By Rachel Hall Beecroft, Rotary Peace Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia
I looked around me at the faces of these change makers and felt overwhelmed by happiness, power, and positivity. These everyday people were coming together for a shared cause — peace. They were giving up aspects of their life to become something greater than themselves alone. They were contributing, they were committing, and most importantly, they were changing the world around them.
As a Rotary Peace Fellow studying for my master’s degree in Brisbane, Australia, I spent eight weeks creating the change I want to see in this world through my Applied Field Experience (AFE). The AFE is an opportunity to get out of the classroom and into the field, applying my new skills and new knowledge to real world situations.
They were giving up aspects of their life to become something greater than themselves.
I found myself in Myanmar (a country in Southeast Asia formerly known as Burma) working for a civilian peacekeeping organization. Myanmar has an incredibly tumultuous past between more than sixty years of civil war and decades of rule by an oppressive military dictatorship.
The organization works for peace in war-torn countries using two principles: nonviolence and civilian action. In Myanmar, they train civilians from targeted areas to act as civilian protection monitors and civilian ceasefire monitors. These villagers are trained in nonviolent techniques, relationship building, confidence building, and on what actions they, as community members, can take to ensure fellow civilians are protected from violence and that local ceasefire agreements are respected.
These civilians told of their actions to create peace and end violence — about how they held awareness raising trainings at churches, schools, and community centers to teach their fellow villagers about nonviolence, peace, and the power they communally had to create change. They met with local stakeholders including government officials, military commanders, and guerilla leaders to inform them that they would be taking steps to protect civilians in that area and any incidents perpetrated by any of the warring sides would be monitored, documented, and conveyed to the relevant authorities.
As I looked around the room, I saw regular people whose lives had been transformed by their contribution to the peace process. I saw people who had previously lived in an environment of oppression and fear, and who now had the courage to stand up to create change in their own communities.
Learn more about the Rotary Peace Centers program