Peace forums explore Rotary’s role in bridging differences
Brigitta von Messling, a former Rotary World Peace Fellow, spoke at the conference in Bulgaria.
More than 1,000 Rotarians and guests from dozens of countries gathered recently for three Rotary Presidential Peace Forums, which concluded in Nairobi, Kenya, on 20 September. Organized by RI President Wilfrid J. Wilkinson, the forums were established to discuss Rotary's role in building peace worldwide.
In Nairobi, Colin Bruce of the World Bank and David Ojut Okello of the World Health Organization spoke to 250 participants from 26 countries, commending Rotary for its polio eradication initiative. Lively discussions among participants centered on how Rotary clubs in Africa can partner with their Rotary colleagues around the world to help bring peace and stability to troubled regions on the continent.
At the 1 September forum in Istanbul, which coincided with the UN World Peace Day, RI Director Örsçelik Balkan stressed that Rotarians, through Rotary's unique "human-to-human" network, can foster international understanding in the Middle East and other areas of the world. Keynote speakers included Suleyman Demirel, the former president of Turkey, Abdul Salam Majali, former prime minister of Jordan, and Hikmet Çetin, who served as NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan.
Demirel said he was confident that Rotary, as a worldwide nongovernmental organization, can make a difference. "Conflicts, their management and resolution are essentially state-driven exercises, but this perception is changing," he said. "Civil society is becoming a key actor in conflict prevention and resolution processes. This meeting is certainly a significant step in this direction, and I applaud Rotary for this commendable initiative."
The first peace forum in Boyana, Bulgaria, in August, invited participants to discuss the possibilities of peace, with a focus on the Balkans. The event kicked off in Sofia with a gala dinner hosted by Wilkinson, in which he rang a traditional bell at the National Museum of History and presented the charters of five new Bulgarian Rotary clubs. At the forum, RI Director Balkan reminded attendees of Rotary's mission. "We bring hope. And we have been doing this for more than one hundred years. We shall continue practicing it as we start writing the second chapter of Rotary history," Balkan said.
Brigitta von Messling, a former Rotary World Peace Fellow who works at a Berlin-based nongovernmental organization that provides conflict resolution training in the Western Balkans, spoke about the worldwide network of Rotary Centers for International Studies alumni like herself who are working for peace. She challenged Rotarians to work in their own communities to build peace through their leadership.
"You Rotarians are leaders and role models in your municipalities," she said. "Just by changing your actions, you have the power to be an example to others. By doing something that seemed impossible, you show that we can dream and that change is possible."
With reporting by Ahmet S. Tükel (Rotary Dergisi), Nasko Nachev (Rotary in Bulgaria), and Carol Pandak, PolioPlus manager