By Marty Peak Helman, Rotary Club of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, USA
My husband, Frank, and I were recently invited to sit in on a day of classes during the first week of the current Rotary Peace Center’s certificate program, held at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand. Every year, Rotary selects 50 mid-life professionals in a worldwide search to come to Bangkok for three months to study peace and conflict resolution.
As I looked around the room, I realized that
I was surrounded by professionals who have personally known war (Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzogovina); oppression (Sri Lanka, Palestine); terrorism (Palestine and Kenya) as well as those who have lived less exciting lives. The students were from a mix of backgrounds and ages. In fact, of the 22 students in the room, all they really had in common was versatility in English.
Professor Thomas Woodhouse from the United Kingdom was setting some basics so the students would have a common vocabulary for the next three months of classes, which also includes two field excursions. He was offering data sets to describe the “science of peace.” It’s a remarkable thing that we — as a society — frequently study the science of war, but peace is something we take for granted without special study.
Woodhouse started the day off by playing (and the group dancing to) Bob Marley’s “One Love, One Heart.” He quickly moved to introduce the students to the Global Peace Index, which ranks countries by 30 or so metrics to define just how peaceful they really are. No surprise: The US ranks low because it not only engages in war, it also tops the international list by percentage of its own people (especially minorities) incarcerated. More of a surprise: Norway loses points because it sells weapons of war to other countries. My biggest surprise: I was able to come up with the country that ranks highest (most peaceful) on the list: Iceland.
Over lunch, Frank and I had a chance to interact with the students, and much to my surprise, we found a personal connection to two of them. Cornelia had previously asked us if we knew the Perkins family, and it became clear she was referring to retired Vice Admiral James Blenn Perkins III, who lives part of the year in Boothbay Harbor when not in Maryland. He has marched in the annual Memorial Day parade with Frank. And a half-dozen years ago, he spoke at our Rotary Veterans Appreciation night. Cornelia is a reserve judge advocate, and she knew the Admiral from The War College and had co-authored a paper with him.
The other connection is through past Rotary Foundation Trustee Stephen R. Brown, who was instrumental in one of the Peace Fellows from Afghanistan being in the program. Brown and a fellow member of his club, Fary Moini, have done incredible work to bring education to the girls of Jalalabad. Both happen to be members of the club in La Jolla where my uncle John Peak is a member. As recently as last August, I spoke to that club — and Steve introduced me. Rotary is a small world.
Through the peace program, Rotary is investing in the future — the future of our planet as well as the future of these students — to provide a worldwide network of professionals who study peace and can work in areas of human rights, anti-corruption, security, and the environment to turn their dreams of peace into reality.
And that’s something to be proud of.