New Destiny in Peace Rotary Fellowship
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