As we are engaging in this week’s module on Inclusive Community Peacebuilding, I cannot help but reminisce. We are entering year 2 of the pandemic and how different does our world seem from the one I knew before. I have adapted to all of the changes as well as I can. Days at a time without leaving the house once. One year working from home in Mexico City without ever going back to the office. One year without my friends, nor going out to dance salsa. A year and a half without seeing my loved ones back home in the Netherlands. Feeling further away and disconnected from the various personal and professional communities I belong to than ever. Changes I can handle – my basic needs are covered, life simply goes on and at some point in the future things will probably run its normal course again. At least, for me.
Back in March 2020, while we all tried to grasp the severity of the pandemic as it swept around us, Madonna took a luxurious bath full of rose petals and stated that ‘COVID is the great equalizer’. It was already abundantly clear back then that this is a blatant misconception. The harmful effects of this pandemic are not and will not be distributed equally.
What about the more than 137 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean whose education is put on hold, in many cases for over a year? In November 2020, UNICEF published that a staggering 97% of the region’s students are still deprived of their normal schooling. Here in Mexico, for example, those who are privileged enough to access private education have been home-schooled for a year using Zoom. Far from ideal, but way better than those in public education. Only 40% of students have access to stable internet. So, what’s the solution? Millions of children are now receiving their education via state-run distance learning programmes offered via television and radio. Which means limited hours and zero direct interaction with classmates or teachers to receive extra support and explanations. What does that do to our education systems? What does this mean for the overall development of this generation?
It exacerbates already existing inequalities and inequities. Interrupted learning leading to a disruption of children’s development, coupled with increasing school drop-out rates, aggravated risks to child labour, enhanced risks of domestic violence, gender-based violence and violence against children, and further economic repercussions in the years to come.
And this only scratches the surface of the short and long-term impacts of the lockdown on society overall. We face enormous challenges, now and in the future. As for us in the fellowship, while we are trying to continue our work in the various (fascinating!) fields that we are active in, how do we maintain our impact and quality standards in community development and peacebuilding from a distance? How do we create meaningful and positive change during -what seems to be a never-ending lockdown? The idea of inclusive community peacebuilding is one of meaningful, equal and true participation, ownership and leadership of communities. Involving the voices of all those who are affected by programmes or initiatives at every stage of the process. It seems simple and straightforward, but unfortunately in practice it is not. Too often communities are side-lined and interventions built on assumptions, foreign agendas and the best of intentions that do not take into account local needs, voices or realities.
Our visions on community peacebuilding and the many examples of good practice and of persistent pitfalls that we discussed this week were based on our direct and in-person work experiences in communities. It makes me long for the days that I was still able to travel and co-facilitate workshops and meetings with rightsholders for my own work in human rights education. Human connection and direct interaction at its best. We are now largely depending on organizing and mobilizing in digital and distance-learning spaces. Yet, those who do have internet are absolutely overwhelmed and tired of Zoom and Google Hangouts, as am I. And experience shows that those we may specifically seek to include who are part of marginalized communities, such as indigenous peoples, at-risk youth, refugees, people with disabilities, rural communities and LGBTIQ+ communities, are harder to reach and involve if we can only rely on digital communication. All my best intentions aside, working on inclusion and equality seems harder than ever.
Looking ahead, how do we ‘build back better’? How do we reduce the widening inequality gap? Whatever the reconciliation and recovery challenges that await us in the future, the idea of inclusive community development is of vital importance here. But, let us please be more vigilant against tokenistic inclusion and participation. Our political and international arenas have to radically and urgently change its mind-set and practice in this respect. If we truly want inclusive community development and peacebuilding, it requires that we take a long and hard look at ourselves. All the best intentions aside, to be true champions of equality and equity we need to reflect, unpack and act better upon the power dynamics that come into play. The international development and humanitarian aid sector itself is a world full of oppression and privilege, stereotypes and prejudices, micro aggressions, micro politics and dominant development discourses. Official aid for development is a political instrument and a political process in itself. Civic driven change, political agency and power dynamics are main drivers for in- or exclusion. To acknowledge that is the very minimum. To act upon it would be a great step forward.
Imke van der Velde – The Netherlands/Mexico
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
Hi, my names Tim Mortimer and I’m an interfaith dialogue specialist from the UK, and part of the latest Rotary Peace Fellowship Class 30.
I applied for and was accepted to the Fellowship with the intentions of broadening my perspective. I’ve been working at The Faith & Belief Forum, the UK’s leading interfaith charity for the last 6 and a half years. I love it, but I’ve definitely become used to a particular methodology and context. I’ve worked on and lead different grassroots programming connecting people from different backgrounds, and it’s all been very locally focussed. For one example, over the last 5 months I’ve been leading a government funded dialogue programme in two British cities where diverse faith/belief communities engage and get to know each other through a series of facilitated online meetings. One Mosque and Church that linked were on the same street, and so we built connections through exploring each community’s experiences within the same locality.
I was aware that after so long in the same organisation, the chance to step back and compare my approach to practitioners from all around the world would be invaluable. Now, 8 weeks into the fellowship I can certainly say that the process of broadening my perspective is well underway.
At first the Fellowship experience was a little overwhelming. The language of ‘conflict transformation’, ‘multilateral organisations’, ‘global geopolitical trends’ and ‘UN Security Council resolutions’ is quite unfamiliar to me. I’m more used to talking about individual stories of faith, family, community and identity. There’s a risk that when broadening one’s perspective, that you start to appreciate the vast complexity of the wider problems we face.
I was also introduced to my incredible cohort of Fellows working and living in such different contexts all around the globe. From New York to Nepal, Liberia to Timor-Leste. It became evident extremely quickly that when we talked about peace we were often talking about quite different things. When I talk of conflict in the UK in 2021, I’m talking about the underlying community tensions that the Brexit vote has brought to the fore. I’m talking about the rising levels of hate crime against minority communities. I’m not talking about imminent threats of violence in the way friends from Palestine or Uganda might be. I have also consistently been reminded of my own privilege, not least digitally, as friends from other countries participate around power cuts.
However, as we get into the swing of the Fellowship, I am definitely learning a lot. Particularly, I’m learning fairly frequently that the grassroots principles that I’ve picked up over time in the UK do relate to the global conversation, in ways I never realised.
This recently hit home during our lectures with Itonde Kakoma (Director for Global Strategy) from Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), an internationally focussed mediation organisation based in Finland. While Itonde and I are both professional mediators, the conversations he mediates are between world leaders so I didn’t expect to find too many similarities in our practices. Certainly, the dialogues Itonde spoke of in Tanzania between leaders of different political factions in South Sudan are a far cry from my recent community dialogue project. Interestingly, when Itonde shared his methodology and approach to high level mediation, there were important similarities to my own practice. To name a few, these similarities include: the focus on preparation and the conversation needed before opening the dialogue space; the importance of learning mediation through an ‘apprentice model’ of observing seasoned mediators; the cruciality of co-production and the need to assess the power dynamics of the physical dialogue space.
As the Fellowship continues, I look forward to broadening my perspective, but also coming to realise that some of the answers I’m looking for are a little closer to home.
Tim Mortimer – The UK
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
No peace without peace of mind: Why we need to link mental health and psychosocial support into peacebuilding, now.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. While it took me a while to find the silver lining on the massive and ever-evolving dark cloud of Covid-19; I think I’ve found it: all of a sudden everyone around me is talking about (their) mental health. Cooped up in our homes, prevented from spending time with those we love; overwhelmed with anxiety and fear and uncertainty; mental health has become a far more frequent dinner table topic than it was before the pandemic reigned on us. I for one hope it stays that way; here’s why:
For me mental health is personal, professional and inextricably linked to violent conflict. My German grandfather fled his beloved hometown of Bautzen in East Germany during the Sovietisation in 1954. My mother and grandmother followed a few days later; leaving behind everything but a small suitcase containing their most urgent possessions. By all accounts my grandfather-desperately homesick- became heavily depressed soon after leaving Bautzen. This impacted heavily on his ability to earn a living and to be emotionally present for his young daughter and wife.
And, to this day, my mother, 5 years old at the time; says she has nightmares about getting lost in and amongst rows and rows of identical tents in a Berlin refugee camp where the family initially sought refuge.
Having spent much time understanding, talking about and analysing our family history, my sister and I have now made peace with the fact that our grandfather’s depression (or melancholy as he called it) has been passed down through the generations; via our mother, to her and I.
However, my professional aha-moment came in a dialogue session with community leaders in Juba, South Sudan in 2014. We had been circling around the same topic for days; trying to establish a feasible model for reconciliation dialogues in that country. At some point a young man who had witnessed the horrors of war first hand, opened up. His story was raw, fresh and filled with a pain and anger that appeared to resonate deeply with the other participants in the room. This unlocked something. As participants responded with an almost contagious energy, volunteering to share their own stories with us, something shifted for me. It became clear to me that unless peacebuilders systemically collaborate with mental health and psycho-social support practitioners to address the psychological impact of conflict; the peace we are trying to build will not materialise. We will not live in peace and be able to contribute to the building of that peace; unless we have peace of mind. Indeed, evidence shows that those who have not processed the wounds of the past; are less likely to engage actively and peacefully in community-rebuilding efforts.
Conflict destroys so much more than physical infrastructure. It reaches deep into society, carefully destroying link after link of its fragile fibre. As trust erodes; so do the relationships which govern our co-existence. The more those relationships are damaged; the less cushioning we have to protect us from the daily stress of everyday living. This in turn erodes us; our wellbeing and our resilience. As such there is no question in my mind, that peacebuilders and MHPSS professionals must work together if they want to effectively and sustainably rebuild societies destroyed by war. Advocating for this simple yet crucial truth, is what I care most deeply about. It is my life’s work. This is the topic of my SCI as well as the lens with which I listen to and participate in the tremendously enriching Rotary Peace Fellowship.
Friederike Bubenzer – South Africa
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
Until last year when the Covid 19 pandemic spread across the globe, I was unaware of and would have never thought of applying for the Rotary Peace Fellowship. I received the scholarship application from a Rotarian friend based in Jordan who thought it might assist my daughter who is a recent graduate in political science and international relations. After reading the conditions of the application I found that the skills and requirements applied to me and not to a new graduate, like my daughter at this time. I spoke with my daughter and we agreed that I would apply. I am now a Rotary Peace Fellow with Class 30 at Chulalongkorn University. I believe that this is not a coincidence. Rather, it is destiny that is drawing me to a new path and phase in my life’s journey.
The past years has been very difficult for me. My life experiences have left me in deep contemplation around personal questions about life, people and the global incidents around me. I am a woman who was forced to leave her job in 2017 due to financial difficulties with the organization for which I worked at the time. I am a woman who is confident and I believe in myself and my own abilities, so I decided to take a risk and invest my life savings in a restaurant business. I found an old historical and neglected house and decided to renovate it. The work to renovate the house cost a great deal, but it was worth transforming if from an abandoned house to an iconic restaurant serving traditional Palestinian meals and beverages to guests from all over Palestine.
As a woman who is an owner and a manager of a restaurant business, I have faced discrimination in a predominately man’s field. I also had little knowledge about working in the food and beverage sector and was forced to confront fraud from the suppliers and the workers. The situation was beyond my imagination. People were extremely competitive and cutthroat in this sector and in the end, I was forced to close and leave my dreams behind me of being a restaurant owner. As a result, I experienced deep depression and viewed myself as a failure who could not run a small business, who lost money, and felt overwhelmed with problems related to paying bills; all of which resulted in a cycle of anxiety and fear about the future. It was at this critical time that I found a light at the end of a dark tunnel inspired by a congratulations email from the Rotary International informing me that I had been accepted into the Rotary Peace Fellows Program, Class 30, at Chulalongkorn University.
My Social Change Initiative (SCI), a central aspect of the Rotary Peace Fellowship, is the result of my own experiences, suffering and deep reflection about how to help myself and other women struggling through similar situations. It is an attempt to support and empower women like myself to be ready for life’s challenges by facing problems with solution oriented skills, a clear and confident mind.
My SCI’s main target population is women, because they have less opportunity to access employment and less support to establish their own businesses in comparison with men in Palestine and worldwide. They also face more challenges and discrimination in a traditional society which discriminates against women in the public sphere. Therefore, my SCI is seeking to empower women by empowering them with support, skills and resources to confront the tremendous negative environment related to existing economic, social and cultural norms. Much of the female labor force suffers from limited opportunities to build and share their skills compounded with low-incomes of which increases the challenges they face to become economically self-sufficient.
In February 2021, the Fellowship Program opened with a focused trauma, resilience and stress transformation session. This session inspired the thought to ask and support women in my society to look deep inside their souls and acknowledge and heal the trauma which I believe all women are suffering from in a way or another in Palestine.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was disappointed when I learned that we would not be able to attend the first part of the program in person at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. However, Martine Miller, the Deputy Director, is like a breeze on a hot summer day. Her words give me comfort, especially since we are engaged in virtual live sessions that I sometimes find difficult when trying to interact with the other Fellows. We are still strangers and I am not yet able to make them laugh or interact with all of my peers as we would if we were in residence together these first months at Chulalongkorn. All I know about them is their names and faces from behind a computer screen. Yet, over time, I am sure that I am gaining a new family from around the world who is there to support me in making the change I am hoping to witness in my society. I am so excited we will all meet face-to-face at the beginning of the 2022 in Thailand.
Every day, this program is offering me the strength and the power to move forward into the future with a positive attitude. I am confident I will succeed in making important changes in my society. I will hold the hands of other Palestinian women and give them the courage and skills to succeed at nontraditional jobs with important resources to face the discrimination and challenges they are encountering with strong and confident spirits.
My sincere gratitude goes to the Amman Rotary Club in Jordan. I would like to extend my appreciation to my sister-in-law and a Rotary Peace Fellow Alumni Katherine Hughes – Fraitekh, and my professor at the University of Haifa who wrote me the recommendations, supported and encouraged me to apply during a difficult and foggy time I was advancing through.
Suheir Freitekh – Palestine
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30
The first positive case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was officially found on 13th January 2020 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Before the identification of the case, Nepal was neither prepared enough to handle the pandemic crisis, nor did the government even consider it seriously. When the second case was diagnosed on March 17, 2020, the government haphazardly initiated implementing necessary measures to control the COVID-19 spread.
Although forecasting the full severity of this pandemic would have been difficult at best in this given context, I feel the Government of Nepal and its mechanisms were unable to gain the trust of its citizens to a large extent due to the latters’ unassertive, delayed and unprepared actions. For instance, while addressing the federal parliament after a few months of the spread, the Prime Minister, head of government, still did not take seriously the possible effects of the crisis. He, in fact, undermined the role of scientific facts, which was against the emotions of the common people at the time. As a result, it was observed that the emergency service delivery was not able to fulfill the contingency plans, even though the citizens could understand the limitations of a government of an underdeveloped country like Nepal.
Subsequently, I felt that people gradually started to raise their voices voluntarily against the governments’ initiatives, inefficient service delivery mechanisms, inappropriate coordination, politicization in community relief distribution, and demotivated bureaucracy. Amidst the crisis, rampant corruption cases were reported regularly in newspapers and social media regarding emergency materials’ procurements at both central and local levels but neither formal investigations were made nor were any allegations raised against the culprits. Ad-hoc mechanisms were formulated bypassing the existing government systems to tackle the pandemic crisis that proved ineffective. I found no alignment between the words and actions of government representatives.
Despite these shortfalls, I saw that citizens fully supported the governmental plans i.e. lockdown. But they had fewer chances to realize the best preparations for the worst situation – instead they observed the intra-party political tussles within the ruling party during the crisis. Despite this, the security forces and health-workers performed their respective duties in professional ways amidst the political chaos even with very limited resources and health safety measures. I felt proud seeing their commitment to serving people in the crisis while forgetting their personal and family priorities and limitations. This is a key cultural trait of the Nepali community that follows the ethics of Sanatan Dharma (religion).
Despite the government’s very limited performance, I observed a few hopes from self-help initiatives (both at individual and group levels) who acted determinedly to bring happiness to the faces of small groups of people during these difficult times, compassionately, in different parts of the country. To give some examples, some local government units from Udaypur, Rupandehi, and Parsa districts – once known as highly affected areas – brought increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases under control with community-based, coordinated and companionate actions. I feel these initiatives worked to save the lives of many people. Likewise, self-help individuals, groups, and organizations managed to supply free-food services and water to needy and helpless people in open-spaces and highways, keeping their lives from risk in Kathmandu and other parts of the country. During the crisis, receiving food with love and care once again showed the value of humanity in communities. Likewise, some groups supported managing and distributing health-safety materials and equipment management services in the hospitals that supported the health workers’ vital professional work. Some people also provided free vehicle services to needy people during the crisis especially to the COVID-19 patients as an emergency response – as ambulance services were severely limited. These initiatives can be considered important outcomes of an active and compassionate citizenship. The grassroots forms of self-help support were highly commendable. Respecting equal dignity of individual members of vulnerable minorities promotes a sense of good society.
Amidst the political tussles, growing frustration and chaos in communities after the COVID-19 pandemic, I remained professionally engaged, virtually. This engagement included through research, online-trainings, coordination of virtual theatre performances and other online meetings/courses. These activities supported me in connecting with diverse people during the pandemic. We shared our experiences empathically. However, I found, particularly, the situation of women with disabilities to be painful. The common people i.e. marginalized communities, had to face additional livelihood related problems due to the impacts of pandemic. The situation was not optimistic.
Meanwhile, an email that I received on behalf of the Trustees of The Rotary Foundation during the first week of November 2020 was a key precedent for me to free myself from the effects of the months-long COVID-19 enforced homestay. Although it could not help me cope with the contemporary situation, it showed me hope for a better future during this difficult time.
Crises such as these are mostly unpredictable. The power-holders – i.e. governments, political parties etc., – actions need to be reflected in tackling the challenges ahead. They should: be ‘honest’ to themselves and towards other people; be ‘compassionate’ with people and the world; show ‘respect’ for themselves and others while being mindful of people’s opinions; be responsible for one’s actions; and, be morally courageous. All of which contributes to the fundamentals of a peaceful society. Beneath it all, in this case, the government should have been far more compassionate to its citizens. Power-holders should empathize with the victims themselves as they are their responsible guardians. Indeed, this is a long-term and continuous process that can only be achieved through active and companionate citizenship curricula and education. I hope to gain some of these qualities during this peace fellowship!
Nar Bahadur Saud – Nepal
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30
2020 will be remembered as the year that the Novel Coronovirus, Covid 19,
decimated global healthcare systems and economies. As well as caused unprecedented
death tolls and grief. The Rotary Peace Fellows of Class 29 became part of Class 30. A
quick pivot due to travel restrictions enabled the first ever Virtual Peace Fellowship to
launch in February 2021. Having just completed Week 5, I can reflect on the many Tools
that we have been provided to navigate Peacebuilding, Trauma, Conflict Data Analysis,
I am no stranger to conflict. In the 1990’s I documented the Civil War in Romania,
Perestroika in Russia, numerous Canadian and International events. In 2010 I was an
embedded Documentarian/Combat Cameraperson with Canadian and NATO Troops in
Kandahar, Afghanistan. As a female cameraperson I had access to Afghan women and
their stories, while respecting their cultural norms. I chose to be on the frontlines;
Afghan women, and children did not. This is their home.
Being a Cameraperson enables you to literally, and emotionally, change your lens
or “Gender Spectacles” on a daily basis. The capacity to manage violence, and
carnage, is crucial to be able to do the work effectively. I hit the ground running in
Afghanistan. I wanted to bear witness to the stories that are not usually shown on the
News. Women making change, working together as Afghan Citizens, Coalition Troops,
and Peacebuilders. Women united to move the situation forward despite constant
harassment, brutality, and targeted assassinations.
Outside the Wire, released in 2010 on Canadian Television. Afghan women asked
me to return and document their service to country as Police and Military women.
Returning to Afghanistan in 2012, 2014, and 2016 to complete Burkas2Bullets. B2B,
received 5 International Film Festival Awards in 2018. My journey continues;
documenting the success of the Rotary Polio Vaccination Program in Afghanistan. The
program reinforced to me the importance of the work that is being done on the ground
by various stakeholders.
This is one of my favourite pictures from 2012. It was a Shura on the French Base,
in Afghanistan. The meeting was to support local midwives, and their training with
advice from both a NATO, and local Doctor. The female soldiers, NATO Doctor, and
Afghan Midwives were united in a shared vision. They were supported by some of the
men in the community, and the Base Commander. A great example of shared wisdom,
resources, and respect.
We are now 20 years into the conflict in Afghanistan. I have always believed that it
will be 30 years before we can really see the benefits of all of the unified Peacebuilding,
and Nato measures that have been deployed to support Afghanistan as a Nation. The
people of the land have learned to counter tragedy with resilience, and a strengthened
hope for the future. Proud to be a Rotary Peace Fellow; my work is just beginning!
Alison MacLean : Canada ( www.tomboyproductions.tv)
Rotary Peace Fellow : Class 30Read More
As deep as the ocean: the interconnectedness of peace building and marine conservation. The perspective of a Peace Fellow during the times of COVID-19.
So, here I am again. It’s 2 pm in Dili, Timor-Leste. I just rushed back from a squeezed-in 20 min lunch break to sit for another awe-inspiring three hours glued to my computer screen. This is not how I imagined this experience to be, yet here I am. COVID-19 has turned my entire life upside down and the Rotary Peace Fellowship is no exception. What was supposed to take place in 2020 as a resident three-month intensive networking, leadership and professional development opportunity at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand is now taking place virtually in the familiarity of the Blue Ventures office in Díli.
I am the Country Manager of Blue Ventures in Timor-Leste. As the primary country representative, I provide vision, strategy and leadership for Blue Ventures’ growing marine conservation, fisheries management, alternative livelihood and ecotourism programmes in Timor-Leste. These initiatives aim to empower coastal communities to manage their marine ecosystem effectively, enriching local livelihoods and sustaining healthy marine environments for generations to come.
Leading the busy country team and organisation means that I usually don’t have many opportunities to stop and reflect. This fellowship is offering me this opportunity: the new delivery format is now stretched over a full year and for the first four months for three times a week, I close the door to my Timorese colleagues and invite global study pals into my office – virtually of course!
Thus far, I have been enjoying every minute, absorbing the new insights like a sponge. We are a very diverse cohort of 19 hand selected Peace Fellows from 16 countries and our lecturers call in from around the globe. Many of us, myself included, aren’t local to where we are now living and working, bringing in a myriad of perspectives. To accommodate the extreme time differences, our regular live classes are held in two separate groups. For most of us English is our second or third language so having video calls with poor internet connections has already been challenging, but against all the odds we are starting to form close bonds.
Juggling work, study and life to accommodate these additional 15 hours a week is difficult logistically, but the rewards are huge. One of the Thai programme organisers mentioned that previous fellows always gained weight in Thailand during the in-residence delivery of the programme because of all the delicious Thai food they ate. This year, although we haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying Thai cuisine, we are gaining in other ways – it’s only week four and I already have the feeling that my brain has swelled and my head is heavier due to all this new knowledge.
We started with a bang, focusing on trauma and stress transformation. This gave me a completely different perspective of the events of the past year. Being based in Timor-Leste, I’m used to working in a post-conflict environment and monitoring the safety and security situation – any conflict has the potential to escalate rapidly. However, nothing prepared me for COVID-19 and the response we immediately had to develop.
Back in March 2020, I had 48 hours to close half of the country programme, hand over many of my in-country responsibilities to the most senior Timorese staff and get seven international volunteers and five international staff (including myself) out of the country before all the borders around us closed and commercial flights stopped – with one suitcase, leaving everything else behind without saying goodbye. The panic that was felt back then in my team and in the community, is difficult to describe today. Thankfully, nothing escalated to uproars and riots and in fact, the opposite happened. Due to the Government of Timor-Leste’s swift response, the country has protected itself from wide-spread community transmission and the threats to food security and livelihoods are being managed. Like the rest of the population, we grew closer as a team and adjusted to the ‘new normal’, proving to everyone that our geographically dispersed team (working across six different countries!) could still exceed in delivering our strategy, which was mostly due to the remarkable resilient leadership of my Timorese colleagues who remained in the country and led our COVID-19 response.
Reflecting on this almost a year later makes me realise that we cannot just steam ahead taking the new normality for granted – we must acknowledge that the world is in an acute crisis and this may cause significant trauma. In Timor-Leste where I have been living on and off since 2015, the crisis is mostly visible in the ocean; climate change, plastic pollution, dwindling fish populations, population growth, scarcity of livelihood opportunities, and loss of traditional practices. In a post-conflict country still recovering from years of colonialism, violent occupation and civil unrest, the COVID-19 pandemic is adding another level of threat and complexity to an already fragile society of thousands of small-scale fishers.
This week’s topic in the fellowship programme is ‘from theory to practice’ – it suddenly clicked why I made it through this highly competitive selection process and secured a spot in this prestigious programme. What I bring to the fellowship is my practical expertise. I have spent one and a half decades working in local and central government, INGOs and at the community level, often closely alongside the corporate sector. Blue Ventures, where I’m working currently, has a truly community-led approach and while my position of Country Manager doesn’t allow me to sit with the community members at the beach in the sand as often as I used to, I am designing programme activities that allow my team to do this. Just last weekend, I spent time with a local fishing family to test out their newly established homestay business, immersing myself in the daily realities of fishers when the sea is rough and food is scarce. I can offer plenty of practical implementation examples in my discussions with the other fellows.
For me this Peace Fellowship is more a leap ‘from practice to theory’. It’s offering me another set of different lenses so that I can see something that was always there but I never saw. We are reflecting on systems thinking, something I’m very familiar with already (just look at a marine ecosystem!) and are trying to identify the ‘critical yeast’ (not the critical mass) – the small group of active people who are catalysts for the wider change we want to see. I even learnt a very useful, new English word: ‘coddiwomple’, which means to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.
In parallel, I tried to work on my social change initiative (SCI) – a new component of the fellowship. I set myself the ambitious target to design and implement an initiative that combines my various interests and passions in one holistic way. I’m intrigued by the concept of ‘Blue Mind’ by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols and his studies showing how being near, in, on, or underwater can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do. Driven by Dr. Nichols’ studies, as well as the urgency of our climate crisis and the threat to coastal communities of internal climate-induced displacement and with it the loss of their indigenous practices and wisdom, I want to lead an initiative that will create empathy and inspire action. My goal is to connect and mobilise people through their shared affinity with the ocean and the effect it has on them through a platform for exchange and learning where indigenous coastal communities are the teachers.
By creating an emotional connection, I am hoping to inspire a lifestyle change, a values shift, and compassionate creativity with potential to create a movement that celebrates indigenous worldviews, challenges existing behaviour and thinking, and may contribute to changing climate change and ocean policies. That’s no small undertaking but with the support of my cohort and my newly extended network of social change makers I am confident that I am coddiwompling in the right direction.
My sincere gratitude to my sponsoring Rotary Club in Mangere, Auckland, New Zealand and my referees who supported and encouraged me over the past four years to apply for this fellowship. And a heartfelt thank you to the committed team of social change makers and ocean ambassadors at Blue Ventures for backing me while I slow down to speed up.
Birgit Hermann – Germany/ New Zealand/ Timor-Leste
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 30Read More
During our field studies trip in Chiang Khong, we visited the Thai Lue village after almost three hours Cruise on the majestic Mekong River. What is unique about this village is that they grow cotton and use it to weave products, such as tablecloths, sauces, napkins, sue pat, which is a kind of a long – sleeved shirt with no buttons. This group of women working on the cotton fabrics was formed by Mrs. Sukhawadee Tiyatha in B.E 2527. The knowledge has been transferred from mothers to children over the years. They have been doing their job ‘professionally’ by producing clothes that no one can resist to buy. The combination of different colours brings energy and positive thinking when you wear them.
But what strikes me the most is the transfer of cotton fabric knowledge from the older generation to the next generation. I noticed that the job is mainly done by women and most of them are aging. When my mind was wrestling on the knowledge transfer, the poem ‘the Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost popped in my brain. The poem is about choices in life. Whether it is legitimate or not for the next generation to go with the mainstream or take another direction – it is all about the choice to be made. Yes indeed, from B.E 2527 to date, it has been a long journey. And my worry is how long the journey is going to last. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler…
I took the one less traveled by… This combined stanza kept resonating in my brain for the few hours I spent in that village. Frost talks about the choice that was not taken. But to me, I am looking at the road that probably will not be taken by the next generations in that specific village. The Thai Lue Village has been travelling one road over generations and now the road is about to diverge. Why I am saying this? Well, that day, after having a wonderful meal, the Thai Lue young and beautiful girls performed euphonious traditional songs. After the performance, everyone was approaching them – kind of running to a movie or a song star with a pen and a pad to get an autograph, or a pose for a picture, or just have a cozy conversation with the stars of the day. And I was not left behind. I was among those who approached them to get a snap shot with them.
During my conversation with them, I happen to ask them what they will do after completing high school.
Unfortunately or fortunately, all of the seven girls aspire to attend college – majoring specifically in Maths and Science and only one – mentioned language studies. From their answers, again a dozen of questions flooded my brain like: what about the cotton fabric legacy? Who will continue to work on the cotton? Are their mothers going to be buried with the knowledge? Etc.
The choice that these young girls are likely to take or have taken will affect the core value of their village that has attracted thousands of tourists who visited the village to appreciate the amazing traditional culture of making attire in a particular way. Franz Fanon once said: ‘sometimes people hold a core value that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that value, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core value, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core value.’ Frantz’s citation translates the oomph that has kept the Thai Lue village to work on the cotton for generations and I do believe they resisted changes on several occasions.
Furthermore, the same Frantz argues that: ‘each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity. By saying so, Frantz opens a leeway for the new generation of the Thai Lue girls to make a new choice.
Putting together the two quotes of Frantz Fanon, it can arguably be said that the Thai Lue village has reached a point where the road is about to diverge. And being one traveler (the next generation) – it cannot travel both.
In conclusion, following Robert Frost’s poem – if life is a journey, then during the course choices are inevitable. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the Thai Lue girls are on the verge of taking the road that is off the beaten track or only they do so because they don’t fancy the road with bend in it. It means that making cotton attire is time consuming and needs a lot of attention and care to mingle the patterns in an accurate way. Let me put it that way.
And here is the question for you my readers and I would like you to make up your own mind about my emotional state on knowledge transfer between generations in Thai Lue village: is the choice of the road less travelled a positive one for the girls?
John Mugisa – Democratic Republic of Congo
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
It has been six weeks since we began our Rotary Peace Fellows’ journey and I would like to reflect on what it means to learn in an environment of difference. I talk about difference rather than about diversity. Difference acknowledges that ‘diversity’ is actually different across many dimensions. While diversity can paint a simplistic, rosy picture, difference is more of a middle path term. Difference reminds us of both the joys and the difficulties of meeting, spending time, working and learning with different people. As a group, we speak so many different languages, have different nationalities and citizenships, come from different disciplines, have different communication preferences and styles, have different faiths, as well as skills, strengths, weak points and blind spots. These make our class a thrilling space to inhabit. These same differences mean that we are constantly in a learning environment that is multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, and multi-lingual – I could go on. It is a space that lends itself to creativity and lets us step outside our comfort zone.
I think this wide array of differences is one of the strongest points of the Rotary Peace Fellows Program as a learning experience. It requires effort from us to create a space where communication and understanding can flow. What does this mean in the day-to-day of our classes and other activities? First, we are called to listen. In our classes we have learnt about deep listening, the considerate and open exercise of listening until the end, having the discipline to let silence happen, without interrupting the other person’s train of thought. It is harder than it sounds, because the tendency and the temptation to respond quickly can be strong. It is a call to be compassionate with those who speak to us. Second, we must speak in ‘international English’ free of the jargon and informal terms we use in our familiar disciplinary or cultural environments. Those from specialist backgrounds are practicing this constantly. Third, we need to maintain an open and curious attitude, but balance it with respect for the boundaries of what others may be able to share or explain. This is a fine line to walk. But we have seen some of the rewards of this in our class. There are many more skills that we are practicing or acquiring to make this a rich space. So, aside from all the very relevant content we receive and the exercises we do, we also get to practice a wide range of skills that are necessary to build peace. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn this way and to contribute to building this learning experience.
Diana Arbelaez Ruiz – Australia/Colombia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More
THE ARMED ETHNIC CONFLICT BETWEEN HEMA AND LENDU IN ITURI, NORTHEASTERN DRC
To be a very beautiful butterfly, it needs time and many processes to transform. To be a good Peace Builder also needs a lot of time for educating, training, dedicating and self-development to qualify as well. Since I have got the fellowship from The Rotary Foundation I knew this is the big step to transform myself to be a good Peace Builder.
Is three months enough to transform? I can say that it’s enough and it’s not enough. It’s enough because everyone, who was selected to this program has worked for promoting world peace for a long time in different areas around the world. They all have great experiences before joining this program. That’s why I said three months is enough to qualify and encourage them to be even better Peace Builder. On the other hand, it’s not enough due to we still cannot find the way that everyone can work together practically to build the world peace in reality. Truly peaceful world seems to be something untouchable and idealistic because all mankind are struggling with finding peace to their families, societies and the world since the ancient time, which the countless wars happened. However, the real world peace has never happened on the Earth.
As my major is the focus on inner peace by practicing meditation, in Buddhism the root causes of all kinds of sufferings and problems are desire (greed), anger and delusions, these are defilements in human minds. These are individual inner conflicts, which occur in each one’s mind and affect each other until it becomes a problem in families, societies and the world. If we don’t know how to control these defilements in our mind to not harm others, the world peace will never happen.
Using the concept of ‘World Peace through Inner Peace’ is my journey as a Peace Builder. I strongly believe that I will be able to transform myself little by little to be a beautiful butterfly that can make changes to the world. I wish my flying wings, which only cause the gentle wind as the first time will become powerful winds that can truly drive world peace to happen.
Dr. Suchada Thongmalai – Thailand
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28Read More