Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
News is being shared around the world that there is a new weapon in development that is funded by Rotary International and still remains a bit of a secret, even to Rotarians. The following reflects why we cannot wait and need to proactively intervene using positive peace-building strategies as a stand against conflict as a global challenge (Jens E.2019):
*By the end of 2014 we reached a global record in forced displacement since World War II and the number of large armed conflicts in the world in 2017 was 49 (UCDP).
*Violence and conflict do not affect all regions the same way; Prolonged conflict keeps countries poor; Conflict in most cases crosses borders ( World Bank Group).
*Close to 90% of war casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are women & children.
*1,300 people a day are killed due to interpersonal violence.
*1 in 3 women in the world have experienced abuse or sexual violence (WHO).
*The organizations controlling borders are pushed to the brink as the amount of time it takes to process goods and people traveling across borders rises with globalization (BSR May 2019).
If we reduce conflict, especially violent conflict, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, Positive Peace environments have benefits for all such as a higher GDP, lower inflation, more ecologically sound communities, strong business environment, higher levels of human capital, and good performance on human development indicators (Institute for Economics & Peace).
How Might We Face the Challenges of Conflict and Negative Peace Head-on as a Rotary Family and a Collective Global Community of People Who Care to Serve?
Part of the solution lies in the secret weapon supported by Rotary International that was mentioned earlier. We know that all the famous great teams had members with varied backgrounds and skills, along with resource centers, good leadership, funding, and a strong moral compass that helped them jump into action and “do good in the world.” Let’s take a look. The X-Men were led by Dr. Xavier and the team headed up by Jean Grey, Wolverine, Rogue, Cyclops, Storm, and Mystique, whose headquarters was hidden at the “X-Mansion” in New York State and supported by advanced technology and “Cerebro,” a highly advanced digital assistant. Part of The Justice League was made up of Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Mera based out of the “Watch Tower” located in “Metropolis,” funded by Bruce Wayne and their support staff included Alfred and Lois Lane. Did you know there’s a lesser known global team of people with superhero like qualities who are serving others in conflict zones working on transforming conflict and that this team is part of Rotary International’s Rotary Peace Center Professional Fellows Program based in Bangkok, Thailand in the Chaleom Rajakumaki Building at Chulalongkorn University?
The Rotary Peace Center program is spearheaded by Deputy Director Dr. Vitoon Viriyasakultorn and Director Dr. Surichai Wun’ Gaeo. Both currently lead operations, team selections, and training development to create this “secret weapon of peace,” as I call it, in its current 27th batch of Peace-Builders development that is at the forefront of conflict resolution tactics and positive peace engagement framework strategies. The Rotary Peace Center in Thailand is a career professional level program waging peace in a hybrid dynamic that is not yet common, and is seeing positive outcomes around the world and trains top Peace-Builders who have been recruited and awarded the opportunity to train among great mentors in the field of peace-building, conflict management, and positive peace development. This is not your conventional type of weapons system, this weapon of peace in the form of a professionally trained team of Peace-Builders from around the world, or “instrument of peace,” is defensive and offensive depending on circumstances, a preventative measure, also strategic, while intended to be a direct intervention for current conflict globally. Weapons do not have to cause harm, they can support peaceful outcomes. The powerful words of the Peace-Builder Nelson Mandela, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” demonstrates what is being achieved to create a more peaceful world through this vital Rotary Peace Fellowship Program in Thailand. The Rotary Peace Center team at Chulalongkorn University is also supported by the “Lois Lane’s” of the Peace Center, Thita, Oy, Ying, Krit, and Paat, and this program is generously funded by Rotary International. Once done with their advanced training each Rotary Peace Fellow will go back to their countries. The goal is that they should be able to work collaboratively with their local Rotary Districts to combat conflict in a new way in-line with Rotary International’s priority Six Areas of Focus, under the Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution Area.
The Benefits of Rotary Communities Waging Peace against Conflict in Alliance Together Supporting Rotary Peace Fellows
While it’s understandable that not everyone may sit easy with the concept I have been thinking about as a potential unifying theme of “weaponizing peace” and “Peace-Builders” who are “waging peace” as a metaphor, challenging violent conflict is serious business and sometimes a strong stance is required to bring about change factors that will improve current conflict conditions. As one of our instructors, Irene Santiago, who is the Peace Adviser to the Mayor of Davao City, Philippines and she helped achieve a truce with armed insurgents in her country said, “if you have an imagination and creativity, then you can imagine a better world and you will be able to help build it. If you don’t have imagination, it will be difficult to build the goal of peace. . . Peoples’ participation [in conflict transformation] is messy, but blood on the floor is messier!”
This shows the potential for loss of life without action against violent conflict where you have to know when to apply some direct and firm consequences in a traditional security strategy as pressure using positive peace frameworks to save lives in hostile conflicts. Other times it is more appropriate to mend fences with your neighbors in a diplomatic manner having the luxury of time to make thoughtful decisions from a human security holistic approach. In fact, part of the global team may engage in creating conflict, introducing tension, and challenging destructive institutions, organizations, or people in a way to bring about change that leads to more peace to benefit the greater good.
Tension and conflict is often seen as bad, however it depends on context as conflict is a part of life, Gandhi created conflict by challenging the colonial powers in South Africa and India, Martin Luther King Jr. used conflict to challenge systemic injustices in the USA, Princess Diana challenged the traditional role of public figures involvement in philanthropic work by helping people around the world rather than merely enjoying a royal life, Oprah Winfrey has challenged the social norm in the USA of keeping quiet as a woman and from a minority demographic and she is making women’s issues a topic of discussion, and Wangari Maathaii of Kenya challenged gender roles and environmental issues in her country. Conflict is a fact of life, however it depends how you use power, resources, and strategic intervention – for good or evil. Rotary Districts can ally with Rotary Peace Fellows to challenge the bad conflict.
Identities of Rotary Peace Fellows and Challenges Faced Back Home
This international collective of determined Rotary Peace Fellows in Class 27 are from Nigeria, Australia, USA, Colombia, India, Brazil, Myanmar, Canada, Pakistan, Thailand, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Denmark, Finland, Mexico, and Italy. Some of the threats and immediate conflict scenarios faced by the Rotary Peace Center Class 27 team members range from heavily armed terrorists, to ex-guerrilla combatants, violent political extremists, to corrupt NGO or government officials, violent protesters from civil society, to hostile community members, and members of transnational criminal organizations. Among the team are law enforcement or other officials who work in the Criminal Justice arena, there are appreciated university professors who make up some of the Rotary Peace Fellows and are venturing out of the traditional confines of academia toward practitioners of peace in the areas of educational violence prevention, environmental conflict reduction, and gender rights advocacy and violence prevention, we have NGO and government policy advisors who are dealing with new security challenges in their communities, we also have social work and psychological counseling leaders who have to face the challenge sometimes of explaining to community members who have the look of fear on their face that today they may not be able to fully support them due to lack of tangible resources or conflict management professionals available in their area, journalists who are working toward maintaining a freedom of the press and journalist rights advocacy in Asia and Europe are also on our global team, while the team’s art practitioners are working to inspire peoples’ creativity to give them hope in uncertain circumstances.
While this team of Class 27 Rotary Peace Fellows at Chulalongkorn University may sound impressive to be able to carry on despite these challenges, their work and personal lives are not as glamorous as you may imagine for these unsung heroes to go out and face dangers while not always having proper resources such as a lack of personal protective equipment, such as body armor or traumatic injury first aid kits for Peace-Builders, a lack of safe areas in their community, or the threat of being tracked down to their homes in retaliation for what they do.
Despite their ability to maneuver in these difficult atmospheres, there is still room for additional training and resources to be added to their tool belts to wage peace and Rotary International and Rotary Districts can further help these Rotary Peace Fellows scale their impact to greater levels. Support should not just end at the Rotary Peace Center level. Watering the seeds of peace is critical to the programs long-term success. One may think, the Rotary Peace Fellows get the advanced conflict transformation training and poof! Magically, the conflict is solved, right? Not quite… Even the Superheroes that society often admires had bad moments, were hurt, and didn’t always save the day or catch the bad guy.
It Takes a Village to Challenge the Current State of Conflict in Global Communities
It’s commonly known that it takes a village to raise a child. Why wouldn’t it take a village plus some more resources to work toward positive peace? While each of these intelligent, resourceful, and brave Rotary Peace Fellows have accomplished unique achievements for the benefit of their communities, they are still human and they need continued community support. The support can be in the form of following up with the Rotary Peace Fellows about their initiatives back home and asking if they need anything to help grow these initiatives such as equipment, volunteers, funding, infrastructure, moral support, forming coalitions of concerned community members to tackle local conflict concerns, or asking how they may be thinking about a collaboration between themselves, Rotary Clubs or Districts, and the greater community. Additionally, ask these Rotary Peace Fellows if they have any challenges they are facing or concerns and allow them to be candid about their reality while listening to their concerns.
Without honest conversations with the Rotary Peace Fellows, collective strength as a Rotary community to intervene in conflict situations to achieve win-win resolutions, and mutual support, the Rotary community will fail in their efforts. Conflict will continue if we don’t act with urgency and sustainable solutions. Now that you can see these diverse and talented global teams of Rotary Peace Fellows are working all over the world in different communities, it is your Rotary District’s chance to build an alliance and make a commitment to challenge conflict head-on. As Gandhi said, “be a part of the change you want to see in the world!”
Bogdan Matuszynski – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 27