Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies Fellowship – A Reflection
It has now been two months since I returned from the Rotary Peace Fellowship at the Peace Centre at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. Almost daily I reflect on my three months in Thailand, which included an eight day field trip to Cambodia. I am often asked what was it like over there, what did I do, and what did I learn? I am back in the South West of Victoria managing a large Police Division which covers five Local Government Areas. I am living in Warrnambool with my wife Wendy, who I must acknowledge for her support and understanding whilst I was away for three months.
The Rotary Peace Centre is situated in a newly built, multi story building at the University. The facilities are first class and staff absolutely wonderful. The university celebrates its centenary this year and is Thailand’s premier learning institution with around 30,000 students. I feel privileged to have studied there with so many knowledgeable fellows from around the world. As I have mentioned in previous correspondence 23 fellows representing 19 countries formed Class 23. Close bonds have been formed and lifelong friendships made. The networking aspects of the program are very important as we work individually and collectively to make the world a better place.
Professor Emeritus Tom Woodhouse, from the Bradford University, lectured on Conflict Analysis tools. His knowledge on the subject is recognised around the world. Tom is travelling to Australia with his wife Gill later this month to do some work in Sydney on the Global Peace Index with the Institute for Economics and Peace. He is then travelling to Melbourne for a week of rest, relaxation and sightseeing. My wife and I will be meeting up with Tom and Gill whilst they are in Melbourne. I plan on becoming a Global Peace Ambassador and will be discussing my plans with Tom.
During the program we received lectures from subject matter experts in the field of peace and conflict, we conducted role plays, we gave presentations, we visited other institutions and we even danced and sang. I can’t say that I was very good at the dancing and singing part. Most importantly we continued to absorb information and grow through the experiential learning process. Lecturers from the around the world filled us with knowledge and made us think about what we are doing and what we can do to make the world a better place. The program is made up of four modules:
Each module had a number of sub-topics taught by experts in the various fields of study. They included university professors, a retired Army General from Nepal, Directors of NGOs and Dr Vitoon Viriyasakultorn, the Deputy Director of the Rotary Peace Center. Dr Vitoon is a credit to the center and taught us all a great deal through his lived experiences in peace building. I must also acknowledge all the Rotary Host counsellors, who looked after us during our stay in Thailand.
My Rotary Host Counsellor Quanchai Laohaviraphab, from District 3330 – Thailand, made me most welcome. Quanchai was a District Governor between 2014-2015. A visit to the Rotary Club of Phrapadaeng for a family night where we shared a Chinese banquet was very special. I spoke to the club about policing in Victoria which was well received and I have a club pendant to present to District 9800. I will continue to correspond with Quanchai and hopefully will visit him in Thailand in the future.
On one of our days off I travelled with three other fellows, from Australia, New Zealand and Romania, to Hellfire Pass in Kanchanaburi. I read Sir Edward (Weary) Dunlop’s biography many years ago never thinking that one day I would get to walk along the pass and reflect on the horrors that WWII prisoners of war experienced working on the railway and in labour camps. I also walked across the ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ Having spent many years in the Australian Defence Force Reserve the day trip to Kanchanaburi was very special to me.
The eight day field trip to Cambodia was a highlight for me. During our time there we consolidated the theory we had learnt as we focussed on transition from conflict to peace and then nation building. The trip included the following visits:
The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM). The Centre is an independent research institute, which aims to help Cambodians heal the wounds of the past by documenting, researching, and sharing the history of the Khmer Rouge Period.
Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC). A special Cambodian court which receives international assistance through the United Nations. The court consists of both Cambodian and international legal staff and Judges. The court can only prosecute two categories of alleged perpetrators for alleged crimes committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979: Senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea: and those believed to be responsible for grave violations of national and international law.
The Cambodia Center for Human Rights. A nonaligned independent non-government organization that promotes and protects democracy and respect for human rights primarily civil and political rights in Cambodia.
The Anlong Veng Peace Center. The Centre is dedicated to memory, reconciliation, peace-building, and it achieves these objectives through peace studies and genocide education.
A visit to S21 (Security 21) a former secondary college converted into a prison and torture centre by the Khmer Rouge was very confronting as was a visit to the Killing Fields. I reflect on the horror experienced by the people of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, which highlights to me how lucky we are to be living in Australia. This is reinforced by the stories I have listened to from other fellows on the program when talking about the hardships experienced in their own countries.
We also visited the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, which are quite extraordinary. Our last night in Cambodia was spent at the Phare Circus. The circus is described as “Uniquely Cambodian, daringly Modern. More than just a circus, Phare, the Cambodian Circus performers use theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories: historical, folk and modern”. Phare artists are graduates of Phare Ponieu Selpak, a NGO school and professional arts training centre in Battanbang, Cambodia. It was founded in 1994 by nine young Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. The circus is in Siem Reap and if you are ever visiting Cambodia I highly recommend you go. I hope to return to Cambodia one day, the people there are amazing considering what they have been through and in many cases still suffering from, due to poverty and hardship.
What now? As a Divisional Superintendent with Victoria Police I am working with the Aboriginal community in the South West and we recently released our multi-agency South West Aboriginal and Torres Strait Family Violence Peace Protocols. In late November I will be attending a two day forum “Cultural Respect and Cultural Safety” engaging respectfully with Aboriginal Australians. The workshop will help me further recognise, understand and respond to racism, including institutional racism. It will enable me to be better resourced in my work supporting and implementing initiatives and priorities for Aboriginal Australians.
This month I will also be conducting presentations on the Peace and Conflict Studies Fellowship to Rotary Clubs in Warrnambool and Geelong.
I feel I have returned to Australia a better person due to the experience and I am sure my leadership skills have been enhanced. I will continue to work in the area of peace building. Exactly where the road will lead I do not know, but I do know that I will do my little bit to make the world a better place.
Thanks to Rotary for the experience and investment in my professional development. Special thanks to the wonderful staff at the Rotary Peace Center and to Rob Helme and Bob Fels for your support and guidance.