Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
In nearly two months being a Class 19 Rotary Peace Fellow at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, I have gone full cycle in all mood swings – happy, glum, loud, reticent, an extensive dose of laughing yoga, and moments the tears couldn’t be held back. Perhaps, our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again. It was good all of this happened to me because it served as a reality check that I was still in touch with my humanity.
Of all the emotions, nothing can equate the place of happiness and that has been my lifelong pursuit. The great news from home on the afternoon of July 21 was the curtain raiser so far in my short stay on earth. How could I describe the joy of being a brand new father of twins – a boy and a girl? Surely I couldn’t wish for more. Now I have a double task at hand. I will not only seek after happiness but begin the tortuous road to peace to make my world safe for my twins.
The journey to this realization began when I was young. I remember my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to elementary school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘Happy’. My teachers told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life. As I became older, happiness became my guidepost and compass to navigate through a world full of unhappy people.
Some years back, I was reading about Mother Theresa and how in 1979, when she was in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Peace Prize , newspaper reporters swarmed around her to know what she would recommend for world peace. Without giving the question a second thought, she replied: “Go home and love your family, because he is the happiest, be it king or peasant who finds peace in his home.” I didn’t think at the time Mother Theresa did justice to the reporters’ question. As a journalist, it would have been hard pitching that to my editor as a lead story, unless I was writing for a soft sell magazine. But her response struck a chord with me because of how well she related it to happiness.
Years later, I traveled thousands of miles over countries and oceans and arrived in Thailand for this Rotary Peace Fellowship to understand the full import of what Mother Theresa said 36 years ago. And the moment of truth came not in class but during a field trip to Doi Tung in northern Thailand, where I saw firsthand how the initiative of Her Royal Highness, the Princess Mother, in encouraging farmers to replace opium farming for cash crops, has changed people’s lives for the better.
The transformation of Doi Tung illustrates the saying that great things come from small beginnings, while most often, we tend not to think of simple steps to solving big problems. Nothing best explains the transformation than an encounter with a 90-year-old Abba Sunpon at the village. He said a long generation of the region dwellers did at least two out of three things – grew opium, sold opium, and used opium. All that is now history, thanks to the vision of one person, the Princess Mother, who changed the narrative and gave meaning to the lives of thousands living in Doi Tung.
If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the twin power of hope and one. One person – Washington, Lincoln, Revd. King, Mandela, Obama, and even young Nobel Laureate from Pakistan, Malala – one person can change the world by giving people hope. That is the positive lessons learned from history and reinforced throughout this Fellowship. A single drop of water can start ripples that grow into ever expanding waves.
Too often, we, as individuals, Rotary Peace Fellows and alumni, and peace experts across the world, tend to overlook the power of that ‘single drop’. We like to tackle the ‘waves’ forgetting that the best way to go is thinking of simple steps to solving problems. And that is the method the Princess Mother used in Doi Tung, which is helping people to help themselves. The simple step model was what Mother Theresa also proffered: “Going home to love your family.”
You can’t love your family and hate your neighbours because they are the closest to your family. You cannot also abide by the principle of ‘Do No Harm’ and not practice it with your family because ‘Charity begins at home’. And again, one cannot love humanity, one can only love people and the closest person to you is your family.
My parting shot: When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
Templer Olaiya, Nigeria
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2015 Session