By Anne Smiley, a 2012 graduate of the Rotary Peace Center in Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
My only hesitation in jumping at the incredible opportunity to be a Rotary Peace Fellow was looking forward to retirement and not having to do anything! A dear friend of mine who took part in the program encouraged me, saying “It will change your life.” Indeed, after the program, I could no longer come home and look the other way or not respond to issues that I care deeply about.
Imagine my dismay when we settled in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg, one of the biggest military meccas in the country. We knew this when we planned our retirement to a warmer climate some twenty years ago, but did not realize the extent of the ever-expanding fort. Our house is probably about five miles away from the base, but the constant drone of artillery and huge aircraft overhead never let me forget how huge the military war machine is.
Now, actively protesting in this community is probably not a good idea, nor is voicing my opinion of this terrible waste of resources. What should I do? In finding my grounding in physical and spiritual well-being I landed in a yoga group of very active women who were like-minded. The leader of our yoga group steered me to a place called the “Quaker House” with the motto of supporting soldiers but not war. I knew I had found a way to appease my need to respond in a way that was helpful, not hurtful.
Quaker House offers many kinds of support for soldiers ranging from qualifying for post traumatic stress disorder, conscientious objections, and support for sexual assault victims to name just a few. The co-director became my new best friend, realizing we had taken the same trainings and wanted to offer the same kinds of programs: providing a children’s peace group, facilitating discussions of growing peace, offering guidance to victims of sexual assault, and teaching conflict resolution and mediation.
I know that if I had not become a Rotary Peace Fellow, I might not have been driven to react to being in such a military community. I feel very good about how I am putting my old and new skills to use by invoking the term we try to live by as peacemakers, “Do No Harm!”