By Alejandra Rueda, 2008-10 Rotary Peace Fellow, University of Berkeley
When I became a Rotary Peace Fellow in 2008, the presidential theme was Make Dreams Real. My dream was to support the Colombian countryside by improving the quality of life of farmers and, in turn, to achieve a more responsible use of nature and the ecosystem services it provides. I also wanted to help resolve the social conflict that Colombia has experienced. Or at the very least, to contribute to the development of projects that would spur economic and social recovery in areas that sorely needed it.
I was already envisioning a new professional focus in my life, through my pursuit of a master’s degree in Energy and Resources from the University of California, Berkeley. But coupled with the Peace and Conflict Resolution program, I was touched by a totally exciting new topic: sustainability. I knew that sustainable practices would be needed across the globe. As a peace fellow, I learned valuable tools to have an impact and make a difference in diverse communities.
During the last decade, I have been able to interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of farmers in Latin America. Nearly 4,500 farmers have been impacted by the programs that we, at NES Naturaleza, have developed. The Rotary Peace Fellowship started a chain of positive impacts. A chain of light which we have been able to continue and bring to the farmers.
Rural people have gained access to knowledge and been trained in sustainable practices in very remote areas of Latin America. Some of them have already been certified in existing sustainable standards. Unmistakably, without the Rotary Peace Centers program, this would not have been possible.
The knowledge I gained, I was able to spread to thousands of people. Farmers who in turn conveyed it to their relatives. Entire families were impacted. Thanks to Rotary and my experience through the peace fellows program, many of these farmers are now entrepreneurs. Those who did not know very well their markets or their potential, now have a completely different vision, not only of their farm as a business, but also of the surrounding natural ecosystems that complement them.
Nevertheless, there is still work to do.
This year’s presidential theme, Imagine Rotary, returns us to a spirit of dreaming and doing. We are being invited to act for a better and more sustainable world where the pillars of sustainability become the philosophy that drives each one of us.
Our planet can no longer wait. We have seen it, we have heard it, and we have lived it. We know the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. But in our daily lives, we have not yet appropriated them. It would be great to go back to basics. By knowing the definitions of social, environmental, and economic responsibility, we will clearly understand what they entail.
Imagine Rotary is imagining our world because Rotary is in every corner of our planet. Rotary embodies thousands of people always committed to giving something more. Thousands of people who, through Rotary Foundation programs like the Rotary Peace Fellowship, have positively impacted the lives of thousands of others. It is this chain of positive impacts that shines brightly every time someone in the community dreams and acts and connects to someone else.
For this and much more, I thank you Rotary.
About the author: After completing a Rotary Peace Fellowship, Alejandra Rueda founded NES Naturaleza in 2011, a social and environmental enterprise focused on sustainable agricutlure for rural communities in Colombia and other Latin American countries.
Learn more about Rotary Peace Fellowships