Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
In November 2016, I was sitting in my office, at the second floor of the landmark Anthony Saru Building in capital Honiara, Solomon Islands, listening to a group of Solomon Islanders on the ground floor. cheering our National Futsol team on TV. Our National Futsol team was competing against Argentina in the Colombia Futsol World Cup. The shop owner of one of the shops on the ground floor had mounted a TV screen to allow people to watch the 2016 Futsol World Cup live.
During that week, I had been reading articles on decentralization which Solomon Islands had been grappling with since the Union Jack (British flag) was lowered down in 1978 to give way for the Solomon Islands flag. To us Solomon Islanders, decentralization means developing the rural areas so that people are dispersed throughout the provinces, thus reducing the unprecedented growth of illegal settlements on the outskirts of Honiara. As a policy and planning public servant in the peace sector, decentralization has a critical implication for peace and conflict in Solomon Islands. The question that kept taunting me throughout that week was: “How can I contribute individually to decentralization?” “Is it even possible?”
When Solomon Islands team scored their equalizing goal against the mighty Argentine team, I ran out to the balcony to look down to the diehard fans below and join in the celebration. Right there I found my inspiration. I could build an informal peace and cultural center in my home village, incorporating Futsol Tourism. I then started to discuss this idea with my work colleagues and friends, and then went on further to draft a plan. But then the excitement moved backstage, giving way to my final Thai Visa process – I was going to Bangkok, Thailand, for the Rotary Peace Fellowship Program in January 2017 – which was another whole new level of excitement.
Little did I know that my fellowship experience would awaken my vision for the peace and cultural center. It all began with my conversation on the first week at Chulalongkorn University with my peace fellow colleague, Scot Martin, from California, USA, who is a landscape designer by profession, and a mediator by passion. I shared with him the idea, and asked him if he could help me with a rough design, which he agreed, and both of us were excited about it.
And then it was time for presenting our Individual Conflict Analysis (ICA) topic proposals. It was interesting to hear each individual ICA proposals from my colleague fellows, but one presentation caught my attention – “Peace from the Soil”. It awakened me, like a lion being awakened, with its ears standing upright as it sensed a prey nearby.
This farmer from the coastal region of Kenya, who is the Director of the Magarini Children Center and Organic Farming Demonstration Farm, shared his preoccupation. Emmanuel Karisha Bayer, an accountant by profession had left his job to care for orphans. He established his center and took in vulnerable children. Today the center is teaching and caring for about 200 children. His center feeds them, gives them an education, and teaches them organic farming. I was so inspired by his work that I immediately approached him and shared my intention and my interest in doing something similar. He smiled to me and said – “Brother, you can do it. If I can do it, why not you?” All throughout the program I associated and learned a great deal more from him.
Our time for field trip in the Thai Provinces of Chiang Rai and Phayao, in the second week of February came. Looking through the program schedule I saw an item on a visit to the Mekong River School. I was excited about it and knew I could get more information and inspiration for my vision. In that school, on the side of the Great Mekong River, I learned about why and how it was established by the locals. One thing I noticed though, was that, the school was made of local materials. I asked a question during our discussion about why permanent buildings were not built. The director, who was an activist for the preservation and conversation of natural resources within the Mekong River Basin in Thai territory, told us that they did not have the money to build permanent buildings, but that did not stop them from establishing the school. But I suspected that the land was not theirs to build any permanent building. But even then, the school inspired me more – after all I could quickly proceed on to laying down the groundwork and start building thatched roof houses to start off my peace and cultural center – it does not have to be permanent buildings.
I thought those were all my inspirations; but then we went for lectures on Peace and Buddhism to the Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyallaya University for Buddhist Monks. At the University Ven Associate Professor Phramaha Hansa Dhammahoso included in his set of presentations his initiative of a peace village. He transformed his own village in Thailand into a peace village, as a practical way of applying the Buddhist approach to peace. Built on my previous inspirations, this particularly inspiration shone more light to the path I wish to take. It became so clear that it would be strange not to take that path. I am going to build my informal peace and cultural center to contribute individually, but in a significant way, to the ongoing national efforts towards decentralization.
As they always say: doing something out of the normal is going to be very challenging. It could mean going out of one’s comfort zone, and making big sacrifices. But envisioning a peaceful and stable future for my country and people, and taking the little steps towards its fulfillment is something that must be done – it is simply the right thing to do. Shutting myself from and discarding it, is going to be an unpardonable sin against humanity.
Standing on the Balcony of my room 2017 on the 20th floor of the Chulalongkorn University International House, watching the setting sun, with an unfailing guarantee of a new day, I thought deeply of the possibilities and challenges of establishing my peace and cultural center. While laboring my thoughts, the Chinese Philosopher, Laozi came to my aid. One of his profound statements lifted my burden right there and then – “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. There is now no turning back. The first step, I must now take.
Kemuel Laeta – Solomon Island
Rotary Peace Center – Class 22