Rotary programs offer opportunities to advance world peace

By Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

February is Rotary’s Peace and Conflict Resolution Month, a great time to take action in promoting peace worldwide. Rotary offers a variety of programs that allow members to discover new cultures, exchange ideas, promote global understanding, and develop leaders who become catalysts for peace. Here are a few ways you can get involved:

Exchange opportunities

With 1.2 million members from 200 countries and geographical areas, you’re near Rotary friends wherever you go. Expand your worldview and build goodwill through a Rotary Friendship Exchange, New Generations Service Exchange, or Rotary Youth Exchange:

Discover new cultures

International service opportunities allow members to make connections, exchange diverse perspectives, learn from one another, and make a global impact. Engage with fellow members outside your club and district:

  • Regionally hosted project fairs offer life-changing opportunities for international visitors to learn about a host region, make new friends, and connect with clubs in need of international partners. Read how the West Africa Project Fair changed Rotaractor Shapreka Clarke’s life.
  • Twin clubs, or sister clubs, represent a long-term relationship between two international clubs that promotes understanding, goodwill, and collaboration on service projects in their communities. Celebrate this relationship with a Twin Club Certificate of Recognition.
  • Intercountry committees, which promote peace, friendship, and strengthen relationships between two countries, offer opportunities for members to foster inter-cultural understanding. Read how the France-USA Intercountry Committee is supporting young leaders working to advance peace and cultural understanding.

Rotary Peace Fellows

Through academic training, practice, and global networking opportunities, the Rotary Peace Centers program develops leaders who become catalysts for peace and conflict prevention and resolution. In just over a decade, the Rotary Peace Centers have trained more than 1,000 fellows for careers in peacebuilding. Many of them are serving as leaders at international organizations or have started their own foundations. Rotary members can support the fellowship program by:

  • Becoming a Peacebuilder District. Your district can support the Rotary Peace Centers by allocating a minimum of $25,000 annually in District Designated Funds (DDF). Learn more.
  • Promoting the program within your club and district to identify and nominate candidates for the fellowships. Use the resources on this page for recruiting candidates and publicizing the program. The 2018 Rotary Peace Fellowship application is available and candidates have until 31 May to submit applications to their district.

How is your club and district Rotary Peace and Conflict/Resolution month? Share what programs and activities you are implanting in the comments below!

Peace is possible

By Past TRF Trustee Carolyn E. Jones, Chair of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace

It seems there are a whole bunch of Rotary members who aren’t content in merely being just members and want to make a greater impact. These members have decided to organize, specialize and focus their efforts on one specific area like water and sanitation, microcredit, or health. By the time they come up with a name, it is so long that they simply call themselves Rotarian Action Groups (RAGs). One day, I went online and stumbled across the Rotarian Action Group for Peace’s website and knew I wanted to join right away.

Peace RAG is a group of Rotarians, their family members, program participants, and alumni working together for the purpose of advancing peace throughout the world. The RAG formed in 2012 as a group focused on providing a network of resources to further the peace and conflict resolution work of Rotary members around the globe.

When it comes to matters of literacy, health, water or hunger, the needs and solutions easily come to mind: books, medicine, water wells, food, etc.  When it comes to furthering peace and preventing conflict, most Rotarians can’t immediately think of a project to implement.

Peace RAG connects clubs and districts to peace projects looking for support, as well as provides education and information about the many ways we can support peace. Here are a few ways the RAG is assisting the Rotary family:

  • Upon request, the RAG looks for funding for peace projects. Most recently, we helped secure a Global Grant for a project in District 4185, Mexico. The grant will finance a project that provides training for Rotarians, Rotaractors, youth and other local peace builders on the positive peace model and will offer practical instructions on how to build peace within their community. Working with local media outlets, the project aims to produce news that highlights positive and constructive opportunities for Mexico to grow more peaceful in the years ahead.
  • The RAG identifies speakers for high profile Rotary events such as conventions, district conferences, club programs, and presidential peace initiatives.
  • The group encourages collaborations between Rotary Peace Fellows and clubs by helping clubs identify local Peace Fellows and alumni and facilitating introduction.

Creating a virtual network of peace

Rotarian Action Group for Peace’s signature piece of work is the Rotary Peace Map, a virtual platform connecting Peace RAG members with other Rotary affiliated groups, projects, educational institutions and peace organizations. You can easily navigate the map by entity, region, or area of specialization. It is an exciting resource and here is all you need to know about it:

  • The worldwide map covers Rotary’s global network and the regional filter allows you to explore specific regions of interest;
  • The map highlights areas of specializations, connecting you with groups that share your interest;
  • You can easily find your Rotary club, organization, educational institute or peace project by using the search tool.  You can even find my name way up in Alaska, USA!

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As I write this, Peace RAG is collaborating with the 21st Century Peace Literacy Foundation to spread the message of peace via a unique Peace Hub Tour in western United States.  This mobile space is facilitating conversations about peacebuilding through community visits and meeting with local Rotary clubs. The hub is a huge eye catcher, as you can see from the photos above, and many clubs have already contacted Jerry Leggett, the lead on this initiative, to schedule a visit. If you can’t connect with Jerry on the west coast tour, be sure to meet him and the hub at the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta.

There are so many avenues to peacebuilding – many that I had not even considered. Peace is possible! Learn more about Rotarian Action Group for Peace and let’s advance world peace together.

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Embracing and celebrating our differences

By Azka Asif, Rotary Service and Engagement Staff

Rotary brings together a global network of volunteers who come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and professions. We embrace and celebrate these differences as they are what makes the Rotary community so strong. By leveraging unique perspectives and tapping into their expertise, members address the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges, one of which is creating a more peaceful world.

The Rotary family is committed to contributing time, energy and passion to empower our local communities. Through service projects, peace fellowships, scholarships, and international exchanges, members are taking action to promote peace and international understanding. Here are just a few examples of how Rotarians are advancing world peace:

  • The Rotary Club of Marikina in the Philippines hosted a peace forum to exchange ideas on how to progress towards a more peaceful world. Local Rotary clubs attended the half day forum collaborating on how to strive for global peace through Rotary’s unique approach of peace through service.
  • In the United States, the Rotary Club of Branchburg Township hosted an interfaith dinner and diversity award program. The club recognized individuals, businesses and community organizations who embrace peace and embody the values of civility, global and community awareness. This collaborative program brought together community leaders and the Rotary family to promote peace, understanding and goodwill.
  • The Rotary Clubs of Radolfzell-Hegau in Germany and Istanbul Sisli in Turkey partnered on an exchange for university-level music students. The clubs aimed to facilitate international and cross-cultural understanding. The students studied the international language of music and discussed their respective countries and cultures during the exchange, helping bridge divides and forge new friendships
  • The Rotary Club of Bursa-Uludag wants to prevent 500 disadvantaged children in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Turkey from getting involved in crime by developing musical talents. The club hopes to provide instruments for each child and establish a music center. The center will be open to all children who want to learn music without any discrimination. Being a member of this music community will increase the child’s sense of belonging, respect and self-confidence.
  • In India, the Rotary Club of Mussoorie organized a talk on meditation, discussing the basic concept and potential benefits it brings to those suffering from mental and physical stress caused by everyday life.

February is Rotary’s Peace and Conflict Resolution Month, a great time to take action in promoting peace worldwide. Read more stories about peace and conflict resolution to gain inspiration for club and district service projects. Post your club’s project on Rotary Showcase and join the conversation in My Rotary’s discussion groups. Share your thoughts about peace and conflict resolution in the comments below!

2017 Presidential Conference: Celebrating our Commitment to Peace

By John Germ, Rotary International President, 2016-17

Dear Friends,

It is my pleasure to invite you to attend the 2017 Presidential Peace Conference on 9-10 June 2017, taking place in Atlanta immediately before the RI Convention. This special event will celebrate our work to address the underlying causes of conflict and our success in making peace a priority. We’ll hear from inspirational speakers and look ahead to opportunities to continue our steadfast commitment to peace.

johngermThe program will include internationally recognized keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and networking events that explore Rotary’s commitment to peace. The event is open to the entire Rotary family and guests. Registration for the Presidential Peace Conference is US $126.50 and space is limited.  Learn more about the Conference and register online.

I hope you’ll join me in Atlanta to celebrate our accomplishments and recommit our dedicated efforts to Rotary Serving Humanity.

Sincerely,

John

Early-registration rates for the RI Convention end after 15 December. Take advantage of the early-bird prices and register today for the Peace Conference and Convention.

Working to empower Syrian refugees

By Will Todman, Rotary Global Grant Scholar from the United Kingdom

Having studied Arabic and modern Hebrew for my undergraduate degree, I had gained a background in the history, languages, and literatures of the Middle East. I was most interested in the region’s contemporary politics and decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Arab Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA, for the unique chance to study in Arabic while enjoying the flexibility to develop expertise in my real area of interest. Based in Washington, DC, the program also offered amazing opportunities to gain insights into the world of foreign policy.

As my interests related to conflict resolution and local development, areas Rotary focuses on, a friend suggested I apply for a Rotary scholarship through my local district to study at Georgetown. Without the grant, I would never have been able to afford the expenses of studying abroad, and am immensely grateful for the opportunities it has provided.

My graduate studies focused on contemporary politics of the Middle East with emphasis on displacement and the Syrian conflict. I complemented my academic work with internships and research for the humanitarian organization Mercy Corps, for the Office of the United Nations’ Special Envoy to Syria, and an academic field trip to Jordan.

My experience with Syrian refugees in Lebanon  

Last June, I traveled to the Masnaa border crossing between Lebanon and Syria as a translator for an adviser to the Envoy to Syria. Upon arriving in the vast Beqaa Valley of Lebanon, we were greeted by wineries, fruit trees, farms and small villages framed with snow-capped mountains. At first glance, it seemed impossible that something so beautiful could have been considered one of the most dangerous valleys on earth.

As we descended further into the valley, another sight became clear. Huddles of tarpaulin structures revealed many of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Since the Lebanese government refused to set up official refugee camps, considering such a move to mean taking a political stance on the Syrian conflict, haphazard tents had been erected on private land across the country, often without access to electricity, water or sewage.

We arrived to our destination, the border crossing itself, where we sought to talk with recent refugees from Syria. While some cars were entering Lebanon, significantly more headed in the other direction towards Syria. We introduced ourselves to a group of men sitting along the side of the road; most were happy to talk once we explained our assignment to gather the views of ‘normal’ Syrians rather than political or military leaders for the UN.

We spoke to a driver who frequently made the journey between Damascus and the border. “There are no problems in Damascus” he assured us, “We have water, electricity, food, security. Maybe the prices are a little high, but there are no problems at all. It is normal, like it has always been.” When we asked if there was fear about the recent gains by ISIS, he said he had never met anyone from ISIS and couldn’t be afraid of something he didn’t know.

Others revealed a very different image of the country. “Don’t people realize what is happening in Syria? We are starving, we are dying, we are being massacred. And then we come to Lebanon and, really, we live worse than dogs. No animal should ever be treated how we are treated.” relayed a 40-year-old man from rural Damascus as he waited for his son to cross the border. “I can’t leave to get [my son] because I wouldn’t be allowed back in, and he can’t leave Syria because he is underage and can’t cross the border without an adult,” he explained.

For my master’s thesis, I spent a considerable amount of time researching sieges both in Lebanon and back at Georgetown. I have presented my research to local Rotary clubs, the British Embassy in Beirut and on a panel in Washington. Safe to say, the stories are incredibly depressing and the testimonies tragic. However, there are some grounds for optimism. The local Syrian groups working to prevent Syrians’ suffering are truly inspirational and make unthinkable sacrifices to help others. I have published a number of pieces based on my research including a policy piece for the Middle East Institute, an article on the Lawfare blog, and an interview with Syria Deeply. I was also interviewed on live Egyptian TV!
Now that I have graduated, I am working at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. I am a research associate in the Middle East program, which focuses on the catalysts for change in the region, aiming to be opportunity-driven rather than threat-driven like much of the analysis

I am working with others to found a group called KAMA DC to work with migrants in Washington. Using an Austrian model, we seek to provide a platform for migrants to teach classes according to their skillset – it may be a Spanish class, a Syrian cooking class, or a West African dance workshop. The aim is to empower immigrants, and to facilitate their integration into U.S. society by facilitating contact with different groups of people. We’re very much hoping to collaborate with local Rotary clubs on this endeavor.

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48 hours as a diplomat

By Kristin Brown, Rotary Service Connections Manager

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of participating in a workshop and conference sponsored by the France-USA Inter-Country Committee (ICC). The event represented what ICCs do best: mentoring young people, developing leaders, fostering intercultural dialog, and promoting peace.

The France-USA ICC solicited applications from graduate students in international affairs or diplomacy, and each national section selected eight students to participate in a two-day intensive workshop with diplomats, representatives from UNESCO, and other professionals in global affairs. Before arriving in Paris, each of the eight American and seven French students prepared a paper on a different aspect of the question, “Can the preservation of cultural heritage contribute to world peace?”

group-cip-sign-stepsAt a reception on the eve of the conference, the students met their counterparts for the first time. Over the next two days, they presented their work in pairs, one French and one American. They spoke about illegal trafficking of artifacts in regions of conflict, the role states play in preserving cultural heritage, international law and how sites are selected and protected, and they even spoke about preserving intangible heritage, such as language. Several speakers referenced United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s statement: “An attack on cultural heritage in one part of the world is an attack on us all, on all humanity.”  I was particularly interested in learning about the use of technology and digital imaging, either to assist with repairs to damaged cultural artifacts or, when repair is impossible or impractical, projecting 3-D images in absence of the original.

The workshop culminated in a conference co-sponsored by the France-USA ICC and the Next Generation Foreign Policy Network (ANAJ-IHEDN) at the École Militaire in Paris, where a white paper summarizing the students’ work was presented. Leila Amar, a French Rotaractor and international journalist with France 24, moderated a panel of experts representing UNESCO, ICOMOS, INTERPOL, and the Quai d’Orsay on the challenges of preserving cultural heritage, particularly in conflict zones.

The challenges are real, but I left Paris inspired by the work that these young scholars are doing and thankful for the opportunity provided by the France-USA ICC to bring them together to share their work and forge new relationships.

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Peace Corps partnership seeks to enhance project capacity

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By Ellina Kushnir, RI Staff and Scott Kumis, Peace Corps Partnership Manager

Last year, Rotary International and Peace Corps, formalized a service partnership to help enhance our club and district service activities locally and around the world.

Peace Corps sends U.S. citizens abroad to help tackle the most pressing needs around the world while promoting better international understanding of culture and enhancing global awareness. Peace Corps Volunteers live and work alongside the people they support for a period of two or more years and concentrate efforts to create sustainable change that lives on long after their period of in-country service. Peace Corps currently has volunteers in more than 60 countries and concentrates on the following sectors: education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development, and agriculture.

By working together with active and returned Peace Corps Volunteers, we can continue addressing Rotary’s six areas of focus while enhancing goodwill, international understanding, and building capacity to address the most pressing community concerns.

Local collaborations for sustainable development around the world
A Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) offers access to local contacts, project planning and development insights, and funding possibilities within a particular community. Involving a PCV in your project can help increase its reach, impact, and sustainability.

Peace Corps Volunteers work with nongovernmental organizations, host-country governments, and local community members to identify and address local needs. PCVs can help you identify prospective beneficiaries and work with you to find the most effective way to address a community’s needs: they can partner on a community assessment, help involve local residents, mobilize community members to oversee project implementation, assist with training, and help incorporate sustainability components so that a project thrives under the care of the local community.

Visit Peace Corps’ website for a list of countries where Peace Corps works.

Working with Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the United States
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), those who have completed their in-country service and are back in the U.S., offer a wealth of service project knowledge, interesting community insights from living abroad, and often maintain strong relationships with their host communities and local partners which can include Rotary and Rotaract clubs. These links can lead to international Rotary partnerships that provide resources for projects in the host country.

If you’re located in the U.S., consider:

  • Contacting a Peace Corps Regional Recruitment Office to connect with the local RPCV alumni network in your region
  • Inviting a returned volunteer to attend your club meeting or a Rotary event.
  • Inviting a returned volunteer to make a presentation about his or her work abroad and, if applicable, about how he or she worked with local Rotary or Rotaract clubs.
  • Asking a returned volunteer to facilitate an introduction to the Rotary or Rotaract clubs with which he or she worked while abroad.
  • Inviting a returned volunteer to use his or her community development expertise to assist your club with its projects.

Read the RI-Peace Corps partnership factsheet or contact rotary.service@rotary.org with questions.

Peace Corps is celebrating their 55th Anniversary this year. Add your support to their work to improve communities by joining their Thunderclap on March 1. If your club or district has worked with an active or returned Peace Corps Volunteer, share your story using the commenting feature below.

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Using the Rotary network to wage peace

By Zuhal Sharp, RI Programs Staff

Rotarian Action Groups (RAGs) are autonomous, internationally organized groups with a passion for and expertise in a specific service area. They provide assistance and support to Rotary clubs and districts in planning and implementing large-scale community development and humanitarian service projects in their respective areas of expertise, such as water, AIDs prevention, microcredit, or hearing.

In honor of February, Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution month, learn about the Rotarian Action Group for Peace (RAGFP), a committed group of Rotarians, Rotarians’ spouses, Rotaractors, Rotary Peace Fellows, and other Rotary program alumni dedicated to advancing world peace through education and activities related to conflict prevention and peace building. RAGFP supports and enhances the peace work of Rotarians by offering project guidance and resources. Visit RAGFP’s website and like them on Facebook for the latest updates.

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Building peace in Chicago

By Past District Governor Patricia Merryweather, District Foundation Chair of District 6450 (Illinois, USA); Rotary Club of Naperville

As District Governor-elect at the 2012 International Assembly, I remember tears streamed down my face when President-elect Tanaka announced the 2012-13 Rotary theme Peace Through Service.

Fast forward to our District’s Conference in May 2012 as I wondered how we could bring peace to the streets of Chicago. A few weeks later, our district sprang into action when Heaven, a seven year old girl in Chicago was shot and killed by stray gunfire while she was out selling candy to raise money for a trip to Disney World.  A group of our District Rotarians started to talk about what we could do to create peace in Chicago. With Chicago averaging seven people shot each day and at least 10 people killed each week by gun fire, inaction was no longer an option.

That summer, we formed a Peace Partner Committee consisting of Rotarians and non-Rotary peace-focused organizations to work together and learn more about peace building by participating in each other’s peace programs.  We also participated in local initiatives such as peace building and dialogue efforts with the Chicago Police Department and various religious and community organizations.

Since 2012, we’ve held our Annual Chicagoland Peace Summits every year in communities most affected by violence.  The Peace Summits are for both youth and adults and offer breakout sessions led by our Peace Partner Committee members.  In addition to the Peace Summit, this year we added a program for youth between 10 and 16 years old at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. The program will feature inspirational speakers and leaders who, like many of the youth at the center, have had trouble with the law.

Pam Brockman from the Chicago Little Village Rotary Club is leading a Rotary Global Peace Grant project for youth in Chicago.   The project involves several of our Peace Partners whose programs have a strong history of reducing violence among youth and increasing conflict resolution.  We knew that the programs individually were very good and offered useful tools, but we also recognized an integrated approach can help the programs reach many more people.

Approved in 2015, the global grant is being implemented at two Chicago Public Schools:  Theodore Roosevelt High School and Joyce Kilmer Elementary School.  Both schools serve low income, multi-cultural populations in which 31 languages are spoken. The project will impact nearly 2000 students and 200 teachers. We hope to train youth and teachers in practical skills to manage their stress, resolve conflict, increase cooperation, compassion and understanding, and reduce violence through the programs listed below:

  • The Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) will teach students how to manage their mind, negative emotions and reduce impulsivity and stress.
  • Alternatives, Inc. will teach restorative justice, peace circles and conflict resolution.
  • Play for Peace will teach noncompetitive games to increase cultural understanding, cooperation and leadership.
  • The Peace School organizes an annual International Peace Day Celebration in Chicago. We will work with them to organize 3 events to celebrate the beginning, middle and end of the project.

For the sake of all of our children and our communities, doing nothing is no longer an option.  While we know we are not the only solution to bringing peace to Chicago, we can bring many parties together and must be part of the solution.

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Creating sustainable peace

By Rebecca Crall, Area of Focus Manager, Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution

Building sustainable peace projects requires holistic thinking and a community-driven approach.  Rotarians are uniquely positioned to foster healthy, resilient and more peaceful communities.

Violent conflict can devastate a country’s society, economy and political governance. Coordinating projects that prevent or resolve conflict requires a tailored, sensitive approach. Rotarians can play a vital role in the peace building process by galvanizing members of their communities to identify and address the underlying causes of conflict. While the types of projects Rotarians develop vary greatly, the following examples may help your club or district identify action-oriented approaches to building and sustaining peace:

Socioeconomic initiatives
As business and community leaders, the Rotary family can create initiatives designed with particular attention to fostering social capital, cooperating across conflict lines, and serving as the foundation for reintegration and reconciliation in divided communities. Some examples may include:

  • Creating business associations across former conflict lines
  • Job skills training for youth
  • Job skills training for refugees in destination countries

Youth programming
Rotarians have ample experience in programs for young leaders. Imbuing existing programs, such as after-school programs, youth camps and sports activities with non-violent curriculum can have a powerful impact, including:

  • Enhancing the peace-building knowledge and skills of young people
  • Creating a safe space for youth to express their opinions
  • Building trust between youth and authority figures or governments
  • Promoting intergenerational exchange
  • Supporting youth who are positively contributing to their communities

Media, communication and civic education

There are many community-based media and communication outlets that can help advance peace building efforts. For example, radio stations and other forms of media, broadcasted in multiple languages, seek to promote dialogue and debate on key issues. Theatre productions and puppet shows, designed and conducted by communities, have also been used for outreach education such as teaching human rights norms and values and strategies for peacefully resolving disputes. Civic education on human rights and justice can be powerful tools for integrating marginalized communities.

In any project aiming to prevent conflict and foster peace, consider:

Conflict sensitivity: Understanding conflict in the context in which it exists and being sensitive to the tensions and issues causing a dispute maximizes positive outcomes by considering local dynamics.

Community-based approaches: All community members, and especially traditionally marginalized groups, should be involved in community-level discussions and decision-making. The entire community should have access to information on the specific program or project, on decisions and selected priorities, and on the use of funds. This type of inclusivity fosters fairness, transparency and accountability, which is particularly important in conflict-affected and fragile contexts where levels of trust are low.

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