of the Peace fellowship
at the Rotary Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflictresolution
at Chulalongkorn University of Bangkok (Thailand)
By Marieke Nieuwendijk
1. Most current contact information
2512 VL Den Haag
2. My impressions of the academic and fieldwork activities and progress
Before leaving for Bangkok we have been well informed on the schedule, various topics and professors involved in the programme. The programme has been well structured, consisting of different elements relevant to conflictresolution. The preparatory readings by Ramsbotham, Woodhouse and Miall, together with the lecture on conflictanalyses by Eric Malender have provided a solid theoretical foundation for the rest of the course. I have really apreciated the combination between theory and practise through various themes, tools and case-studies in adressing different angles of conflictresolution. Also, the different backgrounds, teaching methods and fields of interests of the professors have been a real added value to the course.
On a more critical note, I felt that coherence could have been improved at times. The link beween the different topics was not always clear, this could have been improved by a offering a general framework visualising the scope of conflictresolution and the interlinkages between the topics. Secondly, I felt that several potentially extremely interesting and relevant topics have not been dealt with sufficiently in depth and could have been a bit more challenging. For instance, the course on disarmement and security sector reform have been disappointing while these are very delicate processes in a post-conflict situation. Additinally, the focus has been more on ‘soft’ topics (such as mediation and gender) of ‘hard’ knowledge offering clear theories or tools. (the lectures by ms. Castarphens is an important exeptions!). Lastly, even though conflictresolution and conflic transformation are complex and long term processess, I think that dealing with conflict transformation from a time-line perspective would have helped me to understand the stages of case-specific conflicts and the various issues and dynamics related to that stage. Overall however, I feel that the course has been intensive yet diverse and comprehensive.
The fieldwork activities in Northern Thailand and Nepal have been great experiences. It was a bit more challenging to link the issues at stake in Northern Thailand to conflictresolution but, (also given today’s tensions in Thai society) it has been very interesting to look at other forms of violence but direct violence for instance cultural or structural violence. For example, it has been interesting to look more into the relationship between the legal status of hill people and refugees and the fragility of Thai society. I felt that sometimes the focus was too much on development projects and less on projects related to conflicttransformation. For me, the field visit to Nepal was more interesting as the link with conflict resolution was more clear as Nepal is recovering from a conflictsituation and is preparing for a reconciliation process. The governmental and non-governmental organisations we have visited are all directly or indirectly related to the peace process and all highlighted different elements of the process for instance, the reform of the security sector, a truth and reconciliation committee and reintegration of Maoist soldiers.
3. Information about your involvement with Rotarians in your host area
My host councelor has been ms. Duangta Attayadmawittaya from Rotary club of Silom District 3350. She is is Immediate Past President of the club year 2008-09 and Assistant Governor of District 3350 2009-10. Her occupation is couturier (lady fashion designer). Ms. Attayadmawittaya and her husband very kindly came to pick me up from the airport. After our first meeting I have had the pleasure to meet her a couple of other times, for instance during a lunch and introduction by the Rotary Foundation in Bangkok as well us during a dinner cruise organised by Rotary. Ms. Attayadmawittaya has also invited me to a meeting at Rotary club of Silom, where I have introduced myself to the club-members and where I have shared my experiences on the course thusfar. After the field visit to Nepal I had announced to visit the Rotary Silom again to give a presentation on the site visit to Nepal but unfortunately, due to sickness, I was not able to come. Ms. Attayadmawittaya and several of her Rotary-colleagues were also present during the final presentation and dinner. I have also met Ms. Attayadmawittaya informally when she had kindly invited me for a lunch and a concert together with members of Rotary Silom. I am extremely thankful for the help and support of ms. Attayadmawittaya during my stay in Bangkok, I regret not having been able to have spent even more time with her.
I have also been in touch with mr. Martin Brands, the host councelor of ms. Tori Anderson, an active member of Rotary Pathaya and a fellow-Dutch citizen. It was very nice to meet a Dutch host councelor and to learn more from Thailand from a Dutch perspective. Mr. Brands has invited ms. Anderson and me to dinner in Bangkok and to a visit to Mae Sot, the border with Birma. We were also accompanied by his friends from Rotary Pijnacker-Nootdorp, mr and ms. Aad and Witha Scholtens and mr and ms. Jutte. We had an incredible time in Mae Sot and learned a lot about the problems and challenges for Birmese refugees through visiting local and international NGO’s working on the issues, some of which are supported through mr Brands and Rotary Pijancker-Nootdorp. I am very grateful for the generousity of mr Brands and for inviting me on this incredible trip to Mae Sot.
Rotarians mr. Ruud Hoorweg and ms. Susanne Baartman-De Vries have connected me with
ms. Stephanie Borsboom. She is a Dutch Rotary Peace Fellow of 2005 (Duke University) who currently works in Nepal for the World Bank and who owns a local NGO, Stichting Dipjoti. We have had the pleasure to meet her in Nepal during a dinner facilitated by Rotary in Kathmandu. It was very interesting to exchange our educational and professional experiences, we definitely hope to stay in touch.
During the field visits to Northern Thailand and Nepal we have also attended several dinners organised by Rotary Chang Rai, Rotary Chang Mai and Rotary Kathmandu. The respective Rotary clubs have introduced us to local cuisine and entertainment. Their hospitality and kindness have been much apreciated.
4. Successes and challenges as a Rotary World Peace Fellow
As mentioned above, I have visited a meeting of Rotary club of Silom in Bangkok and given a presentation during this event. During the field visits to Northern Thailand and Nepal we have also met with three different Rotary Clubs in Chang Rai, Chang Mai and Kathmandu. I have also been invited to a visit to Mae Sot together with Dutch Rotarians. I have not performed any volunteer activities as this was not allowed according to Rotary regulations for the Course in Peace and Conflict Resolution. I would have liked to have been more actively engaged in the Rotary network in Asia but due to
the intensity of the course it has been difficult to perform extra curricular activities.
5. My impressions and overall evaluation of the program
The 2,5 months at the Rotary Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution has been an incredible experience with many highlights such as the field visits to Northern Thailand and Nepal. Content-wise, the course was in general very interesting although certain topics could have been taught in a bit more depth.
Studying, working and living with 22 people from 15 different nationalities with an incredible mix of cultural and professional backgrounds has been very inspiring. I have learned mostly from several people who have extensive experience in the field, either as a military officer, journalist, project officer or field officer working with ex-combatants. For me personally, it has been very refreshing to be exposed to new perspectives on development cooperation and conflict resolution by people who do not work directly in these fields, amongst which a lawyer, an urban planner and mediators. Working with this group of people has been as valuable and as important as a learning experience as the program itself.
The organisation of the program was excellent. The Rotary staff did a fantastic job in designing a very interesting and comprehensive programme, involving knowledgeable professors (oftentimes personally involved in peaceprocesses) and including a wide range of relevant and diverse topics. A very good balance was found between the lectures, the field visits, free time and extra curricular activities. Also in logistical terms, the Rotary staff has been very helpful and I have a great admiration for their organisational talent, their patience and endurance, especially during the field visits to Northern-Thailand and Nepal. I am also thankful for the many extra curricular activities organised by Rotary staff. These have all been socially and culturally interesting and again, well organised. Especially deputy director Jenn Weidmann has performed so many roles so well, as a lecturer, as staff, as a mentor, a translator, a ´travel agent´ and as a very valuable source of information.
The assessment has taken place periodically through papers that were marked on a pass or fail basis. These papers have helped me to apply some of the theories and tools learned during the course on a case-study (in my case: conflict around mining in Guatemala) I think this was a good method for reflecting on the course-content in relation to our own professional experience.
As has been mentioned before, the programme has a good balance of theory and practise. For me personally, one less positive element has been the final group project. The group project consists of a final presentation of 20 minutes by a group comprised of 5-6 people each. There were no prescriptions as to content and form as long as each person participates and the content is related to the course. I strongly feel this project has created a lot of unnecessary frustration among and between the fellows. In addition, in my opinion there was no added value to the course-content by preparing this presentation. In addition, the timing was not very good as we had many obligations to fulfill during the last week which left us very little time to invest in the presentation. Therefore, I would recommend to Rotary to reconsider this assignment or to find another form (for instance having each group present a different module of the course using different regional case studies)
6. Recommendations for future fellows
Be aware that you will operate in a multicultural context and work with people from very different cultural backgrounds. However interesting this is, this might also create tensions between people as you will deal with very sensitive (political) topics. Be prepared to be very tolerant, open-minded and gender-sensitive towards your co-fellows.
Although this course deals primarily with conflict resolution, it might help you to learn more on development cooperation before the start of the course which could enable you to understand the operational context in which many NGO´s and government organizations work.
7. Postfellowship career plans
After my contract with my former employer Cordaid in the Netherlands has ended, I have found a temporary job (5 months) with Simavi, a Dutch NGO working on projects of water, sanitation and public health in Africa and Asia. After this period I am persistent in finding a job related to peacebuilding and conflictresolution, either within the Netherlands or abroad. Several organizations in the Netherlands such as Cordaid and Care are now redirecting their work more towards conflict resolution and peace building, focusing their work more on countries in a post-conflict or a conflict situation. I hope to benefit from this trend by working as a programme officer in a (post)conflict context preferably in Latin America or Asia. On the long run, I also want to broaden my scope towards governmental organizations in the Netherlands (ministry of Foreign Affairs) and even multilateral agencies within the United Nations such as UNDP and UNHCR. In whichever position I will end up working, I am confident that I will benefit from the course in conflictresolution and will be able to effectively apply the theory and practice on conflictresolution.