Contributed by Francis Lethem
On Saturday April 7, the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center held its 15th annual conference since the launching of the program by Rotary International in 2002. For this year’s conference, eleven graduating Rotary Peace Fellows illustrated their individual commitment to peace building under the overall theme “Pieces of Peace.” Around 300 guests attended the conference, including Rotarians, Fellows, and friends. Among the Rotarians were a number of senior officials who came from Rotary HQ in Evanston, Ill, major donors, as well as present and former host families. Similar conferences are held annually at each of the six other Rotary Peace Centers across the world.
The Fellows’ presentations were based on their research for their master’s projects/ theses and focused on the broad topics of (i) conflict prevention through political change, more sustainable development and employment generation, and (ii) mitigating the conditions experienced by refugees.
In particular, regarding political change, Chenai Kadungure emphasized the need for transformational leadership in Zimbabwe, while Gada Roba advocated more inclusive government policies to overcome Ethiopia’s recent political unrest.
In matters of sustainable development, Linda Low encouraged the audience to minimize food waste because of its effects on the climate; Francesca Sorbara highlighted the importance of recognizing the rights of nature to promote harmony between people and the environment as legally provided in Colombia and practiced by the indigenous populations among whom she had lived; Odette Rouvet proposed ways to provide more affordable access to cleaner energy so as to improve local populations’ economic development in Mexico’s province of Chiapas; Patrick Bwire proposed alternative legal approaches to overcome the root causes of land conflict in rural Uganda, which he illustrated with his own drawings; and Hayley Welgus showed how to build communities for peace among marginalized populations through the example of her own work with HIV prevention for African American women in Durham.
Two Fellows emphasized the importance of promoting employment among neglected populations as a means to prevent conflict: Daniela Schermerhorn in relation with the poor and low skilled communities surrounding Brazil’s capital city, and Techa Beaumont by assisting indigenous Amazonian populations of Peru in the international marketing of the attractive textile designs that she modelled for the audience.
Finally to assist the victims of conflict finding themselves in refugee camps, Gabriele Gardenal showed the merits of providing them with cash vs more traditional food or vouchers, while Johanna Schubert demonstrated the need to care for the mental health of refugees using culturally appropriate methods. And last but not least, the audience saw a brief film about a Fellows’ initiative in practicing the art of mediation among politically adverse student groups from the area’s universities.
In her concluding remarks, Chenai Kadungure thanked all Rotarians for their generous support and for investing so much time, money and energy in their success. Quoting Rotary founder Paul Harris who said: that “ideas have unhinged the gates of empires”, she added: “We as peace fellows vow to keep searching for the key that builds an empire of peace and hope. Conflict is not a burden to be carried alone. Those who are here today are a part of the solution to the problems of this world. In the same way those that went before us created a world their counterparts would never imagine, today we imagined a world that is whole, unbroken and in harmony with itself.