Bobby Anderson was helping former freedom fighters in Aceh, Indonesia, adjust to life after combat when he heard about the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
Anderson, who became part of the 2010 class of Rotary Peace Fellows, says the program allowed him to reflect upon the work he had already done and gain a larger perspective beyond day to day practicalities.
“To be able to meet other people that had done similar work in other places and to be exposed [during field study] to the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration situation in Nepal was fascinating and helped me change how I think about the way I manage my own programs,” Anderson says.
Through its six peace centers, Rotary is developing leaders to become catalysts for peace in their communities and around the globe. The Chulalongkorn program offers a professional development certificate to individuals already working in fields related to peace.
Unlike the 15- to 24-month master’s degree program, the Chulalongkorn course lasts just three months. Because of the shorter time commitment and emphasis on relevant experience, the program attracts a broader pool of applicants. Chulalongkorn, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has graduated 355 peace fellows from 69 countries.
Its curriculum emphasizes equal parts instruction and learning from peers.
“There are two main aspects of the program,” says Jenn Weidman, deputy director of the center. “One is the academic skills, what you actually learn, the steps of mediation, theory of analysis, etc. The other is the transformation.”
“We take professional people and remove them from their role, place them in the same space with diverse people for three months, and then challenge everything they’ve ever believed or held dear,” she says. “You get reflection, and we walk alongside and guide that, asking a lot of questions and creating a safe space for discussion. Some come and leave totally different people.”
Professors, from both Thailand and outside the country, are chosen each year for a curriculum that is constantly evolving. Fellows also complete two field studies, one in Thailand and one in a postconflict setting outside Thailand where they put their training into action.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for me as an instructor in the program to be able to interact with people working on the frontlines in Afghanistan, or Kenya or South Sudan, but then also the U.S.,” says Craig Zelizer, associate director of conflict resolution at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and founder of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. “The diversity of participants and the change they are already affecting and what they’ll do as a result of this program are incredible.”
Jennifer Jacobson, a police constable in Canada, attended the center in 2012. She says the group exercises and interactions with classmates altered her views of her work.
“A lot of it is bonding with other people, because you are together all day long, pretty much seven days a week,” she says. “I’ve taken something from every little piece of the program.”
Since completing the program in 2007, Meas Savath, of Cambodia, founded the Cambodian Center for Mediation, which provides training and social dialogue, building conciliation between former Khmer Rouge and non-Khmer Rouge factions. Although the country’s brutal civil war ended more than 35 years ago, Savath says, there is still a lot of mistrust between the two sides.
“In my program, all parties are invited to share their experience and understanding, as well as their perceptions of the two groups, and afterward they have a relationship that didn’t exist before,” he says.
The 10th anniversary celebration culminates with the Innovating Global Peacebuilding conference at the end of this month. Program staff are also collecting short video testimonials from alumni that are being compiled. You can see the videos on the center’s website, and following #rotarychula10 on social media to get updates of the celebration.
Read stories from peace fellows on the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University blog
Find out how to apply for a Rotary Peace Fellowship
Learn how your gift to The Rotary Foundation supports the peace centers