Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
In response to a request from this week’s guest lecturers to share our culture(s) with the other Fellows, Maria, a Fellow from Moldova, asked for volunteers. Eight people jumped up, eager to participate, and Maria gathered them into a circle, and much to the delight of all, taught them a traditional Romanian dance. I watched as they danced in a circle holding hands, sometimes with grace and other times tripping over each other, but always laughing with a wholeheartedness that transcends language and culture, and I felt joy.
The experience of joy, for me, can only be described as a moment where I am touched in the deepest part of me, while simultaneously feeling attuned and connected to the world beyond me in a palpable way. In those brief minutes of watching my colleagues from Spain, Pakistan, Canada, the United States, Columbia and Moldova come together to share the beauty of connection across difference, I felt pure joy, and, in that moment, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Trying to articulate this experience to the broader public seems like an impossible task, partly because each day is so full, rich, challenging, potent, humbling, exciting and eye-opening. The best that I can offer is the image of Maria’s dance. Throughout each day, both inside and outside of the classroom, we come together to “dance”. We do this as a class, in small groups, or one on one, always with a willingness to show up to try something new, to face the sometimes awkward feeling of not knowing the moves, of tripping over each other, of laughing about it, and ultimately, of having created a unique dance that reminds us that the sum is always greater than the whole of its’ parts.
In the classroom, where we spend six hours/day together every Monday-Friday, the dance moves sometimes are extremely challenging. This week, with the guidance of two stellar, experienced Conflict Resolution experts, Jan Sunoo and Joel Schaffer, we began to tackle the complex process of Multi-Party Interest-Based Negotiation. Early in the week, we engaged in active listening exercises, discovered each of our working styles (I found myself in the Amiable group), and practiced mediation in small groups based on a real conflict of one of the Fellows. These first few days laid the foundation for a two-day, whole class negotiation role play about the Kachin refugees in Myanmar.
In my role representing the Myanmar Government’s Department of Refugee Affairs, I was able to unpack some of the nuances and complexities faced by a person or agency in a humanitarian crisis. For two long days, the Myanmar army, NGOs representing the refugees, the UNHCR, the World Health Organization, the Kachin Independence Army and many other groups, attempted to come to consensus about how to get emergency aid to the 90,000 refugees in desperate need of food, medicine and shelter. It was grueling, as layer by layer we unpacked the deeply entrenched beliefs and complicated dynamics of power and compromise. We learned about the difficulties and the possibilities of working in caucus groups, trying to find overlapping interests vs. focusing on opposing positions, and the challenging dynamics of reaching consensus.
Interspersed throughout this week of rigorous role playing and deep inquiry about our complex world, the causes and effects of human suffering, the challenges of compromise and finding tenable solutions, and engaging in activities that allowed us to peel back more layers of our own identities, were ukulele lessons and class songs taught by Jan, self-reflection writing exercises and poetry readings led by Joel, and a delicious Korean dinner. This week felt like a complicated, beautiful dance that brought us all together in a swirl of humanity, and I will always cherish it.
Deborah Rachael Delman – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 26