Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is achieved when people of different nations live in harmony and justice, where rules are respected and laws are enforced, where leaders of communities and presidents of countries give priority to human security rather than national security. Peace starts with a smile, a good thought, a kind deed and a positive and clear mind.
On an international and states’ level, peace is the practice of maintaining good relations among various actors for the common purpose of achieving or maintaining prosperity for the people all around the world. Peace is also the freedom of enjoying human rights and social justice. In a world torn by wars, be it armed conflicts, economic unfairness, emotional abuse, cyber-attacks or passive aggressiveness, peace is what we need more than ever.
Rotary Peace Fellowship
In October 2018 while working in Brussels, I received the amazing news that I was selected for the Rotary Peace Fellowship. I feel honored to be one of the 22 professionals selected from 16 countries from 5 different continents to take part in a unique training course on mediation, negotiation and building peace in post-conflict countries. The three-month program was generously funded by the Rotary Foundation and is implemented by the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkurn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
Our team consists of policemen and policewomen, lawyers, community builders, experts in diplomacy and international development, NGO leaders and activists, academics and UN representatives. The program is designed to learn from case studies on Myanmar, Yemen, and the Balkan peace agreements, the legal implications of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the refugees, the lacunas in international and humanitarian law, the role of religious organizations in building peace, the gender dimension in peace building, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR), and the role of the United Nations peacekeeping operations in post-conflict regions.
Our speakers enriched us with their amazing experience in rebuilding and reconstructing post-conflict countries, methodology in conflict analysis, legal tools and strategies to rebuild countries in transition, the rule of law and justice programs meant to build the judiciary, the complex nature of ceasefire agreements and the longevity and efficiency of peace accords.
Local Rotary Host Counselor
Upon arrival, every Peace Fellow has the amazing opportunity to connect with a Rotary counselor who lives and works in Bangkok. The first encounter that I had with my counselor, Daritka Tarottown, was when she picked me up at the airport with a big smile and a warm hug. I knew instantly that a beautiful friendship will start between us. In the car, she decided to teach me some Thai language and she was laughing during the whole ride because of the way I was pronouncing certain words in Thai. Daritka is a kind and lovely woman that I am very fortunate to have met.
Thailand – the land of smile
There is no better place to work and study than Bangkok. The weather is always gorgeous. People in Thailand smile all the time even when they are not happy with the ways tourists behave. It is not appropriate in Thailand to touch people. A slight thank you bow would suffice and they would give you a bow and a smile back. The delicious food, the extremely nice and friendly people, the diversity of cultural activities and the cosmopolitan Bangkok are only a few reasons why this country is the most visited place in the world. Outside of Bangkok, one can find beautiful beaches with palm trees and Thai culture in its best form. It also feels like a very safe place with low rates of criminality and a good life style. The Phuket Island is the most beautiful place I have ever visited. It is paradise on earth with clear water, amazing nature and vegetation, beautiful rivers and friendly local people. Khao Phing Kan, also called the James Bond Island because it appears in one of the James Bond movies is a rock surrounded by clear and still green water. It is very common to take a speedboat and visit 5 or 7 islands on the same day and be amazed by the beauty of nature.
Buddhism – the peaceful religion
Before coming to Thailand, I knew some things about Buddhism religion because of books on Eastern spirituality that I have been reading. These western books borrowed eastern elements such as the ‘enlightenment’ or ‘reincarnation’ and describe how we can apply peace in our lives. But being here, we had the chance to learn more about Buddhism from the monks themselves and the way Buddhism is incorporated in the daily lives of the Thai people. In Buddhism, “peace is the highest bliss” and finding peace with yourself is the first step to enlightenment and harmony.
The three universal truths in Buddhism are:
Individual Conflict Analysis (ICA)
Besides the seminars on conflict and security, each one of us has the task to complete an Individual Conflict Analysis on a topic chosen prior to coming to Thailand based on the work we do and our professional interests. My individual conflict analysis focuses on the United Nations Security Council reform from an international law perspective. I am arguing that the current composition of the UN Security Council and the unfair veto power allocated to the permanent five perpetuate some of the ongoing conflicts in the world today. It is extremely unfair and illegitimate at this point that any of the permanent five members (China, Russia, USA, France and the United Kingdom) can unilaterally block any substantive resolution in the Security Council. The structure of the Security Council represents the post WWII reality and it does not address efficiently the realities of the 21st century.
Visit to the Shan refugee camp in Northern Thailand
The highlight of the program so far has been the Chiang Mai field study trip on displaced Shan populations in the Northern Thailand. There, we had the chance to visit a Shan refugee camp and talk to some people who had to flee from Myanmar because of the military aggression against Shan people and other minority groups. Some of them have been living in refugee camps in Thailand for over 35 years and many children were born in refugee camps. They do not have a legal status in Thailand; therefore they are considered stateless people. The international community, including the United Nations, has not taken enough measures to condemn the gross human rights violations by the Burmese military against the Rohingya people who fled to Bangladesh and the Shan displaced people who found refuge in Thailand and other minority groups that are still under the oppression of the Burmese military.
Shan little girl in a refugee camp in Northern Thailand
Art therapy in conflict resolution
More and more, arts are used as strategies in conflict resolution. Whether it is a shared song, a dance, or learning how to play an instrument together can bring people to a different dimension of thinking in dealing with conflicts. Art therapy is a type of therapeutic technique rooted in the idea that creative expression can foster healing and mental well-being. We were exposed to different arts techniques during the fellowship and had the chance to discover talents in ourselves that we did not think we possessed. It is all a matter of being in a safe environment and pushing yourself to see where your mind and internal power can bring you. We learned how to play ukulele which is an amazing instrument and easy to learn. The beauty of life for me lies in discovering our talents constantly and be amazed with the things we can do.
Salsa dancing in Bangkok
I bring my salsa dancing passion and my dancing shoes wherever I go. It is the way I meditate, do sports and have fun. For the Latino dance lovers, Bangkok offers a lot of options to dance Cuban salsa, New York salsa, bachata, kizomba, regaetton, samba and others. The social parties are usually organized at rooftop places in beautiful hotels where people from all over the world practice their salsa skills. As a salsa dancer, I discovered a beautiful community of like-minded people who have the same passion to express themselves through dancing.
What I will take with me?
Overall, the three-month program has been a stimulating project both intellectually and culturally. My colleagues are passionate people who have been working on conflict and security issues in their parts of the world and came to Thailand to share their experiences and learn more from like-minded peers. I am a richer person now from a cultural perspective, professional perspective and from a human connection perspective. As for my status as a global citizen, I added one more continent to my list of places to live and explored the beauty of the South-East Asia region. Each place leaves a mark on our lives and besides the professional experience in the conflict and security areas, I gained personal and emotional input in how to live a meaningful life. I am now a step closer to achieving and maintaining peace with myself and the whole world.
Maria Vizdoaga – Romania
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 26