By Mark Flanigan, Program Director, Japan ICU Foundation, and a 2010-12 Rotary Peace Fellow at ICU, Tokyo
When I arrived at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo as a new Rotary Peace Fellow in the summer of 2010, I had no idea it would be the beginning of an ongoing relationship with both the University and Rotary.
I had lived in Japan before through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program and as a U.S. Army veteran, and was happy to return almost a decade later, thanks to Rotary.
My initial peace fellow research focused on Japan’s role in UN Peacekeeping, but changed after the terrible triple-disaster on 11 March, 2011. I volunteered in the disaster recovery efforts in northeast Japan and shifted the focus of my work on Japan’s contributions to both domestic and international disaster response. My thesis analyzed how Japan’s civilian and military agencies coordinated with international partners during earthquakes in Sumatra in 2005, Haiti in 2010, and Japan in 2011. I found that Japan improved its response times, search and rescue capabilities, and collaboration each time.
I was contacted by an official at the Japan ICU Foundation in New York who wanted to interview students who had volunteered in the disaster recovery effort in Japan. The interview was featured on the foundation’s website, and as luck would have it, a position opened up at the foundation. Just two weeks after my ICU graduation, I was happy to begin a new job as program director.
We were shocked and saddened (by the terror attack in Paris), but strengthened in our resolve to delve further into our peace studies and find ways to make it relevant in our conflict-ridden world.
Since then, I have been very honored to be working directly with colleagues in New York City supporting ICU’s global programs. I help raise funds for grants and scholarships, recruit international students (including two new Rotary peace fellows), and develop global programs in partnership with ICU.
As a peace fellow and ICU alumnus, I enjoy building my kizuna (“connections” in Japanese) with Rotary and ICU. I took part in our Rethinking Peace Studies (RPS) seminar in Sri Lanka. It’s a partnership between the Japan ICU Foundation, ICU, and Rutgers University that grew out of the Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum on the ICU campus in 2012.
Need for peace
There have been two previous seminars in Tokyo and New York City. For the final RPS seminar, a group of international scholars met at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka to discuss peace and dialogue. It is a country that has suffered so much from its bloody civil conflict. Readings from Mahatma Gandhi, Hannah Arendt, and others were all the more relevant as we heard news of the terror attacks in Paris. We were shocked and saddened, but strengthened in our resolve to delve further into our peace studies and find ways to make it relevant in our conflict-ridden world.
A culminating conference will be held on the ICU campus in June, and it will be a special kind of homecoming for me. My experience has brought me full-circle: from prospective applicant, to peace fellow, to active ICU alumnus. It’s been a pleasure for me to meet and work with successive generations of peace fellows at ICU. They are forging their own paths of peace and justice. It is truly an honor and privilege to be living out Rotary’s pledge of Service Above Self.