First week at Chulalongkorn University

I’ve been in Bangkok for a week now and it’s been great! Orientation is almost over for us at the Rotary Peace Centre and intensive training begins on Monday with Michael Fryer and Irene Santiago speaking about conflict resolution. The last  few days have been spent getting accustomed to Chulalongkorn University (aka  ‘Chula’) and our hostel, Viddhaya Nives (which I have learnt now to pronounce  as ‘Widaya Nivet’) and enjoying cheap student dinners at the nearest canteen for only 25 baht (NZ5) for a plate of food and 5 baht for a drink. Next week I  begin my bi-weekly Thai lessons with the Chula Rotaractors, which will be very  useful when it comes to communicating with my 1 year old nephew who seems to only understand Thai!

My hostel Vidhaya Nives next to the SASA International Building and the Graduate studies building whether the Rotary Peace Centre is housed.

My cohort of fellows come from a variety of backgrounds- policing, education, development workers from USA, Sudan, Indonesia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Jersey,  India etc…I am humbled by the opportunity to be with some experienced people. I  still find myself wondering how I managed to get into this programme,  especially when I am less experienced than everyone else. So for the next 12  weeks, I’ll be listening and trying to absorb as much as I can! Each of us gave a presentation yesterday, briefly outlining the focus of each of our case studies over the next 3 months. I will be examining the ethnic tensions in West Malaysia and analysing whether the issue there  is actually about economic disparities (poverty) and an outdated communal, racial-based political system (which is my basis at this point). Other fellows are examining conflicts in Abhye (Sudan),  Sri Lanka, Philadelphia, Argentina, Brazil, Kosovo, Israel/Palestine and Indonesia, amongst other topics.

While this is a broad generalisation, it seems to me that many political and intractable conflicts are actually based on pride (national pride and individual pride with respect to political leaders) which is very sad when you think about the thousands of lives lost. For example, I was reading a few days ago about Mladic’s recent arrest and the massacre at Srebrenica, after Serbian Mladic promised Muslims in the area that he would not harm them. Though I don’t know much about that war, I cant help but feel incredibly saddened by Ratko Mladic’s deception and massacre of the young boys/men in Srebrenica and the stories of their wives and sisters who continue to mourn. This coming week, we will be examining the development of the ‘conflict resolution’ concept and how it is based on the desire to prevent violent conflict. However, after reading such horrific stories such as the massacre of Srebrenica and how the outnumbered and
outgunned Dutch peacekeepers stood by helplessly, I wonder if it is indeed possible to prevent conflict and contain the evil than drives some to kill.

I think it is a lie and misconception that only truly ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ people have the potential to kill. I sometimes feel that the same evil that causes people to turn bad is not that far from me. I believe everyone has the potential to kill. I have seen in the courts during my time as a criminal prosecutor, sentencing the murderers who tended to be white-collar, middle aged professional men who were normal fathers and sons and did not appear violent. It is often the person you least suspect. At law school, I recall my criminal law lecturer Elizabeth McDonald discussing the now contested defence of ‘provocation’, noting how she could easily kill anyone who posed a threat to her children. I am sure many mothers would do the same. Violence is not that far from each of us.  I am starting to think that once we assume we are different (from ‘murderers’ etc) and that our ideologies and values are perfect is when we are least likely to notice ourselves sliding towards the acts we assumed we would never do.

Jenn Weidman, Deputy Director at the Rotary Peace Centre commented how it is so easy for conflict to emerge from a group of peacebuilders as we all think we know what’s best. At the end of the day, this course will be enabling us with skills and contacts but it will always be our character that determines whether we bring positive transformation to our communities. Character building is never pleasant, but I can see why the Bible talks so much about the need for it.

It’s been a great introduction into the world of war, peace and conflict but I am looking forward to mixing with ‘innocence’ today by spending some time with my 1 and 4 year old nephews.  Last night I accompanied my sister to a Flo-Rida concert and also getting a flavour of some other hip-hop (Thai) bands like Thaitanium. The contrast between working on conflict and then returning to a world focused on consumerism and self-gratification is rather odd but I believe the only way to work in a world of darkness (whether in criminal law or in aid/humanitarian relief/conflict prevention) is to stand in the gap as bridge builders and to remain connected to HOPE. Hope is what keeps us from getting jaded, cynical and without any dreams of a better tomorrow. It helps those who stand on the brink of the edge  (as bridge-builders, ambassadors and mediators) remember that evil has not  triumphed and has been and will be conquered. May God give me the strength to tap into a much richer source of hope so that I can share the hope and joy that so many people seek and need.

Despite a late night, I managed to wake up to a 9am Sunday start for my Rotary Orientation at the Bangkok Rotary Centre which was set up to support Rotary clubs around the country. We met our host counsellors and were given a brief history of the work in Thailand. From the several speeches, it sounded like there was very high expectations on each of us peace fellows. I wonder what is in store for each of us peace fellows in the time to come!!!

Suporn, my host counsellor, who is the President elect of Rotary Club, Bangkorlaem.
Rotary Peace Fellows and their host counsellors at the Rotary Centre in Bangkok.
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One Response to “First week at Chulalongkorn University”
  1. bumbums says:

    very insightful! I am delighted to be subscribed to this blog.

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