Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
With a mind that has been stimulated and a heart overflowing with gratitude, there is so much to tell. Since the other peace fellows have been sharing lots of inspiring, informative, fun-tastic, profound reflections, let me just answer the most recurrent questions I encounter.
Is it your first time in Thailand? What were you doing before the program? How did you know about the peace fellowship? How do you find the fellowship?
It’s my third in the “Land of Smiles”. First was in 1998 when I was Philippine delegate to the Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program. Second was in 2002, when I stopped over for a month and assisted a raj yoga meditation teacher from Rajasthan, India, as she lectured among various groups on stress management.
I was hosted by the Thai government and my homestay family. This time, I blend with 23 other peace fellows, each with her/his own accent, context, experiences and preferences. Our program director Dr. Vitoon Viriyasakultorn says this batch of professionals has the most number of countries represented which is 17.
I first heard about the peace fellowship in 1999 after I was chosen Rotary International Group Study Exchange (GSE) delegate to Missouri, USA. The club president who endorsed me casually mentioned it to me. Since the past three years, my GSE team leader past District 3820 Governor Michael Lirio, has been pushing me to apply.
I had to detach from family, volunteer and professional work. Last year, when I was awarded the Rotary Foundation’s Global Alumni Service for Humanity Award for Zone 7A, I thought it was the right time to avail this highly competitive grant.
As a freelance journalist-facilitator-development worker, among others, with guidance from my experienced peacebuilder sister Marides Gardiola, I always found myself in the mountains, island provinces and peace zones listening to the narratives of survivors of war and calamities and their transformation stories from being rebels and combatants to being peace and development advocates.
In this program, I am able to objectively process my experiences using the peace lens, to validate, update and upgrade with the guidance of the international resource persons, through interactions with fellows and other resource materials as well as participants and staff at Rotary’s peace center here at Chulalongkorn University.
Each day gifts me with more outside the cycle of lectures, workshops and discussions, field trips, meals, coffee breaks, after 4 p.m. fitness/self-care choices, food tripping, room cleaning, journalizing, reflections, paperwork, interactions with the Rotarians, etc.
My growth areas include befriending conflicts, going out of my comfort zone from listening to talking, missing the power nap after lunch, getting the vegan dishes from sumptuous Thai cuisine, eco-friendly spending of my stipend, resonating with international conflict issues and synergizing with the global peace movement.
After one month, I am keeping these spiritual formula to make the most of the remaining days: 1) I am the soul journeying “from peace to peace” in the world drama; 2) Tune in to a Higher Being who is the Ocean of Peace; 3) Trust that everything will turn out good even if things appear complicated or in a stalemate.
If Sawasdee ka is the greetings for the Thai, it is “Mabuhay” in our country which means to live or thrive. As my country faces challenging times in promoting the value of life and the resumption of peace talks, and with a new President who vows to stop criminality with an iron hand, “seeds from the peace fellowship” will surely benefit Philippine soil.
Madonna Virola – Philippines
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 22