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!