Pakistani society is comprised of diverse ethnicities, cultures, languages, faiths, interpretations of faiths, and so on. Pakistani society is more diverse than it looks on TV channels or as portrayed in the textbooks of our education system. Usually, we read that there are four provinces and four languages i.e. Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, and Balochi in Punjab, Sindh, KPK, and Baluchistan respectively. But the reality is different; there are several prominent and famous cultures and areas like Kashmir, South Punjab, Saraiki Belt, Gilgit & Baltistan Thar Desert, Kohistan, Chitral, and Tribal districts of Pakistan. All of these areas are have changing cultures, languages, castes, faith, etc. There are different religions and faiths including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Atheists, Bahá, Muslims and so many other faiths and sects of all these faiths.
Ignoring or suppressing such realities and dynamics sometimes creates unrest and violence. The citizens of my country, Pakistan, must learn how to accept, tolerate and celebrate the differences rather than reject each other. Therefore, we need a comprehensive plan to educate our children and citizens to support and promote harmony and peaceful coexistence.
It is therefore imperative to first realize and recognize the diverse cultures, languages, ethnicities, religions, faith, and/or different interpretations of our society. Then, we need to take steps at multiple levels for the transformation of these diversities into a strength by owning and respecting the differences within and among our communities. Multidimensional measures are required to transform the practices in religious, social & cultural festivals, education, and politics at multiple levels such as policy, strategy, planning and implementation, and so on.
Islamabad – The Capital of Pakistan
|Pakistani cultures of all provinces, Kashmir and Gilgit|
Diversity, on the one hand, can be challenging. And, on the other hand, diversity is very beneficial for a progressive society and development. As the world is now a global village and almost all major and big cities of the world are comprised of varied colors, castes, creeds, religions, and languages. As there are few employment opportunities in rural areas, these communities and groups usually migrate to the big cities like Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and Islamabad for better jobs and enterprises. In an urban area, it’s very difficult for people to understand the different opinions, languages, and psychology of diversified people. In such circumstances, conflict may arise around different matters which sometimes leads to violence.
Khyber Pukhtun Khawa- Pakistan Afghanistan border
Kalash- Indo-Aryan – Estimated 2000 years old civilization
Shangrila Hotel Baltistan, near China border (same place two different angles/views)
Other Tourist Areas:
Lake Saif ul Malook Mansehra
- For a society like ours in Pakistan, there is a greater need for peace and dialogue centers in different parts of the country to guide people. There is always a need for an open debate, discussion and dialogue—at the local, regional and national level—on conflicting issues related to the rights and obligations of different segments of our society. Dialogue and negotiations always lead to accommodation and compromise.
- Diversity is the beauty of our society. It can be utilized in the best interest of the country and its people. If we create awareness and educate our citizens about our different cultures, languages, ethnic groups, and minorities, we’ll create social cohesion and peace.
- Besides this, the role and responsibilities of minorities and majority groups in the overall development of the country must be elaborated and encouraged.
- Moreover, the contribution of all must be acknowledged and highlighted. Only then a peaceful co-existence and harmony can be created among all of our diverse groups.
- Developing and underdeveloped countries like ours are always in need of more education and awareness to strengthen our system.
- Peace is important for development and diversity is also needed for progress. A multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary team is always important for a progressive society.
- At least 3.5 million Pakistanis are working in foreign countries. They are a member of the international community, promoting our country while also earning an important income that also contributes to Pakistan. Similarly, millions of other nationality holders are working in Pakistan and living happily here. Sadly, diversity sometimes leads to violent conflict as in the case of religious extremism in some parts of the country.
Diversity is beautiful and we must eat the fruits of diversity and celebrate the opportunity to development of all segments of society together in Pakistan and beyond. Supporting positive peace among our diverse groups, castes and faiths will support progress for the entire society and country. We all can initiate social changes and develop leadership in all fields of life for a peaceful and progressive society. What I learned from the Rotary Peace Fellowship is to include peace studies in all kinds of training and education as a compulsory subject. Peace is important for development and development is important for peace.
Habib Ahmad – Pakistan
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
I was born and brought up in a lower-class family in Mumbai, India. Surviving by receiving assistance from our community institutions, this life experience engrained in me the importance of helping others around me while supporting the capacities of organizations in need. Currently, government agencies, corporate and foundation donors are trying to create equal opportunities for the less fortunate. My only persistent question is: “Is this enough? Can we build peace and security by providing trainings, knowledge and skills, through offering rotating loans while providing equal opportunities and employment options?”
As we all know, major issues which impact peace and security are illiteracy and poverty. However, there are many issues apart from creating equal opportunities such as conflicts that arise from gender, age, culture, religion, ego, etc. Some of these issues remain and are carried forward with vengeance from generation to generation. As such, peace projects should be holistic; covering literacy, employment to broader conflict resolution. For one important example, there is sometimes minimal say of women around household decision making in families plagued with illiteracy and poverty. In these situations, transforming the mindset of senior men is sometimes difficult considering they have been engrained with this view of gender engagement since their childhood and onwards.
Children are our future. We have seen umpteen examples of children from humble backgrounds rising to the pinnacle of success and who have become role models. However, in the majority of underdeveloped and developing countries, education delivery is still based on a learning approach in which there is mindless memorization which doesn’t promote any analysis and creativity. This results in weak self-images among children, while not being fully ready to take on the world when out lower schools and universities. I feel mentoring and guiding children at the right age should give them the confidence to take control and be successful in life, irrespective of whether they are coming from within the country, among minorities or otherwise.
For my Social Change Initiative (SCI), I plan to work with 9th grade school children from minority communities. I will design and support young people for at least 1-2 hours in a month by engaging them in topics pertaining to confidence building, goal setting, stress and time management, ethics, identifying and engaging with their particular interests/passions, relationship and collaboration building, along with book reading exercises. My SCI will integrate interesting assignments on a weekly basis during the month, so that they remain on track and come enthusiastically well prepared for the next months’ session. This project is intended to run for one year and we will monitor the same students for one more year to ensure that they are working towards achieving their dreams and goals. The Rotary Peace Fellowship Program at Chulalongkorn University is an excellent opportunity for me to understand and design this project as per the specific needs of all stakeholders, use various tools such as videos, entertainment modules, etc. and keep a long-term goal of writing a curriculum depending upon the learnings and success of this pilot project.
I intend to work with one class of students at a school first. The goal of my SCI is to make a difference in one child’s life at a time. I feel this is similar to that of the small boy who, upon seeing thousands of starfish on the shore after a storm, was committed to throwing one starfish back at time back into the ocean. Thereby, he made a difference in the life of that particular one starfish!!
Azia Fidai – India
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
Rotary Peace Fellowship week 14 focused on storytelling with Rebekah Hatfield. Rebekah, a Bundjalung-Yugumbeh-Darumbal & Wiradjuri storytelling practitioner from Northern-New South Wales, Australia, began the session by asking, “Why do we tell stories?” The group 1 cohort brainstormed answers:
“We tell stories to pass on information.”
“To express our experiences and feelings.”
“We share stories to understand ourselves better.”
“Stories are a tool to make sense of the world.”
Rebekah led us through an exercise to identify our own stories. She prompted us to write down an experience that has impacted our lives. The experience that came to mind for me was not any of the foundational experiences I had as a child, but the more recent experience of living through COVID-19.
In Tucson, Arizona in the United States, COVID-19 highlighted existing inequalities and the need for us to pull together as a community to address a common threat. This experience directly inspired my Rotary Social Change Initiative: to develop an escape room game at the largest research facility in the world, Biosphere 2, to teach youth about climate change in an experiential way. Just as the COVID virus wasn’t restricted by borders, backgrounds, or belief systems, climate change will impact all of us. As Rebekah talked to us about using story to understand the world around us, I thought of ways for the climate change game to be an experiential story where participants address our most serious issues through play.
The instructors for the Peace Fellowship have brought perspectives and experience from every corner of the world. Reflecting on how the experiences as a Rotary Peace Fellow have impacted my life, it is the stories of other Peace Fellows I will remember most: Belayneh Zelelew Negash showing us the Ethiopian countryside during one of our Zoom calls, Theodora Syriou describing the smoke in the air during the fires in Greece, and discussing Afghanistan with Essan Dileri (hyperlink to his blog post here: https://www.rotarychula.org/raised-in-conflict/) who brings personal experience and insight having grown up in the country. It is the lived experience of the fellows and our instructors that has made peacebuilding practical and concrete instead of theoretical. I am thankful for the program’s ongoing exchange of experiences and stories. Not just the stories of what we’ve experienced in our respective countries, but the stories that we will create to establish positive peace around the world.
Torran Anderson – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring:
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after the night and spring after the winter.”
The devastation created by Covid-19 is just a reminder of our vulnerability as humans while highlighting the importance of prevention and mitigation strategies. It also provides some insight regarding the possible economic shock the whole world will face if nations fail to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As Vandana Shiva says:
“In nature’s economy the currency is not money, it is life.”
The shock expressed as ‘economic’ is, in fact, a “life and death” shock that cuts people’s bond with nature.
Humans have lived as social beings for ages and have been in communication and interaction not only with their society surrounding him/her, but also with ‘nature’ he/she lives in. Communication channels and interaction styles have changed over the years from civilization to civilization and from culture to culture, but humans have never lost their connection with the environment. As Jennifer Nini says:
“You can’t force people to care about the natural environment, but if you encourage them to connect with it, they just might.”
This connection starts from birth and continues throughout childhood and later periods, first in the immediate environment within the family and then among larger society which all humans belong. Throughout this process, which is intense during the development phase, people get to know ‘nature’ and all the living beings in their natural surroundings. Thus, humans begin to realize their own responsibilities towards their environment and society for an equal, just, sustainable and happy world.
A green environment could make important contributions to our life not only by providing clear advantages both to nature itself as well as for all of society. Living and working near green spaces improves our mental health, wellbeing and productivity. These benefits equate to a happier and healthier lifestyle for all of us. Greenery offers us (humans, animals and plants) clean water to drink, air to breathe, shade to sit in, and food to eat. Besides habitats for numerous species of fauna and flora, greenery provide places of spiritual, cultural and recreational importance.
Looking around us, what do we see?
What are we aware of?
What are we ignorant of?
What are the deficiencies?
What works regularly?
What goes perfectly?
What are the potentials?
And what can I do for the nature environment I live in?
People should constantly ask themselves these questions which help them go through an awareness stage and reach a sensitivity level. An individual should always start by exploring her/his environment with which she/he is in constant interaction. Next, they should observe their interactions between other people around them and their environment, while continuing discover society within the whole natural world around them. Thanks to these steps, she/he could begin to realize the differences among individuals, communities, and larger societies and gain a broader understanding of their human responsibilities. The concept of sensitivity underlies all these processes and all that remains is to take action.
Sensitivity is an important concept for a more livable world and could take different forms or meanings such as ecological sensitivity, environmental sensitivity, social sensitivity, cultural sensitivity, intercultural sensitivity, and so on. It is not easy to acquire sensitivity. People should be open to encountering related concepts and gaining related qualities at a young age. So, how will this take place? In fact, the process starts with the family and will continue throughout school life. For instance, parents being sensitive to environmental issues will encourage their children to participate in activities that support their sensitivity during their children’s development process. The important next comes with sensitive teachers whose responsiveness to environmental issues will be a significant indicator and support to children and youth. At this point, the degree to which teachers’ in-class or out-of-class activities along with their interactions with learners place an emphasis on such issues will determine the level of learners’ sensitivity to the environment and nature around them. The most appropriate activity is participation in social responsibility projects. Learners will both notice differences and strive to fulfill their responsibilities towards their society which includes a very important focus on their environment. Although it is not easy to understand, internalize and apply sensitivity, the earlier this process starts, the easier it will be. Thanks to each individual’s fulfillment of their responsibilities, steps will be taken for a more livable and happy world.
Developed and implemented social responsibility projects will be instrumental in this regard. There are five basic elements of engaging in such projects and all of them enable individuals to serve the society in a selfless way:
Mustafa Mustafa Öztürk – Turkey
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
Thursday night was my favourite night of the week because my parents came home from work mid-afternoon and Mum would prepare a special meal of Afghan delicacies that I would eat after I finished a neighbourhood soccer match. I would go to school in the afternoon and finish at five. One particular Thursday I could not wait to finish school because there was soccer against a team from Kocha-e-Dash the street behind from our house.
We were excited. They had challenged us by saying ‘We are going to win.’ And as everyone knows, saying this to boys anywhere across the world in relation to soccer will always merit a competitive game!
Saqeb, my best friend and the captain of our team was in good form. Everyone listened as he prepared us for this important street match.
We all played hard and when the ball fell into the street gutter filled with grey water it was called out. That day I retrieved the ball from the gutter at least a dozen times without worrying about hygiene. I knew I had to focus fully on my play. To me, this match was the most important match of my life.
For the neighbours however, they were not happy about the match because we were very noisy. The match would stop as a car passed through. Yet, due to the lack of playgrounds and parks in our City, the street was the only place we could hold our matches.
During the first half, we played hard and scored a goal. The second half was dramatic because the other team equalised. This meant we needed to work harder.
Saqeb kept hollering out the strategy as our noble coach and we focused. Khalil saved us in the last five minutes by scoring another goal. Ecstatic about our win, we rushed to the mosque and gulped down water from the only available tap in our street and washed our hands and sweaty faces. We kept bragging about our win. Saqeb took us all to a milk shop where we enjoyed hot milk and roat – Afghan sweet soft bread.
Thursday was the only night that there were movies on the television and we all discussed what would be on that night. We rushed to the electrical junction and asked if it was our turn to get power. We were in luck. The operator said this Thursday was our allocation for electricity so I rushed home.
As I got closer to my home, I could smell the Bolani my mother was cooking, which was my all-time favourite dish. Mum was the best cook. We ate it with yogurt mixed with cucumber and dried mint.
As I walked in the door, dad said ‘Bismillah let’s eat’. This is an important saying to us because everything starts with the holy name of Allah, to show our grace and humility that for all He provides us.’ While we ate, I spoke to my three sisters about the soccer match and our exciting win against those who had teased and challenged us. My oldest sister was not so interested and said we were too noisy during the game. My younger sister congratulated me as she continued eating. We ate in the dark but the feeling on family and good food supported us to feel safe.
I couldn’t wait for the power to come on at eight thirty and everyone cheered as the lights came up. I was so excited that we would see the movie tonight!
My family knew that we would have to sit through the boring government reports before the movie began so we kept washing our faces with cold water to help us stay awake. Finally, at nine thirty, Murch Masala started.
This movie was a grave disappointment because there were none of the action and fighting that excited me. The film was long and tedious and the film did not have even one action scene. Tired from the day’s exploits and excitement from winning soccer, I fell asleep before the movie ended.
I was in a deep sleep when a loud bang woke me. I looked around and soon saw Mum and Dad at the west window. My sister woke in shock.
The explosions got louder and closer. Dad took the ladder and climbed onto the roof to see what was going on and I followed. Red, green, orange and yellow explosions lit the western sky. The noise got closer and intensified. The smell of smoke filled the air. I could taste sulphur and the ground shook. I looked around to see neighbours on each roof. All faced west.
Children cried and whimpered and the adults shrieked and yelled ‘God help us!’
I became more and more afraid. It felt like the bombs were exploding on our street.
Dad climbed down and called us all inside. The windows trembled with each explosion. My heart raced and my mouth was dry. My little sister cried and Mum soothed her but also cried out, ‘Khair Khudaya – God bless us’
The fire trucks shrieked as they rushed towards Qargha and my aunt and uncle rushed in to our house. Their faces were filled with fear. Their house was right next to the ammunition dump and they had run for their lives as their windows shattered and the roof began to fall on them.
The explosions continued and the noise raged for many hours but the night grew darker with only an occasional burst of light to the west. At four thirty we were still aware because of the noise. By five thirty am it had become quiet except for the occasional siren of ambulance or fire truck in the distance.
Our house was full and there was nowhere to sleep, which was fine by me. My heart was still pounding and I was too afraid to sleep. As the sun rose on Friday, our day of rest, we huddled together and talked about what had happened.
Later, we went to my uncle’s house to find all the windows shattered. Everything was covered in dust and it smelled of sulphur. It was still and deserted. People all looked on from a distance to survey the damage.
On Saturday morning, before dawn, I was woken from the sweetest sleep by the squeak of Russian tanks and trucks carrying ammo back to Qargha depot.
I was eight years old and will never forget either the intensity of joy at winning at soccer, the delicious food Mum made that night or the extreme fear of the night that followed. The extreme emotions I felt that day as a young boy have stayed with me for almost four decades.
I was born in Kabul in the mid-1970s. The Soviets invaded in 1979. I was raised in war and conflict; I don’t remember a time in my life when my country was not at war. As a kid, I developed resilience and the strategy to enjoy my life in the middle of a conflict, so we did things like other kids. We played soccer in the streets, we had friends, we had fun. I was a known as a very cheeky child and adolescent to my neighbours. I was a bit of a troublemaker. However, once the Mujahedin came, things really changed. From the day they arrived, every night we experienced aerial shots. Every night thousands and thousands of bullets were shot in the air.
Society changed. Schools never opened because of the security situation. Street fights started because of the stress to our people due to the civil war. I remember we would be playing and honestly, we could hear bullets in the air but we continued to play. We just never thought that the bullet could hit me or could hit my friend. Of course, they did.
When I was growing up. Kabul was a modern and open society. My teachers wore skirts. It was so normal for us. In the villages, people were conservative because of the influence of Mujahedin outside major cities. But in 1992 when Mujahedin came, all women had to cover their heads and skirts were not allowed. That was the time when we moved to Pakistan. My dad said, “For now I don’t think this is a place for us.” I was 15 years old.
We thought it would only be for two months, so we left most of our belongings behind, locked in our house. We drove. We went to Jalalabad, the border city, for one night and then took the bus. There was a lot of roadside mines so we were lucky we made it. We went to Peshawar and stayed in a hotel. From there we rented a place and stayed until 2003 – 11 years. We thought it was temporary, that things would change and we could come back but it never changed, it became worse.
In 2003, I returned to Kabul after the collapse of brutal Taliban regime. I started working with local communities in the areas of peace building and conflict transformation. I worked for eight years in Afghanistan and Pakistan in community peace building and education. I led a team responsible for designing programs addressing issues of local conflicts through asset-based community peace building initiatives in partnership with other local organizations. The program provided capacity building initiatives targeting key community leaders and members to become peace ambassadors and establish local peace councils to act as mediators in a situation where local conflict existed. The program was implemented across 16 provinces of Afghanistan. I loved my job. It was empowering to be a part of rebuilding peace and a stable country. It gave me a great opportunity to work with communities where I could apply strength-based approaches to building peace at local level in different areas of Afghanistan. I was always amazed at the strength of local communities to get to the bottom of complex situations and transform these situations into opportunities for collaboration.
In 2009, I came to Australia. A fresh chapter of my life started in a new society – different from the one I had to leave. I have been so lucky that my life has never stopped teaching me new and beautiful lessons.
Once in Australia, my career as a peace builder and community development worker entered a new phase. I started working with people seeking asylum. I was privileged to be witnessing amazing stories shared by people who escaped from persecution and eminent danger. Their stories were of hope, courage, resilience, optimism, separation and bravery. I was honoured to mentor and support them to develop and share their story as a powerful tool for change in their communities. I also mentored traumatised young people seeking asylum and their families to navigate the Australia and United Nations systems comfortably and with dignity. In line with this, I have provided voluntary translation and interpreting support for those in need, knowing the veil of language can be a limiting factor in driving and promoting peace in our communities.
Unfortunately, on 15 August 2021 Afghanistan fell to Taliban which put an end to 20 years of hard work for millions of people from all walks of life including the civil society sector. Afghanistan still faces an uncertain future after 4 decades of war and conflict.
Essan Dileri – Afghan/ Australia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
I work as a public school cinema studies teacher with detained youth in the United States. As I prepared to begin the Rotary Peace & Development Fellowship, I dreamed about how my Social Change Initiative would inspire policy to end juvenile incarceration, or at least put an end to the horror it causes my students and their families. Twelve weeks into the program, I’ve come to realize I may have gotten lost in space. There are just so many things in the carceral universe that are out of my control. And while dreaming is arguably the wellspring of peacebuilding, what I’m getting most from the fellowship is the importance of gravity’s pull. Getting my feet back on the ground doesn’t mean I can’t dream. It means that change can happen, but not without checking back in with Earth’s base to gather the necessary skills that keep us steady, balanced, and clear-minded so where the initial peacebuilding can get done.
I’ve learned that no matter how good-natured I am, or how good I am at my job, I have limited resources. And that I need to protect those resources. I am only capable of so much each day before the quality starts to slip. So, I must learn to set boundaries to protect myself and my resources. And when negotiating any conflict, I’ve learned it’s important to practice tactics like using I-statements, stating the obvious, sticking to the facts, repeating back the circumstances, clarifying our expectations, and asking for an agreement. Remembering to practice these tactics will help me to remain emotionally balanced, save my energy, and maybe even walk away with a desired result. I also learned it’s important to keep my ego in check by asking better questions to problems, rather than thinking I have the solutions.
I’ve learned that when I’m stressed, there’s a greater tendency for my emotions to run amok. I might start to fictionalize my internal narratives, making me the author of my own untruths, which makes me more likely to make assumptions. Assumptions have the potential to violate peacebuilding because, when we make them, we risk throwing the facts out the window. When we make them, we may be mistaking someone’s good intentions for bad, or seeing situations worse than they actually are. We also run the risk of tricking ourselves. More than once during this fellowship I have assumed myself into thinkingthat a class session has little to do with my work. As we began a week devoted to conflict analysis in July, I went into class that Monday thinking, “What does this analysis stuff have to do with me? I deal in the arts!” Here I was, thinking I was above it all, until I realized halfway through the session (and after applying a finger to the tip of my schnoz to lower it down a few degrees) just how much analysis could be helpful in every aspect of my work. And, how creative conflict analysis could be! After all, isn’t every movie scene written with conflict at its center? Isn’t most important art based upon it? Aren’t all my students’ lives rife with conflict?
I’ve learned through my experience in this job, and it’s been reinforced by the fellowship, how working with people who’ve been traumatized can become my own trauma. To be in a locked facility everyday can be maddening, and it has the potential to drive any sensible person crazy. In this environment, conflicts arise out of the ether, pessimism spreads like a virus, and neurosis is always lurking around the corner. Working in this environment obviously requires radical self-care. But what I’ve learned in the fellowship is that self-care must be applied and practiced constantly in order to ward off becoming overcome by trauma myself. I cannot just expect that because I play tennis twice a week, or ride my bicycle to work every day, that I’m going to be hunky-dory on Friday. Or that because I meditate for ten minutes before breakfast, I will be OK throughout any given day. “As long as I do yoga five times a week, I should be fine!” I bragged to my Colombian fellow in a recent breakout session. “In your work environment, that sounds like bringing flowers to a dead marriage,” she replied.
My fellow’s wisdom provided a revelation: Perhaps my work environment, with all of its arbitrary inconsistency and Kafkaesque absurdity that promote both direct and systemic violence, is simply not a sustainable workplace for me–or for anyone, really. However, in the meantime, I know I need to maintain activities and regimens that bring me energy and levity. If not, I may find myself at risk of falling into the DMA Abyss, otherwise known as the Dualistic-Manicheistic-Apocalyptic Thinking Hole–the polarized opposite to lifting off into space. This would not be good, for down there in that abyss reside the Twin Devils of Cynicism and Despair.
Even if we manage to avoid falling into the abyss, our lines of work can often render us teetering on its edge. And if we do happen to fall in, we must be armed with the necessary tools to climb out, and quickly. The Twin Devils, despite having each other for company, are lonely. They’d like to keep us around, put us under their spell, keep us far from rescue and far from the surface, where we need to be–steady, balanced, and clear-minded–to help others. Coming down from space is arguably easier than crawling out of the abyss, but either way, it’s important for us to stay grounded upon the earth so we don’t risk being lost above or below it all.
Geoffrey Diesel – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
Stories are often relegated to the realm of entertainment. Certainly, in a world focused on measurable outcomes, stories do not share the prestige of the measurable units in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. Yet, the world’s most famous scientist, Albert Einstein, is reported to have advised a mother, who wanted her son to be a scientist, to read him “fairy tales … more fairy tales and even more fairy tales” (Zipes). The great scientist recognized that the imagination and creativity are at the core of science is the same that is nurtured by stories.
It is the same at the foundation of our freedom and democracy, as Salman Rushdie brilliantly illustrates in Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Storyteller Rashid Khalifa loses his ability to tell stories in response to his son’s question: “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” In an allegorical world of language, Rushdie illustrates that language itself is inherently complicated, requiring constant attention and negotiation. Stories can be manipulated, foolishly or dangerously. Yet, stories are fundamental to our very being and to the way we negotiate our lives together.
Stories are essential to how we bring ourselves into existence. Reflecting on the motivation for the novel Things Fall Apart, writer Chinua Achebe spoke of recognizing the absence of the story of himself and his people, a void which he described as a gap, a missing book on a bookshelf. Achebe asserts that fiction can be true in a profound way, resonating with universal experiences even as it tells a particular story.
This week we reflected on the practice of storytelling in the context of peace with Dr. Jessica Senehi of the University of Manitoba (Canada). Storytelling can be an exercise in peace building as it can embody mutual recognition, awareness of self and context, and shared power and creation of knowledge. Dr. Senehi noted that storytelling requires no special skills, level of education or material wealth. It is simply the sharing of a story with someone else about something that happened. We discussed the Winnipeg International Storytelling Festival, a festival that celebrates storytelling in various forms and traditions, such as Spoken Word, Indigenous, Metis and French. In its own small embodiment of how stories can build peace, the Rotary Peace Fellows of Class 31, a group of once total strangers, continue to share bits and pieces of our own stories with one another as we try to build positive peace in our work and world.
We all have stories. As individuals, we have stories. As families, we have stories. As communities and nations, we have stories. Some of our stories are shared loudly, some quietly, and some are never told. Our stories connect all of us to ourselves and to one another. They hold what is immeasurable in our current, conflicted world. Our stories hold our humanity and collective wisdom. There isn’t a more hopeful place to look for peace!
Sonia Persaud – Canada
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
During this week’s online sessions in our Rotary Peace Center course (September 6th -12th 2021), our professor Roxana Cristescu introduced us the principles of mediation ethics, such as impartiality, voluntariness, confidentiality, self-determination, honesty, informed consent and the principle of “Do No Harm”.
Our professor gave us a task to choose the three most important principles for us, personally. This task made me realize how difficult it was for me, as a professional mediator, to choose some and leave other principles. Each one of these principles plays a key role in the process and protects both the mediator and the parties from choices that might harm those who are involved, the mediator or/and the parties, on different levels.
With these thoughts in my mind, on the same day, I came across the work of an artist called Miss Buggs. Her Specimen Series (2021) was displayed during this same week in an art exhibition in Saatchi Gallery in London, England. It contained 21 unique PU resin medical lollipops placed inside of 9 cabinets. What intrigued me was that the lollies appeared harmless and colorful, even delicious from afar. But, if you looked closely, you’d realize their harmful content: syringes, blades and pills. Something that appeared so harmless, could actually do you harm, if you were not careful.
We usually think of mediation as a process for peaceful conflict settlement. A process that has a positive impact on the parties involved. It gives them the freedom to decide for their case by themselves, it encourages and empowers them to do so, away from Courts, with minimum psychological stress and economic burden. But is it possible that mediation can do harm? In order to answer whether and when mediation can do harm, we have first to understand what the principle of “Do No Harm” means in mediation.
The principle of “Do No Harm” in mediation is borrowed from the Greek Hippocratic Oath doctors agree on before they are appointed in order to offer their services. Adapted to mediation, it requires mediators to conduct the process in a way that will not cause harm to the people involved or “add fuel to the fire” and worsen the dispute. People who choose to come to mediation are, sometimes, in a sensitive and vulnerable psychological state. They may feel insecure, worried, stressed, reserved and anxious as they engage in mediation in order to solve a serious and conflicting matter. A dispute, no matter how peacefully resolved is never taken lightly. A mediator has to be vigilant for signs and always try to empower the parties, enlighten them about the process and instill them with trust and security about their authority, impartiality and professional competence when handling their dispute.
Furthermore, harm may be caused by a mediator’s inapt handling of the conflict, resulting in the creation of undue antagonism between the parties involved. For example, a mediator may allow a party to overpower the other in a discussion, or realize their inability to handle a participant’s anger or breakdown in a divorce family dispute.
Mediation is definitely a process that offers participants a way to resolve their conflicts amicably and peacefully. However, it is the mediator’s job to know, develop and utilize the skills required, including their own personal and professional strengths, weaknesses, limits and biases, in order to help the conflict parties and to “do no harm”.
Theodora Syriou – Greece
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
Days after finishing our sessions on Innovative Development Program Design in the Rotary Peace Fellowship at Chulalongkorn University, the words of Professor Kai Brand Jacobsen came to mind over and over again.
I was in Chocó, the jungle of the Colombian Pacific region. A territory historically marked by violence between guerrillas, drug trafficking, and illegal mining, but with a very high potential for social change. The area has one of the most biodiverse territories in the world, and its talented and friendly people are living by abandoning that history marked by violence to develop tourism and culture in their territory.
Any intervention or social program that we want to generate peacebuilding and a high social impact in communities must be carefully planned. It is necessary to know the history of the community, their interests, what they face in their day and day, and respect their culture and traditions so that they can take ownership of the program and the changes can be sustainable over time.
In the sessions we had with Professor Jacobsen during our program, we talked about how to carry out project planning, the logical framework, and formulate the theory of change in our social interventions for peacebuilding. And although many of these processes or tools are commonly used in our organizations, it was fascinating and enriching to study them from another perspective.
In this program, we discuss how the tools of design, implementation monitoring, evaluation, and learning in a project should be used not only to guarantee the efficiency of the activities that we are going to carry out in the territory but it is also essential to use them to promote a process of integration of the community, they should be the ones who come up with their solutions and who manage them. Only in this way can we strengthen the social fabric that, in the long run, will be what guarantees sustainable peace.
Before my experience with Professor Jacobsen and my fellow Rotary Peace Fellows, all these tools were a desk job for me; they rarely accompanied me to the territory, to day-to-day work in the community. Today I can see the integration between these processes and the value they have for us as social organizations, for our projects, and, most importantly, for our beneficiaries.
Maria Gabriela Arenas – Venezuela – Colombia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
This week’s topic on Fostering Wellness: Transforming Stress & Trauma Through Self-Care & Resilience by Dr. Heidi Kar led the class to think deeply about how to best take care of yourself to promote mental and emotional health and wellbeing. The lectures and skill development exercises provided a wealth of information and ideas on how to build your own action that best works for you. The action plan consists of five simple steps:
Step 1: Grounding, Centering, and Rejuvenating Daily Activities to Keep Your Mind Healthy
Step 2: Awareness of Warning Signs That Something Is Wrong
Step 3: Toolbox of Coping Skills
Step 4: Identifying Sources of Social Support
Step 5: Professional Support
A sample plan can consist of daily activities such as grounding, mindfulness meditation (e.g. leaves on a stream exercise) and being in nature. Warning signs can be thoughts, feelings and/or behaviors that indicate your mind is not in the healthiest place. You may be ‘over-worrying’ or finding it difficult to unwind and relax at night. The next step in an action plan consists of creating your personalized toolbox of coping skills you can rely on to either take your mind off of negative thoughts and feelings or help you perceive and approach a situation differently. These can include evidence-based stress reduction techniques focusing on the present moment (e.g. progressive muscle relaxation to release physical tension and help you get out of your mind and into your body), physical exercise or challenging your thoughts and thinking of alternatives and new perspectives, among many others.
If you still feel stuck after using your coping strategies, you might need to reach out to someone you trust, such as a friend or family member, to get support. Finally, if you cannot get the help you need from that trusted person, you might need professional support that is available to you, such as a counselor or therapist.
We learned that developing and implementing your personalized action plan can not only help us become more resilient when going through difficult times, but also increase our overall sense of wellbeing through daily self-care practices.
As Rotary Peace Fellows, it is essential to be attentive to our own mental and emotional health hardships as well as to the wellbeing of those we work with and serve, since we can often witness or respond to situations of conflict. Having these practical tools we learned this week to deploy when needed is of great benefit to us so we can better understand and be better equipped to help the communities we serve.
Laura Viana – Argentina
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More