Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
When I found out I was accepted for the Rotary Peace Fellowship at the prestigious Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, I was filled with happiness and also with surprise. I had applied before for several fellowships in the past, but all required a university degree, which I do not have. I had started working while I was still a high school student as a humanitarian worker to help victims of conflict in my homeland of Aceh, and gave up the opportunity to go to university because I wanted to help my people in the middle of an escalating war. The fact that the Rotary Peace Fellowship valued my experience working in conflict over a formal university degree was unexpected to me, and I am extremely grateful and exited for this opportunity.
Unlike many people who choose to work in conflict-affected societies professionally, I did not choose to work in conflict but grew up in a province that faced an armed separatist conflict for 30 years. My hometown of Idi, in East Aceh, was, in fact, one of the areas that where the conflict was most intense, as many rebel commanders came from there. By the time I reached high school, I could no longer ignore the suffering of people around me—villagers displaced from their homes forced to live in camps, mosques and schools, children who lost their parents, and mothers who lost their sons. Humanitarian work kept me very busy, and I could not leave Aceh for years. Unlike many aid workers who join international organisations to work in foreign lands, I started my own humanitarian organisation and had the responsibility to lead and manage the organisation I created.
Now that I am outside of Aceh, in an inspiring university environment, I finally have the opportunity to think about the conflict at home from a new perspective and critical distance, while learning new concepts and theories that I had not been exposed to before. Just in the past few weeks, the course has already helped me understand how the conflict in Aceh has transformed over the years, from open conflict to political conflict. This understanding is helping me think more clearly about how to best respond to these transformations through my hope to develop conflict and peace education curriculum in Aceh.
The opportunity to study with classmates from 16 other countries is simply priceless, helping to open my knowledge and giving me the chance to learn about so many conflicts in other parts of the world. It is also a great experience to be in a class together with so many smart and wonderful people from different cultural backgrounds and histories. I am learning that people from all over the world have their own cultural and personal uniqueness. For example, I have been fascinated by the sheer diversity of personalities among my African classmates— from Hope’s expressiveness, to Jane’s gentle and soft-spoken calmness. Never did I imagine I would study alongside with professors, Goran and Simon, or become classmates and friends with a police officer, Andy, or that a police officer could be one of the nicest gentlemen I have met. On top of everything we are learning in class, we are learning so much from each other, sharing stories, experiences and laughs, like the late night discussions with Travis on the dysfunction of development aid and the crisis of US politics.
Thanks to this journey we are on together, I now have friends from so many parts of the world, places I have never imagined. And though it has only been a few weeks, I feel like we are already more than friends, we are a family. We can depend on and trust each other, and support each other regardless of our backgrounds and our differences. For someone who grew up witnessing how conflict can devastate and fragment communities and even turn sons against their fathers, this spirit of family that we nurture here means the world to me, for through this spirit we plant and cultivate the seeds of humanity.
Hermanto Hasan – Indonesia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22