Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
As I embark on this journey to understand and synthesize the robust meaning of peace, I find myself at the intersection of 17 cultures, myriad personalities, a community of Thai host counselors, peace advocates, and inspiring peace heroes. Less than two weeks into the program, these are some of the words that float through my mind, elicited by those I’ve been privileged to meet – sensitive, accommodating, focused, empathetic, creative, clear-thinking, playful, accomplished, joyful, pensive, spirited, facilitator, kind, spiritual, organic, comedic, articulate, worldly, enthusiastic, helpful, idealistic, formidable, aspiring, inspiring, unassuming, forceful, animated, dynamic, organized, scholarly, amicable, composed and introspective.
Peace Fellows sharing their personal narratives is a treasured private window into the beating hearts and souls of these diverse countries and cultures. I sense authenticity and a shared passion for being the change we each wish to see in the world. The Individual Conflict Proposals (ICPs) presented by the Peace Fellows depicted brutalities, injustices, civil rights infractions, and vulnerable populations. In contrast, Dr. Sombat’s exercise that asked us to share more about ourselves appeared to showcase common patterns of personal passions like dance, animals, nature, reading, sports, arts, children, family, racing and exercising. These valued experiences seemed to be similarly grounding for each of us, despite considerable diversity within the group.
The implantation of this Peace Fellowship within the Rotary mechanism interjects genuine Thai culture and unique relationships that offer a deeper connectivity. One particular transformative experience for me was a distinguished speaker at the Rotary Orientation luncheon, Bhichai Rattakul, a nonagenarian and former Thai Vice Prime Minister, who also served as the President of Rotary International, as well a former Trustee.
As we Peace Fellows delve deeper into negative peace (lack of war and violence), positive peace (systems and infrastructures that facilitate peace), and various models, I continue to hear Bhichai’s words as he explained The Lake of Love project and its goal to “sow the seeds of love.” This project will bring precious water and lasting improvements to the livelihoods of farmers in rural Thailand. “The farmers will have peace,” Bhichai explained.
During an exercise led by peace advocates Irene Santiago and Tom Woodhouse, all 23 Peace Fellows collaborated to launch four imaginary spacecrafts into the cosmos to establish a brave new peace-filled world. We staffed each of our ships with citizens who named their vessels inspired by their peace idols: Mother Teresa, Vandana Shiva, Bacha Khan, and The Elders including Kofi Anan, Gro Brundtland, Graca Machel, Mary Robinson, Ban Ki-Moon, and Nelson Mandela to name a few. I heard the words of Vandana Shiva, “we are all seeds … for a while, we might lie underground, but at the right moment we germinate and burst out with all of our potential … we sow the seeds of hope and love.” I remembered similar words I heard just days before. Our ships blasted off one by one carrying these messages: service to others and spirituality, food and care for the earth, non-violence, and finally collaboration. Irene Santiago shared the viewpoint that the structure for peace is intrinsically anchored in relationships. This rings true for me – from the Rotarian hosts to the Peace Fellows to the peace advocates and peace heroes, beyond theories and strategies; people connecting with people.
Over the next several months, the concept of conflict with all of its nuances, as well as peace building will be explored from a global vision while we also drill down and dissect a focused conflict relevant to each of us. Perhaps we will construct new creative peace paradigms that currently don’t exist. What I do know is that I’m energized, inspired and honored to share this journey with the Peace Fellows of class XXV. Our world and its escalating complexity seems to be calling for greater involvement – both from those who have previously stood on the sidelines, and others who have been restricted from participation. With the mindful engagement of many comes the possibility of moving from positive peace to peace transformation, and potentially to a world that can flourish from the seeds of love.
Therese McFarland – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 25