There is an African proverb that says “Alone we can run faster, but together we can go further,” also sometimes stated as “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go together.”
When I began the Rotary Peace Centers program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, I and my 21 classmates began the journey on separate paths, each with different, individual ideas about peace and conflict resolution. But the past three months have changed our outlook. We began to think about peace as more of a team. We came to Bangkok from nine countries, learned from each other, and the notion of accomplishing more together came to life.
Some of us began the program thinking of ourselves as the “real peace builders,” professionals serving on the frontlines — in war and post-conflict zones, as government policy influencers, and as non-profit movers and shakers. But our eyes have been opened to the notion that anyone can be a peace builder, if and when given the opportunity, guidance, and support.
Support is a necessity. The path toward peace is not always easy, and in the worst moments, you feel surrounded by darkness with little hope. That is precisely how I felt during the first few days of our field trip to Cambodia. The physical reminders of “The Killing Fields” hit me like a frontal assault. Repeatedly, my classmates and I asked “how could people let this happen?” It was hard to see Cambodia’s past and future as anything but bleak.
But then we met individual Cambodians, especially children and youth, who inspired us. We were motivated by local Rotarians working on sustainable development projects in the rural countryside. Through these exchanges, we were reminded how resilient people can be. We felt deeply the common desire, across cultures, to create a better future.
I can’t say that the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel was clearly evident. Cambodia, like most post-conflict countries, is a work in progress. But I came to think of the many individuals and groups we met as lighters of lanterns revealing paths that can lead to long-term prosperity. The more lanterns there are, the greater the potential for peace locally and globally.
I thank The Rotary Foundation for funding this great program, and all the Rotarians whose contributions make it possible. Your commitment to global peace and understanding are admirable.