was when I bid Nigeria goodbye at midday on Sunday headed for the 20 hours flight to Bangkok, Thailand, with a three-hour stopover at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
From the airport to my exquisite accommodation at Room 2019 in the CU I House at Chulalongkorn University, it was a beautiful discovery of a new world of high rise buildings, alluring city landscapes, and fast-paced development, typical of the Asian world. I have my host counselor, retired banker and Past President of the Rotary Club of Bangrak, Sataporn Jinachitra, to thank not only for picking me up at the airport, but also introducing me to my first Thai meal, which was more than a memorable buffet.
Once I settled into my room, I had a whole day to relieve myself of the jet lag. The first 24 hours in Thailand sped past like it was 24 minutes. I slept away more than half of it and spent the remainder connecting back to Nigeria, the world I had left behind, on social media.
On Wednesday morning, orientation classes for the Rotary Peace Fellowship began in earnest and I met for the first time 17 other Fellows selected from across the world, including two Kenyans, Moses Chavene and Mediatrix Shikoli. We were all lucky to be chosen as Class 19 of the three month program at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary during our session.
We had two days of intense orientation about the program and living in Thailand. Friday was fully devoted to the Individual Conflict Presentation (ICP), which would be our project during the Fellowship. Eight minutes of presentation and five minutes of discussion right on Day Three didn’t appear easy, but turn after turn, each one had the chance to introduce the class to his or her home country and project.
For me, nothing else would matter than seeing an end to the mindless orgy of Boko Haram insurgency. Any thought of peace would be channeled towards taming the tide of the dreaded insurgents. I discussed on the last six years of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, with a special focus on the fate and future of hundreds of thousands of school-age children displaced by the terrorists in the three troubled Northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
It was a subject I could relate to since, by providence, I had in 2006, long before the bombings, did my National Youth Service in Borno and for 11 months lived in Baga – yes the same Baga the Boko Haram rebels leveled last year and sacked soldiers from the Multinational Joint Taskforce.
Looking for a fun way to start the presentation, I made reference to the theme song of the South Africa 2010 World Cup. Two songs were commissioned by two competing brands for the competition. Pepsi had Shakira do the ‘Waka Waka’ song, which means ‘This Time Africa’, but my favourite theme song was the one adopted by Cocacola and composed by Somali-Canadian artist, K’naan titled ‘Waving Flag’.
I re-echoed the song originally written for Somalia and the aspiration of its people for freedom:
When I get older
I will be stronger
Then call me freedom
Just like a waving flag
And then it goes back
I then drove the presentation home by linking it to the bleak future of the thousands of children and older people in various camps in northern Nigeria, whose hopes of being free like a waving flag have been dashed and are almost irredeemable unless the wave of insurgency is arrested.
The Global Terrorism Index 2014 findings are very scary, especially when you are outside looking in at the spate of violence caused by Boko Haram. Across the world, 7,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that is 61% more than the previous year and 82% of all deaths from terrorist attack occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. Luckily, we have among the class Fellows from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine, and we all compared notes on the situation with terrorism in our home countries. It is really a long walk to world peace.
However, all hope is not lost and concerned citizens of the world interested in global peace and conflict resolution must collaborate in waging a spirited war on the insurgents, so that in days and years ahead, we can have the transformative story of Pakistan’s Nobel Laureate, Malala, replicated in the lives of the troubled children of the northeast and together they can all blossom in fulfillment of freedom like a waving flag.
I have never anywhere seen where an individual who has mixed business with pleasure with so much novelty than Mechai Viravaidya, founder of the jaw-dropping restaurant, Cabbages and Condoms. If the aesthetics do not already arrest you, then a large banner at the entrance will: “Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.” As one of the unique restaurants in Bangkok, Cabbages and Condoms was conceptualized to promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning, while also generating income to support various development activities of the Population and Community Development Association.
The food is not only good but the sights splendid. It is fun seeing what ordinary condoms have been used to create like the Condom Santa (Father Christmas), which welcomes you to the dinning area among other things in a unique way to pass the intended message. Last Thursday evening was memorable for the Rotary Peace Fellows of Class 19, who had graciously accepted the invitation of our Week One lecturers, Emeritus Professor Tom Woodhouse and Ms. Irene Santiago to dinner.
On the weekend, I and the other Fellows were at a main temple here in Bangkok. It was an organised tour of Bangkok and our first stop was at the Grand Palace. I was left in awe at the beautiful sights of the Thai places of worship. The temple, which housed the reclining Buddha took my breath away for a moment. Truth be told, the reclining Buddha is a massive and beautiful piece of art, resplendent in its radiant glory. Our lunch by the river and a boat ride through the city’s canals finished off our tour.
A movie experience like no other rounded off an unforgettable first week of immersion in peace and conflict studies. The movie was Jurassic World in 4D. I have never been this thrilled in a long time. The dinosaurs were clawing me in the back while the rocking chair momentarily transported me to the park, located off the coast of Costa Rica.
16 days gone, 64 more to go… bring it on, I can’t wait!
Templer Olaiya, Nigeria
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2015 Session