Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

A Journey Through the Concepts and Values of Peace and Conflict Studies

I really cherish the great opportunity of Rotary Peace Fellowship class 22 at Chulalongkorn University and firmly believe that the program provides challenges and opportunities which I am looking for in my professional development. After reaching Bangkok on January 13, I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every day. Week two from January 23 to January 27 is the first module: The concepts and values of peace and conflicts studies. The program orientation, the sessions on trauma and self-care, and the orientation at Rotary Club in the first week have already laid a solid foundation for module one. We have the privilege for having Michael Fryer and Ellen Maynes to teach this module. Michael Fryer is a highly accomplished conflict resolution trainer and consultant. Originally from the UK, now he works in San Diego, California, USA. After teaching at the Rotary Peace Fellowship program at Chulalongkorn University for years, Michael Fryer is very experienced. Originally from Australia, now Ellen Maynes works in Myanmar. She replaced Irene Santiago, who could not come to teach. She was a Rotary Peace Fellow last year and thus is very familiar with the program. Both have extensive experiences, after working overseas for years.

Michael Fryer started his session on Monday with music. I really appreciated this approach as it helped us to get spiritually prepared for the session. To break the ice, we spent the whole morning introducing ourselves. He offered a brief overview of peace studies. Thus all participants were on the same page for the module. Then he employed various teaching methods. He divided the whole class into two teams to simulate a two-party negotiation in Hawks and doves negotiation exercise: Mitrovica hospital simulation. The goal was to get funding from the World Bank for a hospital or clinic in Kosovo. I realized that it was the prisoner’s dilemma in game theory. To be exact, it is chain store game. In theory, the two parties simply cannot cooperate. Surprisingly, the other party decided to walk away from the negotiation table midway. The reality is much more complex than theory.   In game theory, stakeholders should calculate their utilities, regardless the utilities that the other party gets. However, in reality, envy does exist and people are not completely rational.  Because of hatred, one side simply does not want the other side to get anything.   Interestingly, Michael Fryer has put two spoilers in each team to sabotage cooperation. In fact, these spoilers made the situation more similar to reality in Kosovo. In the words of George Soros, founder of Central European University in Budapest, “Thinking can never quite catch up with reality: Reality is always richer than our comprehension. Reality has the power to surprise thinking, and thinking has the power to create reality. But we must remember the unintended consequences — the outcome always differs from expectations.”

Michael Fryer asked each of us to write three questions. I wrote down: what is community? How shall we live with differences? When is the past, past? On the next day, Michael Fryer and Ellen Maynes have composed a nice poem on our questions. He also let us realize that what type of communication we participants belong to. Of course, to know ourselves is very important.

In another game, we were asked to use Lego to construct a building. Each team was divided into three sections: boss, architect, and builder. I served as builder. The architects were given limited time to go to look at the model building. Then they gave instructions to the builders, who will build the building. At the end of the game, we realized that there were a few lessons. We should divide the whole project into small steps and pay great attention to cooperation and communication. The most interesting thing of the game was that Michael Fryer secretly changed the Lego building midway. This change is based on reality: the goal is often modified when we work on the project.

I can clearly recall a game that I played when I was at the Balkan Summer School on Religion in Public Life (BSSRPL) in Plovdiv, Bulgaria organized by CEDAR (Community Engaging in Difference and Religion), which was headed by Professor Adam Seligman from Boston University, in summer 2015. In the game, we were divided into groups. Each group read the instruction and then played a card game. After one round, one person was moved to another group. The game was interesting, because actually the instruction given to each group was different from the instruction given to other groups.

On Thursday, Ellen Maynes took over. She talked about gender in conflict resolution and peace building. We learned more about gender equality. And we realized that the aim was not about simply adding a gender session into the agenda. She asked us to review a questionnaires designed to collect information on violence against women in Myanmar with rural women’s smartphone app. The major issue was privacy and confidentiality. In the rural areas where the women live, smart phones are often shared between family members.  We participants suggested that we shall carry out face-to-face interview with the rural women rather than using the smartphone app. She organized us to play a power walk activity.  We read a card that we were given and did not share it with anyone else. We stood in a line. This spot represented beginning of the exercise. Article one in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Then we imaged ourselves in the role that we were given. We listened to the statement that Ellen Maynes gave out. If the answer is yes, we take one step forward. If the answer is no, we do not move. This activity really put us in the shoes of others. Some participants stated that they felt powerless in the roles that they were given.

The wonderful dinner at Cabbages and Condoms on Thursday night was a great chance for us to get to know each other more. Friday morning, she talked about no harm principle. She showed a video clip of one million shirts for Africa project. We all realized that the shirts were not needed in Africa and the project would do harm to the African people, no matter how good the intention was.  We discussed the ten roles of third party: provider, teacher, bridge builder, mediator, arbiter, equalizer, healer, witness, referee and peacekeeper. Then we got to know what third side role we were best suited to play. We discussed why expats get paid much more than local staff.

Time flies. Friday afternoon, we concluded the first module. We were asked to write our expectations of this fellowship on a post card, which will be opened at the end of this fellowship. We wrote something on another post card, which will be opened a few years later. We wrote our action plan on postcards and post them on the door. Then we wrte barriers and posted them on the way to the door. A few participants joined hands to run forward to break these barriers. Michael Fryer and Ellen Maynes gave us suggestions on how to make the most out of the fellowship program. As always, we ended the day with a few minutes of mindfulness exercise.

In summary, the first module was a great success and it made us to be well prepared for the whole fellowship program. Thus I become quite confident and am really looking forward to module two on diagnosis and analysis of conflict next week. I have learned tremendously. Moreover, I have thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with my dedicated and accomplished fellows. What a wonderful group we are!

Shuxi Yin – China

Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22


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