Peace Fellow Down Under

The Rotary Peace Fellows at the University of Queensland held our annual seminar last weekend at the State Library and Events Centre in Brisbane, Australia. The event was a grander affair this year, as it coincided with the 100th anniversary of The Rotary Foundation, and was offered as part of a series of centennial events. The venue was gorgeous, and we incorporated a cocktail/social hour after the event to allow further networking and interactions between fellows and Rotarians.

I am so grateful for everything this fellowship has offered me, not the least of which is the opportunity to meet the other fellows in my cohort. We are a diverse group of 11, representing a combined eight countries, fifteen ethnicities (some combined), and countless personal and professional experiences. Seminar presentations ranged from emphasizing the importance of education in preventing political extremism in youth to post-disaster management, from human trafficking to maternal health, and the global refugee and asylum-seeker crises to reconciliation between incarcerated people and the communities they injured in the Solomon Islands. I am humbled by the accomplishments of these amazing people and so proud to count myself as a friend and colleague.

My presentation was around the power of storytelling and narrative to transform conflict. As someone who has now worked on peacebuilding and conflict resolution in seven countries, the thread between them all had been the ways in which transmission of true stories, from the people directly impacted, humanizes conflict and promotes change at every level from individual attitudes to political policies. I have found that Rotarians are able to connect deeply with this approach, and am honored to have been invited to speak at a large number of clubs across Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Currently, I am working with the Peace and Conflict Studies Institute of Australia (PaCSIA)  on several projects. The first is locally, training staff at a youth shelter in mediation techniques as well as coaching the homeless and at-risk youth there, many of whom identify as Aboriginal, to prepare them to engage in mediation and self-advocacy as they move through court and foster care systems. The second is as part of a long-term and large-scale peacebuilding and reconciliation effort in the Pacific Island of Bougainville, which is currently an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea. Concurrently, I am writing up a PhD proposal for a project that will have me working in Bougainville periodically through the year 2021 on a video-based dialogue project between communities that face logistical and relational barriers to communication. This design supports reconciliation as part of efforts to prevent the re-eruption of old tensions and potential reemergence of war in the region.

And, as though I do not have enough to do, I have accepted a position with a local service agency in their housing unit. I am working with several families that live in our crisis housing, as they transition from homelessness into longer-term housing. As homelessness and housing insecurity is part of my own backstory, I find this work deeply rewarding. The families I work with all come with their own strengths and my job is to help them build on those to establish a strong foundation from which to move into more stable and sustainable situations. And, I am happy to announce that my connection with this agency came through my Rotary host counsellor, Merv Richens. Merv was the first person we met in Australia (literally- he picked us up at the airport) and has become like family here. I cannot stress enough the importance of host counsellors for Peace Fellows and again, as always, urge all Rotarians in Peace Center areas to consider giving it a go. I also extend gratitude from all Peace Fellows for those of you who already have.

Much love and gratitude to all of you, and my next dispatch will be at or around graduation time!

Peace Fellow in Australia

peace fellow 2

Young men help their father unearth the lovo, a feast of local foods cooked in an underground pit.

Greetings from Fiji! We are back in the capital city of Suva, after having spent a month in a rural settlement on one of Fiji’s 332 outlying islands.

My field experience was originally intended to have me working in northern areas, which were ravaged by the category 5 Cyclone Winston last February. Unfortunately, the placement fell through (as is rather common in humanitarian work, I learned) and I was able to design a two-part program that has me working with the Peace and Conflict Studies Institute of Australia (PaCSIA), as well as coming to the isles of Fiji to engage in community expedition and needs-assessment.

Kadavu Island is the most spectacular place I have ever visited. Lush rainforest mountains rise over the crystal sea waters, and beckon you to splash in one of the many waterfalls or snack form the many pineapple, mango and papaya trees. After the rains (which are frequent this time of year), the sea blasts a brilliant turquoise that fades into the sky with more shades of blue than my eyes could register at once. The sunsets set the sky ablaze with color and fade to a vast night sky that is endless with constellations and shooting stars.My field experience was originally intended to have me working in northern areas, which were ravaged by the category 5 Cyclone Winston last February. Unfortunately, the placement fell through (as is rather common in humanitarian work, I learned) and I was able to design a two-part program that has me working with the Peace and Conflict Studies Institute of Australia (PaCSIA), as well as coming to the isles of Fiji to engage in community expedition and needs-assessment.

But, like all places, there are both good things and bad. Living in a remote area means that people are often cut off from necessary supplies. Despite the availability of some fruits and staple foods such as cassava and taro, may people suffer from malnutrition. The typical foods eaten are porridge, white bread, tinned meats, and crackers. Fresh vegetables sometimes come in on the weekly cargo ship, and are limited to onions, potatoes, carrots, and a few others that travel well. It has become a bit of a joke there that the fishermen sell their catches and use the money to buy canned sardines to feed their own families- one I found hard to laugh along with.

There is a hospital, and they seem to have adequate medicine and equipment- as we found when both my husband and one of our sons needed to go for treatment of barnacle-wound infections. The nurses there told me that what they need most is vitamin supplements for pregnant women and children. Major nutritional deficiencies here are iron, Vitamin A, iodine, and zinc. Upon my return to Australia, I intend to appeal to local Rotary groups to fundraise to provide seeds and  educational programming to promote home gardening in Fijian communities. There is a large effort by the Fijian government to boost the nation as a leader in organic farming, and I will explore opportunities for families that grow produce to receive subsidies for local distribution.

Next week, I will be back in Brisbane, continuing my work with PaCSIA. In December, we began a training series for staff at a children’s shelter and community service agency. I will continue and expand on that by aiding in the facilitation of adolescent-adult mediation sessions and doing direct mediation-coaching and preparedness with at-risk and delinquent youth.

A young girl organizes canned goods at her family's store

A young girl organizes canned goods at her family’s store

My other work with PaCSIA will include copy-editing and design for a transcultural mediation workbook developed by my supervisor. His focus has been mediation and reconciliation work in the island state of Bougainville, an autonomous region on Papua New Guinea. From 1988 – 1998, a civil war there killed 25% of the population and suffered some of the most widespread and devastating human rights violations in history. Though they are now considered one of the crowning achievements of post-conflict recovery, the work there is ongoing and reliant on a combination of international peace efforts merging with local traditions. I am thrilled to be a part of the team (though in a minor role) engaging in this important work.

As always, I would like to end this by professing my undying gratitude to Rotary and all its members and supporters for allowing me and my family this opportunity. I have met so many brilliant and talented people, and know that- because of this fellowship- doors are opening for me to follow my call to help people in concrete and meaningful ways.My other work with PaCSIA will include copy-editing and design for a transcultural mediation workbook developed by my supervisor. His focus has been mediation and reconciliation work in the island state of Bougainville, an autonomous region on Papua New Guinea. From 1988 – 1998, a civil war there killed 25% of the population and suffered some of the most widespread and devastating human rights violations in history. Though they are now considered one of the crowning achievements of post-conflict recovery, the work there is ongoing and reliant on a combination of international peace efforts merging with local traditions. I am thrilled to be a part of the team (though in a minor role) engaging in this important work.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Leanne

Kadavu's agricultural department signs. The island has received money to plant 1,000 coconut trees to replace those lost in various storms.

Kadavu’s agricultural department signs. The island has received money to plant 1,000 coconut trees to replace those lost in various storms.

Peace in Australia

By Leanne Simon

It’s springtime here now and the jacaranda trees litter campus with fragrant purple petals, magpies swoop cyclists to protect their hatchlings, and pale geckos come wriggling up the walls in search of a late-night snack. A pair of abandoned ducklings approached us on the riverside path last weekend and we housed them in our bathtub until the veterinarian’s office opened on Monday. We saw them again on campus after wildlife rescue reunited them with their mother (or a good enough substitute). We visited the Sunshine Coast and Steve Irwin Zoo and cavorted with wombats, otters, and a lackadaisical tortoise named Goliath.

At the Peace Centre, we are finishing up our second semester and preparing for our field placements. I am thrilled to announce that I have been accepted to work with Save the Children in Fiji over the summer (November-February). My position is on the Monitoring, Evaluation, Assessment and Learning (MEAL) team and I will be working primarily on two projects. Before I explain those, allow me to give some context as to the situation in Fiji.

On February 20th, 2016, the most powerful cyclone in recorded history to make landfall in the South Pacific smashed the shores of the archipelago nation. Around 350,000 people (including 120,000 children) were affected as entire communities were decimated by the strong winds, waves, and flooding. Approximately 40% of the nation’s children are still suffering the effects of the storm. Nearly one year after the damage, many of the schools and homes have not been repaired. Save the Children has been working tirelessly to restore and maintain infrastructures (including education and water & sanitation) and offer continued protections for children at risk of harm.

My role on their team will be to review and organize digital data (photos, video, audio) taken by staff, volunteers, and community members in the aftermath of Winston and use them to create short videos for online use. I will also be gathering my own footage and interviews to splice in with these to make a longer film that will screen on February 20th- at a remembrance celebration on the anniversary of the storm. In addition to this, I will be undertaking my own work with children in the affected communities. This will be a child-led participatory video project that focuses on what they see as special or important about their communities, families or selves with the goal of building resiliency and youth leadership.

I leave for Fiji on November 15th, and my family will join me on December 10th. Until then, I am preparing to be unprepared for what the situation will be.

Operating in the wake of a natural disaster is unlike other peace work. There are no negotiations, there is no disarmament. What has happened is done, and there was never anything possible to prevent it. The job in these regions is to pick up the pieces and try to rebuild. The hope is that it works like Kintsugi- the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold- that you end up with something stronger and more beautiful than before it was damaged. But, as with all peace work, you only begin to know the result of your effort years later.

My next dispatch will be from Suva, Fiji. Until then, you can keep up with our adventures at my blog: bloxinoz.com

Sam’s Ride for Peace

Sam Winstead, a Roxboro Rotary Club member and an ex WWII marine, celebrated his 91st birthday May 22nd in Washington DC one day after completing his 5th consecutive Ride for Peace.  For the last 5 years, Sam has led a small team of bicyclists from Raleigh NC to Washington DC to carry and deliver a personal message, and offer a challenge, to our politicians to take positive action for peace in the world.

Sam’s 5th Ride for Peace left Raleigh on May 14, 2016. The riders were treated to a rousing send-off serenade in Raleigh by the Triangle Raging Grannies. When they arrived in Washington DC on May 21, 2016, where riders joined in a peaceful display organized by Veterans For Peace (VFP) supporting Roger Ehrlich’s Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower display at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.

In Sam’s own words:

In 1945, we were camped on the northern tip of Okinawa waiting for the ship that would bring me home to the land of freedom and harmony. Our guns had silenced all the evil forces and I knew wars would be history. In 2014, I must concede that I had it all wrong

When Sam left the military after World War II, he tried his best to never think about war again. “I served in World War II with the First Marine Division and afterwards I just separated myself from war, war mongers, anything pertaining to war,”

That was until he received a letter from his grandson who was serving in Iraq. “Grandad, I am so distressed. They don’t want us over here, we are just tearing this country apart. We don’t want to be here, killing innocent people”.

The letter brought Sam back to the horrors of a bloody conflict seventy years earlier. He had tried to deal with the pain of losing friends in WWII by staying removed from the thought of war- but now his grandson was in the same pain.

So Sam decided to organize a bike ride from North Carolina to Washington, DC, bringing his message of peace to the people that could make a difference- the representatives in Congress.  In April 2012, the then 86 year old Sam Winstead began the very first Sam’s Ride for Peace.

Putting together a ride involves a lot of time, planning, expertise, and energy. Looking to the future, Sam created a Not For Profit Corporation (Sam’s Ride for Peace, Inc) that will continue his legacy after his cycling days are over.

Sam’s Mission can be explained in the following statements:-

  • To work with other Peace Delegates towards a common goal
  • To emphasize the need for peace to our youths and to ensure them that everyone has an interest in this world and a right to demand peace.
  • To recognize that over the last five year we have had members from seven foreign countries ride with us and, with their help, there is an opportunity for our mission to encompass the world.
  • To support riders that are in financial need, especially youth, if finances are available

Sam usually stays in DC to visit senators and representatives as part of his mission for peace, but this year he hurried home to his ailing wife, Marie, who is in a Durham nursing home recovering from a stroke and broken hip as result of a fall.  Marie had encouraged Sam not to miss his fifth Ride for Peace, knowing how important the ride was to Sam.

Producer/Director of FiLMS for World Peace Ahmed Selim, his wife Anita and their two sons were on the ride along with several of Ahmed’s NC State students . Ahmed filmed portions of the ride and evening activities which featured two new destinations, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart near the Virginia Commonwealth Univ. in Richmond, and Longwood University in Farmville.  Roger Ehrlich (VFP) had set up the Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower at the Cathedral the previous week, and we held a moving ceremony at the Bell Tower the morning of May 18th.

For the fifth consecutive year, the riders were hosted by the wonderful people of the Grayhaven Winery in Gum Spring, and the Glen-Ora Farm in Middleburg, as well as George Ripley’s Columbia Heights home once we landed in DC.

Planning for the 6th annual ride is already underway as the SRFP committees absorb the lessons of this year’s ride and seek to consolidate and extend ways to take Sam’s message into schools and colleges.

To learn more visit  www.samsrideforpeace.com

DUKE- UNC Peace Fellow Promotes WaSH

Hai-Ryung Sung comes from Jecheon City, South Korea. Jecheon is called the “healing city,” a fitting hometown for Sung, who, despite earning an undergraduate degree in computer science, has devoted her career to advancing public health.

Sung’s interest in health affairs began earlier, during her first year of college, when she joined Rotaract and provided care to children with mental and physical disabilities.

Her relationship with Rotary International would eventually bring her to Chapel Hill, where she earned her master’s degree at the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center. Today, Sung is a doctoral student at the Water Institute of UNC in the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Sung’s current project, improving maternal and child health through better WaSH (water, sanitation and hygiene) in health care facilities in Siem Reap, Cambodia, addresses the impact water and sanitation deficiencies have on child and maternal health in rural Cambodia.

“Through this project,” Sung explained, “we can reduce morbidity and mortality associated with poor drinking water in an especially vulnerable population—children under age five.”

While at UNC, Sung presented to Rotary clubs in Research Triangle Park, Durham, Chapel Hill and Roxboro, North Carolina.

This summer, after the better health through WaSH initiative is formally launched in Seoul, Sung will travel back to Siem Reap. Her first step will be to identify a local non-governmental organization (NGO) to partner with. Building a project that’s sustainable in the long-term will depend a lot on this decision. Of course, Sung already knows how important relationships are to the success of her work.

Class 15 Rotary Peace Fellows Arriving Summer 2016- Rotarian Host Counselors Needed

We are looking forward to the arrival of Class 15 Rotary Peace Fellows at the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center. Many thanks to the Rotarians and their families who have volunteered to host Peace Fellows, both currently and in the past. We are now seeking Rotarian Host Counselors for the incoming Class 15. As it is an honor to be a Rotarian Host Counselor, several Rotarians have already volunteered for the incoming class. The lives of past host families have been enriched through their activities with the Peace Fellows. To learn more about the responsibilities, please download the Host Counselor Handbook under the Resources tab on the District website or at http://rotarypeacecenternc.org (search Host Counselor Handbook). If you are interested in becoming a Host Counselor, contact Bart Cleary at bart@oxforddds.com or call 919-693-6171 the Peace Center Host Area Coordinator.

A Peace Fellow in Australia

It is Autumn in Brisbane, and we have just returned from mid-semester break. I was recently given a friendly chiding on my use of the term “Fall.” It’s just not done here. You see, the native trees don’t shed their leaves. Rather, in the early-Summer (November-ish), they lose their bark. It sloughs off and leaves great curlicue bunches at the base of the trunks. This is just one example of the myriad “little ways” that life here is different.

From colorful wildlife to strange turns of phrase, we are having to re-learn how things operate in our daily lives. And here’s the rub- I’ve worked in cultures very different than my own before, faced linguistic and social barriers- but in those places, it was very apparent that I was the “other.” Here, everything is just similar enough that it seems the same. We share a common language, dress similarly, and have the same understandings of time, space and place of self in society. Yet- we find ourselves still relying on our host counsellor, Merv, to be our cultural liaison. We laugh together over the silly things that create great confusion and (sometimes) frustration.

And here I must talk about the importance of host counsellors. I cannot stress enough how instrumental Merv has been in making us feel welcome and secure here. Even before we landed, he had gathered some furniture and housewares for us, and shared many an email and Skype session. When we landed, it felt like coming home to the arms of a family member.

PeaceCenterFresh off the plane, he took us to see kangaroos in the wild- which cemented the fact that we had arrived!  He has taken us to visit the coast, the mountains, and “the bush,” given great hugs when we are homesick, and offered wisdom when we are ignorant. I cannot laud his efforts enough.

On campus here at the Rotary Peace Centre in Queensland, it is a busy week as we prepare for the Annual Peace Fellow Seminar this Saturday. My cohort is assisting Class XIII with logistics as they prepare to share their experiences on Applied Field Experience (AFE). They’ve been to Myannmar, India, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, among others- their various research and field work rich with meaning and impact. They are nearing the end of their tenure, and it will be a bittersweet goodbye in July to our first friends and mentors here.

We have this, our first and their final, semester together to come together in classes and social gatherings. I have learned so much from them, and the professors here, during our brief time together and am eager to see what the rest of this term will bring. No doubt it will be startling, eye-opening and challenging in unexpected ways. That’s what we came here for, after all!

If you would like to keep up with the ups and downs of my family’s experiences in Australia- please follow bloxinoz.com.

District Hosts Peace Fellows

Rotary Peace Fellows have arrived for Class 14 at Duke-UNC. Randy Fraser, Rotary Club of Raleigh, and his wife Pam and additional District 7710 Rotarians are once again serving as host counselors for incoming Peace Fellows.

Randy Fraser (left), Pam Fraser, Ignacio Asis and Pransia Ekachote

Randy Fraser (left), Pam Fraser, Ignacio Asis and Pransia Ekachote

The Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center selects Rotary Peace fellows based on their ability to have a significant, positive impact on world peace and conflict resolution during their future careers.

Ignacio Asis arrived from Argentina at Raleigh Durham International airport on Monday, August 3. He has a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the Universidad Catolica Argentina, a Post-graduate degree in Negotiation and has taken several courses in Conflict Transformation and Peace Building. He will be studying primarily at Duke University.

Following his arrival, Ignacio was introduced to the Rotary Club of Raleigh and was warmly welcomed by club members.

Ignacio has received transition assistance to the Durham and Raleigh area from Randy and Pam. In addition, he has been receiving terrific encouragement, support and guidance from Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center Managing Director Susan Carroll, the staff, and counselors at Duke University.

Ignacio enjoyed a special opportunity to meet with Pransia Ekachote from Thailand, a recent graduate from class 12, to review and discuss her experience as a Peace Fellow. This was one of many opportunities for Ignacio for interaction and learning among current and graduated Peace Fellows.

Annual Spring Peace Fellows Conference

On April 11th, 2015, ten graduating fellows will host Rotarians, faculty, staff, students, and local participants as they present their research on a wide range of issues affecting peace around the world.

The theme this year is “People-Centered Approaches to Conflict Resolution and Sustainable Peace.”

Please visit our Spring 2015 Conference page, for more details related to the event.

Registration here.