Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
A year ago, through a small piece of happenstance, I stumbled across a notice about the Rotary Peace Fellowship Program, and as a result, I now find myself amongst an esteemed group of professionals, all of whom are working as peacebuilders around the globe. We have been here a long enough time for people to reveal something of themselves, and the more I learn about each of the fellows, the more I realize the impact that each of us is making with their work, and I am thrilled to be a part of something so big.
This program has an added significance for me by virtue of its location in Thailand, where I experienced another life-shifting moment more than 20 years ago. My very first experience working overseas, in Kanchanaburi, set me on a different career path, and in retrospect, made me realize the importance of encouraging youth to explore and learn by experiencing the greater world. Finding myself here again at a mid-point in my career, I feel another shift taking place. The past two months have been an enlightening experience for me, as our cohort of 23 peace follows collaboratively learns more about peacebuilding, conflict prevention and all that this entails. The magnitude of this three months has also been enhanced by being able to share it with my children, who have accompanied me to Thailand. They are not only experiencing a new language and culture, they are soaking in the learnings that accompany their first experience abroad. Their place among the 23 fellows has been a special one, and my ‘rotary peace kids’ are being primed to be the next generation of peacebuilders.
Over the past weeks in the program, my favourite part has been the opportunity to hear from my colleagues about the impressive work they are doing. While we have had opportunities to discuss our work informally, a full day session midway through the week gave us space to discuss some of our successes or new ideas, and to see where we might wish to coordinate efforts or draw input from other experts in the field. Embedded in the middle of the week, the session was preceded by Dr. Delsey Ronnie discussing his work in negotiating international peace agreements and was followed by Lt General B. Sharma speaking about DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization & Reintegration) and his contributions to the peace process in his native Nepal. The positioning of the session was brilliant. It emphasized the scope of peace-building and its vastness – from global efforts to stop wars and the development of comprehensive peace agreements, to the more local, such as engaging youth in peacebuilding programs. One fellow framed it as “big peace and little peace”, noting that in order to achieve global peace, both are necessary. I fully believe this to be true.
I came into this fellowship with big ideas about peace – big frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), big thoughts about peacebuilding and big hopes for what we might achieve together, with three months of collective learning and building relationships. While the framework piece has become more of a question (more that one of my fellow fellows has referred to the SDGs as total crap) my thoughts about peacebuilding and hopes for collaborative achievements seem to be accelerating. I’m learning that ‘small peace’ has a mighty role to play in the global arena. That without the small acts done by ordinary individuals, we are no further advanced in realising world peace than if we had hundreds of international peace agreements.
I see these small acts every day. Many are about kindness – a taxi driver helping out when my child is sick or someone buying a colleague a cup of coffee when they are having a bad day. Some are about forgiveness – assuming small offences are coming from a good place or looking beneath the surface to understand past grievances. Some are about courage and bravery, like those that stand up to human rights abuses, who protect others during conflict, who fight for peace no matter what the personal cost. And all of these together – kindness, forgiveness, courage and bravery, can manifest as the way in which we most effectively prevent conflict and build peace.
As we approach the last weeks of the fellowship, the broad themes and topics we have covered are beginning to inter-connect and I am reflecting on how these different elements of peacebuilding can be brought into my work.
As a leader of a membership-based international cooperation network, I automatically jump to how best to support opportunities for partnership and collaboration. The importance of learning more about what other organizations and individuals are doing cannot be overstated, and the relationships that have been developed with instructors and colleagues will undoubtedly influence my work moving forward. I have connected with other peace follows that are working in common areas, including working with youth, and hope to continue that work after the fellowship is completed.
The program has also reinforced my belief that it is essential that we recognize that youth play an integral role in the peacebuilding process, and that in order for them to be agents of change, they must have the knowledge, skills and understanding of the global context to be able to do so. I feel strongly that we must continue to work to build leadership so that youth can address systemic change through their work in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, which sometimes is the root of issues, and sometimes is an indicator of other factors shaping human conflict.
Finally, I have been able to build a strong foundation of knowledge around conflict prevention and resolution, which will support my ability in my leadership role to create change and to inspire optimism for prospects of peace, at the regional, national and international levels. Through developing my understanding of conflict analysis, I am better able to understand that in order to achieve peace, we must first understand the root causes of inequality, and work to address this before lasting peace can be found.
Bits of discussion and overheard murmurings from past fellows makes me realize that this time is fleeting, and as the end of the program approaches, I will undoubtedly be struck by the wistfulness that appears to exist with those that have preceded me – this time is so special, and I want to soak up every piece of advice, every bit of theory, and every brilliant reflection that comes from lecturers and fellows alike. Many of the insights that strike us on a journey turn out to be things that shift perspectives and allow us to grow. I’m certain that this fellowship program has done just that.
Jennifer Sloot – Canada
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 25