By Pamela Broussard, 2007 Rotary Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
It has been more than 10 years since Rotary started training Rotary Peace Fellows around the globe. Today there are over 800 alumni working in a range of careers such as: international development, relief work, refugee services, military, government, education, and local grassroots organizations. If you have seen a crisis in the news, or on the front page of the newspaper, there is a good chance that a peace fellow is there working to make a difference.
You have heard passionate and inspiring stories from peace fellows about the many positive impacts of their work, but you may not be aware of some of the difficult challenges they have faced. They often experience: violence, security threats, evacuations, compassion fatigue, death, loss, and separation from friends and family, all while their familiar support mechanisms are unavailable. Surprisingly, very few peace fellows work within organizations that address or supply sufficient support mechanisms to deal with these issues.
Recently through a generous donation by a Rotarian, funding was provided for a biennial Rotary Foundation Leadership Retreat of Rotary Peace Fellows. The focus of this year’s event was, “How to support sustainability of peace fellows and those they work with who are dealing with stress, burnout, and trauma.”
Several steps were taken to work within and among peace fellows and the program. But how can you or your Rotary club be a part of helping to ensure the sustainability of peace fellows who may be experiencing the negative impacts associated with peace work? Here are some practical ways:
- “Create a safe space” to share: In the field, peace fellows often work in isolation or in situations where they are unable to discuss or share their challenges. As one peace fellow recently commented, “I just came out of a global tragedy and all my family asked me about was, ‘How was your flight?’” Take time to take a peace fellow out to coffee and ask them about their challenges, struggles, and frustrations. Offer support by listening and letting them talk about their experiences. You don’t need to “fix” the issues, or even offer advice; just your presence by phone or in person will go a long way toward sustainability.
- Stay in contact while they are gone: Letters/emails/packages from home are always a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t need to be anything extravagant, it really is the thought that counts. A personal email or letter gives peace fellows a mental break from the stresses and decisions they are facing from day to day. Ask about their work, what they miss and their challenges. (Remember that their Internet access may be limited so don’t just forward mass messages or reports.)
- Provide “another focus”: While back in town or off from work, peace fellows need down time to recharge. Got an extra ticket to a game? A pool to go swimming in? A beautiful park near your house? Why not offer a peace fellow a chance to get away from their routine and enjoy something relaxing?
- Offer professional help: Let peace fellows know of counselors, psychologists, therapists, yoga instructors, accountants, doctors, and dentists in your club who could assist them while they are home on break or when they return.
Ten years ago, Rotary was on the leading edge of training and preparing peace fellows from around the world in multiple fields. Today, with so many in the field, once again, Rotary chooses to lead the way in support.