Being a Christian priest anywhere in the world is not an easy task, and it is especially challenging in a non-Christian country. Prolonged stay in Thailand, a devoted Buddhist country, is at the same time a rewarding experience and a challenging pastoral task. Veneration of Buddhist monks in Thailand is huge, sometimes incomprehensible for a cleric from the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). At the same time, in Theravada classical Buddhism, monks are expected to pray and give general advice, but not to be engaged in worldly matters. This is also different from preaching and acting synergy in Christianity. And here I am, an Orthodox Old-Catholic priest in faraway Thailand, together with 22 fellows from 18 countries, out of which many Christians. What should a priest do in such circumstances?
History teaches us that Christianity was from the beginning free to incarnate different cultures, accepting truly human values of others. Today we also have to incorporate Christian values in pluralist societies, loyal to its aims but at the dame time free to accept the values of others. There is a clear danger to simply denounce others by their nationality or nominal religion. At the point when a priest becomes “a lantern on a table”, he is open to every human being regardless of his or her nationality or race, social positions, philosophical or political orientation. It is difficult to expect a long-term success through traditional acceptance of faith through the socialisation model because there is no ideal status of Christianity anywhere in the world, and pastoral care is often directed primarily to adults.
My pastoral care and religious duties are also under many challenges. This work is almost paralysed as a basic liturgical space is not present, I am isolated from the Church’s hierarchy, there is no regularity in the liturgy. However, even the smallest nucleus of pastoral care become in time core of a new Church life and new space of freedom and peace. It is very nice to have support in Finnish and Macedonian Orthodox believers among the fellows, together with conservative Anglicans and Catholics from African countries. I feel deeply that every fellow has a sense for religious matters, as peace cannot be understood in its entirety without inner peace and spiritual balance. To accept these values and to consider all religions and religious/spiritual identities as peace-loving and deeply personal matters is a moral and civilisational imperative of contemporary world. For me, it also includes a pastoral preparedness and strength to answer all these challenges.
Thankfully, class 28 began in January, time when Christians from all around the world unite in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year’s topic was particularly helpful for us to get together, to pray and contemplate in many ways about eight main topics which can be so easily tied to peace. To understand the role of inner peace is often difficult without some sort of religious belief or spiritual understanding and the topics have been very instrumental for me and helpful to fellows.
The eight topics are Reconciliation (throwing the cargo overboard, any cargo which keeps holding us back in our pursuit of right doing); Enlightenment (seeking and showing forth God’s light, as this light is a sense of mercy and clear understanding of everything we do); Hope (incorporated here primarily as Paul’s message to his fellow travellers, but which was greatly visible at one of our facilitators’ class, when we were listening to beautiful verses of the Greek poet Cavafy, recited by Sean Connery); Trust (Do not be afraid, believe; with fear we can do little, and with faith we can reach the farthest points in cosmos); Strength (as visible in breaking bread for the journey to the unknown); Hospitality (show unusual kindness; so important in today’s world full of refugees, migrants and people who need real hospitality, where the guest or passer-by is always welcomed with respect and whom help should be given, no matter the circumstances); Conversion (not converting one’s religion, nationhood, or any particular identity, but changing our hearts and minds); Generosity (receiving and giving, without asking for it).
These eight topics made us aware of our work, but also made us closer as fellows. As such, this experience will not only contribute to my knowledge of peacemaking, it will also make me, God willing, unusually kind.
Vedran Obućina – Croatia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
It is one month since I arrived in Bangkok, ready to join Class 28 of the Rotary Peace Fellowship at Chulalongkorn University. A few days ago, I had my first moment of feeling what I can only describe as impending nostalgia. The program is only just staring, and yet it feels like it is flying by. That sentimental wistfulness I foresee in my future, comes from a place of appreciation and hope: Appreciation for the opportunity to spend three months learning with a community of Rotarians, Expert Instructors, Rotary Peace Centre Staff, Fellows, and our guide through it all, Dr. Vitoon; Hope springing from the already burgeoning collaborations being made for post-program action.
Resilience researchers (and peace-builders) are often drawn to the fields, because of our own experiences of conflict, marginalization, displacement, poverty or personal suffering. Many of us are carrying our traumas with us, the impacts of which are stored deep within our bodies and passed on to next generations. Given the right conditions and intent, we can channel our deep knowledge of adversity and resilience, into a peace-building super-power. This requires understanding how external physical events take on internal psychological significance. It demands attention to the deeply rooted perceptions, structures and systems that buttress inequities, insecurity and conflict. These conditions spawn traumatic experiences, and shape one’s agency to draw on resilience-enabling resources.
Our ways of being in, and seeing the world, have impact. I was inspired this week by Natasha Myers’ (2020) opinion piece called “How to grow liveable worlds: Ten (not-so-easy) steps for life in the Planthroposcene” (https://www.abc.net.au/religion/natasha-myers-how-to-grow-liveable-worlds:-ten-not-so-easy-step/11906548). The article is a provocative call to dismantle the Athroposcenic neo-colonial, extraction-focused worldviews on which our global relationships are built. It is a radical conjuring of a new world (the Planthroposcene), where humans see themselves as one with, and take guidance from, plants as liveable world-makers. Our three month Rotary Peace Fellowship places us in a privileged position. We have the opportunity to collectively foster imaginations that could,as Myers (2020) writes, “call other Worlds into being.” What do I mean by other Worlds? For me, this means cultivating societies that thrive on values and behaviours that benefit others’ welfare. Worlds where people courageously integrate ancient ways of knowing with new knowledge and innovation, to transform violent conflict into positive social changes. Where we go beyond just tolerance of others, to find connection and beauty in the absurd, the strange, the confronting, the diverse. Where there is deep-seated reverence that we are inseparably part of the natural world, not rulers over it. Yes, it sounds idealistic, but as Dr. Irene Santiago said in class, “People without imagination cannot be peace-builders.”
There is power in dreaming, but only if we also organize, innovate and ACT. As Dr. Santiago reminded us, those who wage peace need to organize better than those who wage war. So I commit to being compassionate but tenacious. To fight for my rights, your rights, and the rights of others. Even if the barriers seem insurmountable. Let’s find our allies, those powerful movers of social change, those people who can thrust our collective movements forward. There is power in numbers, but only if we are systematic, courageous, innovative and organized.
Nora Didkowsky – Canada
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
The week 3 of our Rotary Peace Fellowship at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok was dedicated to the diagnosis and analysis of conflicts. With the guidance of the week’s guest speaker, Martine Miller, we were introduced to the basic conflict analysis tools like ABC triangle, conflict tree, and force field analysis. The week turned out to be an intensive one: We did a lot of readings, carried out several group work exercises and digested new concepts. We also started contemplating our individual conflict analysis papers. On Friday evening after the class, there was a special treat waiting for us: One of the local Rotary host counselors had kindly invited a small group of Peace Fellows to the classical music concert at the Thailand Cultural Center.
We dressed up. We wore face masks which protected us from air pollution and hopefully also from the Corona virus that reached Thailand just days before our Peace Fellowship started. When we got to the Thailand Cultural Center’s entrance our body temperature was measured. We passed the test. As the concert was about to start, we discovered that one of the princesses of the Royal Thai Family would also be attending the occasion. When she arrived, we all stood up. The Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra played the national anthem. The princess waved in a royal fashion from the balcony and as she sat down the concert started.
The concert hall was filled with Beethoven’s Rage over a Lost Penny in G major. Beethoven was followed by Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46 and R. Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97. The music was incredibly beautiful, uplifting, and energizing. I felt happy. The tones of the music took me back to over 30 decades in my time as a Rotary exchange student in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I was fortunate to be hosted there by a wonderful Rotary family, who shared with me the love of classical music, and with whom I attended many, many great concerts. As I was listening to the symphony play, memories filled my mind of experiences of my exchange student year, as well as, the lifelong friendships established back then.
I recall that the aim of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program is to ‘build peace one person at the time’. Looking back on my life now, I wonder whether I would have chosen to study human rights and ended up having an international career dedicated to improving the lives of migrants and refugees without my Rotary exchange student year. Maybe not. Thus, it seems that my Rotary “peace programming” started decades ago with the exchange student experience and now this ongoing Peace Fellowship is only a natural “program update”. It makes sense and feels right to be here. I enjoy the classical music in the company of my like-minded Peace Fellows. New lifelong friendships and professional partnerships are being formed right here and right now. I feel inner peace. After the course, I will continue building peace one person at the time.
Tiina Miskala – Finland
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
What an eye-opening and life-changing experience I’ve had visiting Mekong River communities in Thailand and Laos with my Rotary Peace Fellows Class of 28 and on my own! I feel very blessed to have gotten to experience the deep wisdom connected to tradition, culture, land and water that the local communities we visited in Chiang Khong and surrounding areas possessed. While villagers hosted us with picnics in the forest, home-made meals and cultural dances, and beautiful traditional crafts, we saw the concern on their faces and heard the emotion in their voices when they talked about their dear Mekong River and its ecosystem dying before their eyes. We experienced their courage and dedication seeking ways to save their river against great odds and powers (the intersection between man-made damns upstream in China and Laos and impacts of climate change). We heard about their use of community education, consciousness-raising, grassroots organizing, and advocacy to impact and reach key decision makers.
Save the Mekong River School, co-founded by an amazing grassroots leader, Mr. Niwat Roikeaw, better known as Kru Tee, trains local community members, builds capacity of local researchers, and partners with international scholars to work together to gather data and research for evidence-based solutions and strategies. I was honored to meet him on a panel and spend additional time discussing and exchanging views at the site of the Mekong community school. Other community members are mobilizing people in women’s village cooperatives, local forest coalitions, school children, local fisherman and farmers groups, business alliances, and local village officials to fight for Saving the Mekong. We know based on research and studies in the field of nonviolent people power that numbers matter (Why Civil Resistance Works). Mobilizing and community education and consciousness raising to gain those members is key to movement success. The Save the Mekong movement clearly understands this and its grassroots members across the region are working hard to build their grassroots power.
While we were in Chiang Khong with them, we celebrated the exciting news of a major win for People Power! The Thai Parliament passed unexpected legislation blocking a major river rock blasting project that had looked all but certain to move ahead. Local organizers, partnered with national and international allies such as International Rivers, the National Thai Human Rights Commission, and even Thai military officials worried about the impact on national security unified for a common objective to win.
I used my three free days after our Chiang Khong trip to travel on to Laos and view more communities connected to the Mekong River system. First, I visited the historical and lovely city of Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that is built on a peninsula where two mighty rivers–the Mekong and Nam Khan–meet. The cityhas numerous glittering Buddhist temples and monasteries and its name literally means Royal Buddha Image. According to archaeologists, Luang Prabang has been inhabited since 8,000 BC and was the center of the first Lao kingdom, Lane Xang, in the 14th century. It was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos, until the Pathet Lao takeover in 1975. There is also a strong French influence from the colonial past in the 19th and 20th centuries. I was able to sit and eat quiche and French baguettes at a French Bistro while watching the Buddhist monks meditate across the street at Wat Sensoukaram—what a remarkable and peaceful place.
However, even in the peacefulness of this historic city, the struggle for the survival of the Mekong River and communities continues. Luang Prabang is the site of the next planned dam in Laos and I could see yellow markers and evidence of beginning dam construction. Many people question the negative impact on environment and local livelihoods the dam will bring, but there is fear that the dam’s developers are discounting citizens groups arguing for a delay to the 1,400-megawatt hydropower project and that construction could begin as early as April. Unfortunately, although downstream countries and communities will be severely affected, based on the 1995 Mekong Agreement signed by Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, no country can veto the other’s project. (China and Myanmar were not even signatories).
After leaving Luang Prabang, I flew to Pakse, the most populous city in southern Laos. Once again, I was struck by the centrality of this river system to the lives of the people. In Pakse, the powerful Mekong River meets another–the Xe Don River. We drove three hours from Pakse to Si Phan Don, or 4,000 Islands, a massive river archipelago in the Mekong River Delta on the border with Cambodia where many rivers converge. I was traveling with a Laotian family and we took a river boat across the huge river delta scattered with many tiny islands to one of the larger populated islands—Don Det. We viewed the fishermen and women loading fish into their boats to sell at the local markets. We toured several impressive waterfalls nearby and walked beneath large bamboo groves. But once again, the whispers and concerns of local people for the river’s future stood out. They talked about fewer fish in the rivers, lower water levels than in any local memory during the dry season, and serious concerns about what the interaction of man-made dams and climate change would do to the ecosystem and livelihoods of local communities in Laos and across the border in Cambodia. Due to undemocratic systems and repressive governments, it is much harder to speak out and organize there than in Thailand. To mitigate this, activists and organizers are seeking to link with and support each other through formal and informal coalitions across the various countries that are part of the Mekong River system.
Upon my return to Thailand, going overland through a border crossing between Laos and Thailand and flying out of Upon Ratchathani to Bangkok, I have continued to stay engaged with the Save the Mekong River initiative. I’m learning about the many people, organizations, and governments around the world who are seeking to Save the Mekong, including through panels and films at the Foreign Correspondents Club and our own local expert—Rotary Peace Fellow Class of 28, Andy Stone. The Mekong is the first major river system in the world to be close to destruction due to negative interaction between human unsustainable development and climate change. I think of other major river systems such as the Amazon, the Nile, the Brahmaputra and their vast communities that are also at-risk and the terrible impact on human, animal, and environmental ecosystems around the world that their ends would entail.
And just when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I think of the grassroots people power that I’ve experienced in every region of the world growing and challenging the status quo of “power over”. And the possibility of people uniting and mobilizing in the millions across borders and regions and countries to struggle for the common objective of Saving Our Rivers and countering abuses of power and poor decision making in the interest of a few for the interest of the many. And that vision is what gives me hope and keeps me going.
Katherine Hughes-Fraitekh – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
It has been over a month already, yet the excitement of having gotten into this transformational course feels like I am still going thru day 1. Coming from South India, there are many things that fascinated me here in Thailand; some of them seemed very familiar to me. Without getting into too much of analysis, here are the similarities that I could see between Indian and Thai cultures
- Greeting someone with joined palms and folded hands before chest and bending forward. While Thai say Sawadti kaa/krap, Indians say Namaste.
- Respecting elders and teachers with polite vocal tone and body language.
- Common mythological story of Ramayana, which is also sculpted or painted, depicting many characters in most of the temples. Characters like Naga, Garuda, are commonly seen sculpted in many temples.
- Huge respect for ‘Budha’, Respect for Budha that I see in India and in Thailand is more than what one gives God. While most Indian Hidhu’s believe in many Gods and worship, it is deeper respect than just faith that comes to one’s heart when we think of Budha.
- Thai massage – Marma shastra in Ayurveda. Having studied Ayurveda medicine, I was amused to learn how much similar is this Thai massage science to Indian Ayurvedic science describing ‘Marma Vignana’. Knowledge of all vital points in body (marma vignana) demands good anatomical knowledge, so that one knows what the effect of pressing that point, also the consequence if such vital points are damaged (with over pressure or other accidents).
- Apart from Vital points, Yoga postures are sculpted in some temples which again left me stunned. Yoga and Ayurveda sciences seem to be so strongly embedded in Thai culture, so much so that many women know those herbal home remedies which are described in Ayurveda science.
- Sanskrit derivation for many of the Thai words can be easily identified, sometimes I thought the person was miss-pronouncing the Sanskrit word. Name of the city ‘Ayuthaya’ which is derived from ‘Ayodhya’, ‘Sawasti’ greeting from ‘Swasti’ which means welfare/goodness.
- Culture of removing footwear while entering temples, and homes. Wearing non proactive clothing, covering body appropriately in places of worship, enabling a positive space to connect to faith, and higher conscious.
- Culture or ‘take it easy/ sabai-sabai’, not being aggressive in approaching almost anything; may it be a conversation, short term goals or a career oriented choice; it is more obvious when compared to other Asian countries like Japan, Korea, and China which are known for their aggressive workaholic culture. Indo-Thai culture seem to endorse “slow and steady wins the race” concept.
- Religious beliefs, doctrines, philosophies of the major religion in both India and Thailand, i.e., Hindhu and Budhism seem quite similar in so many ways.
I also got to see so much of cultural adaptations among Indian and Thai cultures, I must admit that western culture has equally influenced both the countries and both the countries have slightly adopted western culture too.
Spurana H G – India
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
I am Jason Lee from Taipei, Taiwan. I have been an active Rotarian member in The Rotary Club of Taipei Tung-Teh for 12 years and served as Club President in 2018-2019. I am very grateful and proud to be a Rotary Peace Fellow and joining the Class 28 of the Rotary Peace Fellowship Program with a group of talented classmates whom have been selected as best candidates from 18 countries around the world with capabilities, ideas and the passion for promoting peace. I am here, as the first Rotarian from Taiwan to join this program which has given me a valuable opportunity to explore and study further on the importance of Rotary’s six areas of focus which are Disease Prevention and Treatment, Water and Sanitation, Maternal and Child Health, Basic Education and Literacy, Economic and Community Development, Peace and Conflict Prevention/ Resolution. It has been a month now that I am here at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, I realized that “Peace through Service” is by supporting and doing well for all the other Rotary’s areas of focus.
I strongly believe that the Rotary Peace Fellowship will strengthen the impact of my work as a peace and development professional because I want to become a good peace builder, Rotary being the inspiration and also Rotary connecting the world and all our peace fellows here. This is one of the major reasons that I joined the Rotary International when I returned to Taiwan from Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Because I believe that with sincerity and unity, together we can make the world a better place. Of course, being a great peace maker, I need to gain more knowledge, enhance my skills, learning to implement professional tools, idea sharing, international relationship and to build up a good foundation.
This way I can always improve myself and be prepared when facing different situations. This is the best choice of training for me to strengthen my interpersonal skills and developing deeper insights through group discussions regarding many world issues as well as simulations on handling conflicts. I hope that one day I can represent my country in the UN, local government and working with other peace fellows closely to achieve my ultimate goal in peace. Playing an important role to help solve many conflicts between Taiwan and China for many issues especially on peace education. It’s the history that has made the past.
For the future, it will need good peace making to build up a bridge for effective communication and conflict solving to move forward for progressive development. When I returned home, I will be a speaker on Peace and continue to share my experiences and knowledge, hoping that it can inspire our fellow Rotarians and many others to do the right things and to do things right. I will also continue to contribute my time and support as a proud Rotarian to volunteer in many meaningful projects towards achieving Rotary International mission and vision. When everyone plays our part, we can all move towards a great positive change and harmony.
Finally, I would like to express my appreciation and special thanks to all Rotary Peace Center staff, Deputy Director Dr. Vitoon, Director Professor Surichai, Ms. Thita, Ms. Krittika, Mrs. Oy, Ms. Ying and so many others that have been taking care of us fellows everyday, making me feel warmth and comfortable here in Bangkok and to our friendship forever. My host counselor Past District Governor Dr. Chairat, Rotarian friends and Co-counselor Past President Jongkoldee, the current RI 3350 District Governor Thanongsak’s spouse, thank you very much for your warm and welcoming hospitality to me. I also deeply respect the man who has founded this meaningful Rotary Peace Fellowship Program since 14 years ago, RI Past President Bhichai Rattakul. He is also a former Foreign Minister, First Deputy Prime Minister and President of Parliament with great leadership and vision. PRIP believes that peace comes from deep inside everyone and we are the one who knows and can promote and build peace. People like you and me are the basic to peace and when more people getting involved and playing our role, it will be the key to make peace in the world. I believe peace can be adapted into our daily lives and brings greater meaning when there is understanding, Peace begins with a smile.
JASON LEE (Rainboii) – TAIWAN
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28
Club President 2018-2019 of District 3522
Rotary International Rotary Club of Taipei Tung-Teh
Chair 2020-2022 of District 3522, Rotary Foundation Peace FellowshipsRead More
Just after a weeklong class on Conflict Resolution Skills, Approaches and Strategies, Saturday, 8th February 2020 was the day few of us Peace Fellows visited the World Peace Initiative’s Office in Bangkok, Thailand for a quick visit and short meditation before the Magha Puja 2020.
Interesting as it was at the Peace Center, I surprisingly met a longtime friend who had once visited me in my organization’s country office to partner on peace programs. Discussing with this young man at the Peace Center created an intrapersonal conflict in my mind because on his shirt whether by coincidence, consciousness or sub consciousness was written “BLIND FOR LOVE” and indeed his right eye was seen covered as if an ophthalmologist had done an eye surgery on him. In my thinking, I failed to handle my intrapersonal conflict which somehow can lead to trauma because I didn’t ask the victim with the eye infection what actually happened.
Then came lunch period at the Peace Center; inside the compound of the World Peace Initiative referred to as the Peace Center where peace is expected to be sought, we saw two birds fighting. Birds as we know can be used as pet; bringing a bird into a family as with any pet is a huge responsibility, and it’s something that some families don’t take lightly.
It’s difficult to imagine but birds are loved by many families like the love of cattle or domestic animals by most families.
Seeing the birds as they fight, a friend told me jokingly “…but Mohamed, why should that bother us? They’re just birds and not human…” This statement created a worrying metal picture in my mind especially when the bird fight occurred at the Peace Center in front of Peace Fellows. What else must we have done in such scenario? Should we throw stones at the bullying bird and eventually become a party to their conflict? Was it good that we only looked and made fun of the situation without intervention as Peace Fellows?
People talk to their birds, whistle with them, play games, let them cuddle under their chin, etc. Following countries where animals such as cattle have created a whole community conflict that led to the loss of lives, in my thinking we should have acted! I keep asking myself; what if those two birds were pets, highly loved by their owners who are at a perceived stage of a conflict and eventually one bird killed the other?
Remember, the fighting birds we saw at the Peace Center might someday represent conflict societies where we think are very far away from us but it effects due to our inaction can someday somehow come closer to us. The world’s deadliest conflict is not one that involves arms and ammunitions but the one that many people don’t even know exists.
As Peace Fellows, it’s important to look at those two birds as representatives of two conflicting parties be it humans, communities or countries.
Mohamed Kanneh – Sierra Leone
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
Stacy Martin – USA
Rotaryv Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
It has been several weeks since I’ve arrived in Thailand, and every day I wake up with a smile on my face, excited for a new adventure. Having the opportunity to spend three months in Thailand, dedicate myself to an intensive and comprehensive professional development program on peace and security is a dream coming true. Apart from the fact that the program itself is amazing, I have realized that I have never been so curious about another culture.
While observing the Thai culture and way of living, I have been fascinated by the generosity, calmness and positivity of Thai people. Therefore, I am sharing my three key observations so far.
The power of a smile – Thailand is called the “land of thousand smiles” and now I know why. Thai people smile a lot and their positive energy is immediately transferred to the others. It is almost impossible to see a Thai person losing their temper in public, or acting rude. Even though their smile can mean many things (it can be happiness, but also confusion, politeness, embarrassment…), one cannot help but smiling back. Moreover, Thai people like finding joy in what they are doing, and there is no point in doing something that does not bring satisfaction. That is the concept of “Sanuk”, which means enjoyment and fulfilment from something.
The importance of values and etiquette – Thai people adhere to their system of beliefs and values which is very much derived from Buddhism and practiced as a philosophy of living. Respect for the others (especially for family and other social structures) plays a vital part, and they will never offend you or make you uncomfortable in any situation. They highly value seniority, which does not mean only age and experience, but also knowledge, education and professional achievements. Personal integrity also means a lot, which is one of the qualities I really appreciate about them. For foreigners, it is very important to learn the etiquette (such as dressing respectfully, taking off the shoes where needed, etc.) in order not to offend the locals.
Care for the others – while the Western world is obsessed with individuality and self-care, Thai people put a lot of emphasis on their community and the wellbeing of the others. I enjoy wandering around the streets of Bangkok on my own, and I have realized that this is very uncommon (except for the tourists). I have never seen people eating alone at restaurants, they enjoy socializing over food and making sure that everyone around them is happy and satisfied. This does not mean that they do not practice self-care – on the contrary, they put a lot of emphasis on their own physical and mental health and well-being. But they still go one step further to help the others and care about the others.
These observations are based primarily on my personal experience with the amazing staff at the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, the Thai Peace Fellows, but also the citizens of Bangkok that I see on daily basis. I am looking forward to travelling to other parts of Thailand, meeting the locals and experiencing life in Thailand.
Magdalena Lembovska – Macedonia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
Chulalongkorn University, an icon of excellence and focused education. Joining one of the best institutions in Asia and the best in Thailand was a dream coming faster than ever thought.
As a young African man growing up in a village full of destructors of development could not allow me think positively about being in an airplane to join this institution. True to my thoughts, it took me literally 32 years to believe that a young boy from a poor village has equal chance of joining thousands of people from different cultures and background both whites and blacks equally.
The unexpected mail
The most fulfilling part of my dream was when I received an email right from the toilet. Over the period, my hope was kept alive, trusting that I will soon join the most revered people in Bangkok. “Congratulations, you have been selected to join Rotary peace fellowship at Chulalongkorn University Class 28 in January 2020”.
For a period of 5 minutes I could not believe what I saw. The question remained, how could a “small boy” without good education, from poor school, a typical villager in Kenya be able to dine at the same table with the most educated? How could it be that this very boy who faced dire challenges and discrimination in schooling make it to one of the most adored universities in the world? I could not hide my tears.
“I am selected to study peace and conflict in Thailand, courtesy of Rotary international”. A warm hug from my wife covered me tightly. We both cried and thanked God for amazing things he has done.
For a whole month I kept thinking of how I will get to Bangkok. Finally, January 12th, 2020, I arrived in a beautiful city. Oh a city with beautiful culture, and welcoming people! I knew this was the best place to be.
Thanks to my kind and loving counselor, Dr. Jean who safely drove me in an expensive car fully air- conditioned. Navigating through the city and express way was very impressive, something I have never seen from my country. Tall buildings and dust free roads, this was amazing.
A dream comes true
I remember two quotes. One from Lupita Nyongo, a renowned film maker, she said. “No matter what you go through, where you come from, know that your dreams are valid”.
Second, “When you perceive it in mind, you have it” Mohammed Ali. The two quotes are my true reflection of a dream comes true.
Meeting Dr. Vitoon, Thita, Oy and the entire Rotary Peace Center team was very dear to me, with their Thai salutation “Wai” and KOP KHUN KRAB, and SAWASDEE KA. I felt home. My first, second, third and the rest of the days not only opened my eyes wider but gave me a new ideology on how I should look at and define developmental issues.
As Ms. Irene Santiago puts it, “development is the process of increasing capacities and decreasing vulnerabilities” this was a new idea for development as peace fellow.
The narrow thought disappeared and I realized that YES, I can. I can lead the world. I can lead the people. I am a great leader with great vision.
Meeting the former president of Rotary International and former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Bhichai whom for the past 60 years has remained a strong pillar and a beacon of change in the international peace building arena was amazing. His ideas, thoughts and work turned around my thoughts at 360 degrees. As he puts new paradigm on practice, “Peace is not just a piece of paper but a willing heart of trust and do what is right” this got me encouraged. His school of thought, that we can achieve peace without having many board room meeting but a simple act of forging and moving forward.
Chulalongkorn University has provided me with another thought on how women are viewed in the society. I have learnt that respect for women bring equal opportunities in development and GDP.
Language barrier was one of the most challenging things for me. Most Thai people are native Thai speakers and do not embrace English. This is crazy. Anyway, we had to lean some few words like SAWASDEE KRUB.
Condoms and Cabbages
Visiting Condom and cabbages gave me a new look at how HIV prevention has worked in Thailand, with condoms distributed openly, and most decorations done with pure architecture of condoms. I realized the creativity that impacts lives positively.
Lemon prevents Pregnancy
This was the most amazing fact under study. Lemons reduce HIV and pregnancy, by applying lemon on women’s vagina just before sex, it kills all the viruses and sperms too. Its application is very effective. This theory was one of my fulfilling knowledge quests. If this works, then we have hope for tomorrow. But until then we remain adventuring, meeting never aging Thai women. At 40 years, you mistake them to be 20 years old. Thanks, I was rescued before becoming a victim. “Asanteni sana”.
Solomon Odero – Kenya
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class28Read More