Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Time flies so fast! It is three months shy since I came to Thailand to study at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University as a Rotary Peace Fellow. In my summary of the three month experience I will seem prejudiced to those who haven’t gone through this but it is the real depiction of my experience and learning at the Rotary Peace Center.
First, I have to say that one of the major knowledge experiences gained is from sharing information, stories, moments, and challenges with many Fellows from more than ten countries – Australia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, USA, Netherlands, Nepal, Germany, Kenya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Gaza Strip……the list goes on. One thing for sure that I like with these folks is the common sharing and support that we had for each other. Notwithstanding geographic experiences, I have immensely learned conflict resolution, conflict analysis tools, and peace building capacity skills. My interaction with my fellow colleagues and the different lecturers with vast experience in conflict resolution have made me to reevaluate my stereotypes, building my capacity in understanding the world even better.
My first encounter with open space technology echoed the purpose to which I applied for and was chosen to be part of Class 19. This exercise included the law of two feet that says: “any time you’re in a meeting where you’re not contributing nor adding value, you are encouraged to use your two feet and find a place where you can”. For me, I applied that to Fellowship also, in that if the Fellowship wasn’t meaningful and I’m not doing my part to make it meaningful, then probably I am at the right place at the wrong time and I ought to move on. This, however, occurred to me just after three weeks in Thailand while often getting home sick when I was almost just about to lose my focus, but when I read the law of two feet, I needed not to be reminded that someone committed his/her resources for me to achieve this. These two ideas stuck and gave me strength to carry on.
Working as a human rights defender (many people call us “activists” though I don’t like to be called an “activist” as it’s often construed to mean “guns for hire”) my engagement with authority more often than not is confrontational and has been part of my daily life. As human beings I believe we grow exponentially when we are out of our comfort zones since we continuously undergo learning and face challenges and struggle to adapt and overcome them. The Thai exposure and the conflict transformation and resolution strategies learned thus far have shown me that there is always an alternative. An alternative including dialogue, negotiating, and finding a common ground to the grievances and in realizing respect for human rights other than aggressive and provocative engagements as in the past.
More than that, through the self-care lessons and role plays I have valued my time and other people’s time more than ever before. It is powerful when you muster courage, gather power in the eye, and say NO for your inner peace which makes everything change for the good. Nevertheless, I admit that I have been a victim of surrendering to everything all the time thus the self-care exercise by my fellow Rotary Peace Fellow Michelle Rivera-Clonch, a mental health counselor and psychologist, taught me how to say NO in a way that will relieve me from stress and trauma.
From daily yoga sessions to molding of synthetic clay as we used to while we were young gave an impression that preoccupation by conflicting concerns without excusing oneself makes “Jack” a dull boy. Most importantly, both experiences teach you how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
The time was ripe then. The exchange of different cultures where you get to learn the similarities and differences as well as disregard for identity like my Australian close friend Chris would say was an archetype that binds the world together. Although I don’t belong to the Maa speaking group in Kenya, the culture I subscribe to, my colorfully festooned Maasai moran regalia augmented by my fellow colleague Mediatrix from Kenya’s attire of a Maasai woman carried my day.
I was even more fascinated by the adornment of garlanded Nigeria attire by my fellow Rotary Peace Fellow Petra from Germany, despite being not of the culture but the one she subscribes to. This gesture reverberate the world oneness that makes it a global village to which we all belong. The message was peace and unity. And no one can doubt that indeed we are all one.
Week seven knocked in when I had gained the momentum to tackle and poke holes into truth commissions and social justice, a topic I had since longed for bearing in mind how chaotic the Kenyan truth, justice and reconciliation commission executed its mandate. Needless to say, it is not Kenya alone that grappled with the reality of this commission but rather many conflict stricken countries like Colombia, just to mention one, too have undergone the same. South Africa as a good example of this, paved the way for emulation providing Rwanda a model that resulted in the Gacaca court system which gives hope for those countries yet to realize it. Indeed there is light at the end of the tunnel. All these efforts are geared towards post conflict reconstruction beside the infrastructural development as informed by Dr. Bernd.
It is worthy to say that I have been taught by some of the most influential lecturers and practitioners of conflict resolution in the world. Meeting and interacting with Dr. Jake Lynch last week whom I have only frequently heard of through BBC news and somehow read his writings on war and peace reporting was a milestone in my life. I can vividly and proudly allude to the fact that I can now interact with him from here onwards, though virtually and not face to face. The bottom line remains: we communicate. As he took us through media, conflict, and peace, he built my capacity as an advocate of human rights protection in determining war reporting. However, the growing challenge of peace reporting is the technological advancement that has paved way for citizen journalism, what Dr. Jake calls mass self-communication. From my three month peace studies and my urge for peace, my appeal therefore would be to regulate mass self-communication within the journalistic code of conduct in line with the ABCs of journalism.
Hayawi Hayawi Huwa! This is a Swahili adage, a language which happens to be my country’s official language which means: “It’s not happening; it’s not happening … it eventually happens.” Here we are on our last week of class and in preparation to go for our second and last field study in Cambodia. I had the responsibility of welcoming Dr. Kishu Daswani an experienced lecturer in international humanitarian law before we finally wrap up with Dr. Nabil Oudeh on the role of religion and dialogue in peacebuilding. Saturday will ultimately climax the long wait as we depart for the killing fields and the court proceedings against the perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge regime killings in Cambodia. The three months journey of peace and conflict resolution studies has been quite enriching.
Moses Chavene, Kenya
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2015 Session