My Journey as a Rotary Peace Fellow

Class 24th, Chulalongkorn University — Bangkok, Thailand

By Ximena Murillo

January 20th, 2018

Arrival in Thailand

In November of 2017, I’ve received notice from the Rotary Peace Center in Thailand advising that I was selected to attend the 2018 Rotary Peace Fellowship program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. As you can imagine, I was exciting to be part of the 24th Class of people from around the world who will spend three months in Bangkok, emerging as Rotary Peace Fellows. There are relatively few Rotary Peace Fellows around the world and this represents an opportunity to join this elite, vitally important group. Acquisition of knowledge and skills from this exceptional program is critically important to my existing work in global development. So, my resolve and commitment to a rigorous process for learning more about conflict resolution and peacebuilding was considerable. Equally important is the opportunity to meet, and develop a network with, an impressive group of 22 other fellows from all over the world. It is hard to believe that this journey officially began just one week ago!

During the first week in Bangkok as a Rotary Peace Fellow, it has been exciting to be immersed in the extraordinary nation of Thailand and exceptionally beautiful city of Bangkok! My journey here involved a trip around much of the world! All twenty three (23) Rotary Peace Fellows, present company included, made it to Bangkok. My colleagues are from all over the world including the nations of India, Colombia, Nepal, Kenia, Somalia, Sudan, Canada, Cameroon, Nigeria, Slovenia, the United States, Mexico, Spain, Brazil, Liberia, Thailand, Iran, Afghanistan and Bolivia. Our group is not only culturally diverse, but also bring a variety of impressive backgrounds, credentials, and experiences. Getting to know each of them and learning about their countries, cultures and experiences has been richly rewarding. I’ve been here already for one week and the fellowship among my colleagues, instructors, and local Rotarians has been wonderful. A strong mutual commitment to conflict resolution and peacebuilding has bonded us together, but openness to, and great interest in, our different backgrounds is making for deep friendships. It already feels like we have known each other for much longer than our time here. It is evident that even though we come from different places of the world, we have much in common: we are all global citizens with considerable passion and commitment to make this world better, more peaceful and with justice.

Class 24th, Rotary Peace Fellowship program at Chulalongkorn University campus, Bangkok

When I arrived to the Bangkok airport, I met my host counselor, Charirad Tiransak, a beautiful and dignified lady, who graciously and patiently awaiting my arrival for more than an hour holding a sign with my name. Charidad and her husband transported me to University housing and assured I had everything needed to feel at home. They took me to lunch the next day to MBK, the most famous and legendary shopping mall in Bangkok, with 8 floors and 2000 shops! I had my best ever Thai eating experience at the Food Land, where I tried the famous, and personal favorite, dish Pad Thai!

Mr. & Mrs. Tiransak
Food Land at MBK, Bangkok

Charirad and her husband have been Rotarians for more than 25 years and, through Rotary’s commitment to service above self, have supported many community projects. Charidad shared her Rotary Club’s commitment to helping local hospitals in Bangkok and efforts to improve education, encouraging teachers and children to read more. I will have an opportunity to present to her Rotary Club, which I very look forward to doing! It is always an honor to be with people committed to the well-being of others. I am excited to learn more about their activities. Charidad represents the grace, generosity, and strength of professional Thai woman I have observed in this remarkable nation. Her career has been in banking, and she and her husband have raised two daughters, both of which are graduates of Chulalongkorn University.

My dorm room provides an incredible view of Bangkok from the 16th floor in the International Housing section at the Chulalongkorn University. As I write this blog, the view of the city’s amazing skyline and the vibrant, busy activity of a major city is so inspiring. Yet, the scene is simultaneously peaceful. The sound of honking car horns is surprisingly absent in this major city. Yet, Bangkok is considered the 12th most traffic-congested city (poll covering 38 countries globally). I have discovered that in Thailand, there’s practically no horn-honking, because it is considered offensive, rude, and disrespectful unless it is absolutely necessary.

Tuk Tuk and Motorcycle Experience in Bangkok

With the official beginning of the program, we connected with our professors and the program staff, who have demonstrated skill and commitment in assuring the program runs smoothly and that we all have everything needed to fully participate. They have been so gracious. During the first two sessions, Dr. Viriyasakultorn (Vitoon), the Deputy Director of the Rotary Peace Center provided an engaging presentation, exposing us to Thailand from different perspectives. It was fascinating to learn more about Thai culture, traditions, food, statistics while learning of the suffering of Thai people who lost their King just one year ago. Bhumibol Adulyadej, also called Phumiphon Adunlayadet or Rama IX King was loved by the people of Thailand. As a monarch, King Bhumibol enjoyed immense popularity because he spent all his life working with the people in the rural areas of the country. And, despite his limited governmental powers, on several occasions played a crucial role in mediations that either resolved or helped to avoid political crises.

Image of King Bhumibol at Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Dr. Surichai Wungaeo, the Director for the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies and Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University, exposed us to Thailand from a social and economic context, describing the country’s strategies and progress within the context of the United Nation’s SDG’s; helping us better understand pressing conflicts that Thailand has experienced such as health system reform; slavery scandals; environmental controversies in the fishing industry, and mining cases like the Krabi Coal-fired power plant.

In this first week, it was important to learn about Thailand, its people, culture, history, the Kingdom and the political conflicts; as we connected with our colleagues through planned exercises, connecting to our inner selves and achieving re-centering. As we all are working to enhance prospects for peace in the world, we can occasionally fail to realize how important is to create inner peace and to center/nurture ourselves. This was one of the important areas of focus during this first week. Dr. Sombat Tapanya, PhD, a psychotherapist and a former Rotary Fellow delivered an impressive presentation on how to identify trauma, its lingering effects, and ways to deal with the personal effects of trauma so that we can be of maximum service to others with regard to trauma and post-trauma.

Chulalongkorn University, the best University of Thailand

Chulalongkorn University is Thailand’s oldest and most prestigious universities. It was established on March 26 1917 by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) and named after his father King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) as he initiated a policy to promote education. With more than 37,000 students, last year, it marked its centennial anniversary. Chulalongkorn has been closely connected to Thailand’s development during the modern era. To prevent colonization by Europeans, Thailand adapted itself to global economic, social and political changes.

Chulalongkorn University Campus

As the University celebrated its anniversary, beautiful parks were inaugurated like the Centenary Park and the University has committed itself to green spaces. The University believes that a healthy modern life requires a delicate balance between technology and nature. While we were touring the campus, we could clearly see how this commitment has manifest into a powerful, centering, and nurturing physical and spiritual setting. There appears to be a very wise local culture recognizing the important of integrating such features into a meaningful learning experience.

The coming days and weeks will be intense, but I believe our group is ready for the challenge! We are already bonding in a way that will support our shared learning experience. Please stay tuned for more posts on this wonderful experience — I invite my readers to share my journey as a Rotary Peace Fellow. As I describe our work at United4Change Center to my fellows, I realize that there is so much more we need to do. As we experience conflict and injustice in the course of our very important work, this wonderful program will better equip our efforts with new knowledge, skills, and strategies for creating equality and making peace.

Until my next post, may God’s blessings be upon you all.