Fanning the winds of peace in Iraq
As a country representative for Peace Winds Japan, Miho Kishitani could have chosen to work in a number of struggling regions of the world.
“I chose Iraq,” says Kishitani, a former Rotary World Peace Fellow. “I wanted to gain field experience so I could understand the domestic nature of conflict. I chose the most challenging area, which was northern Iraq.”
Kishitani manages and coordinates reconstruction programs in Iraq focusing on education, social care, and health, water, and sanitation. From her base in Amman, Jordan, she runs two offices with a local staff of 80 and a budget of US$4 million.
This wasn’t Kishitani’s first time in the war-torn country. From 2000 to 2003, she spent three years as the sole full-time Japanese worker in the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq. She coordinated and implemented relief efforts there as head of the Northern Iraq Mission for Peace Winds Japan.
Last year, the Institute for International Policy Studies presented Kishitani with the Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro Award of Excellence. The award honors significant achievements in political, economic, cultural, and scientific and technological fields.
It also seeks to promote peace and prosperity in areas of conflict.
The award was named after the former prime minister of Japan and the institute’s current chair, who presented the honor, along with a prize of ¥1 million (US$8,500), during a ceremony held in June. By recognizing Kishitani, who was only 25 years old when she first went to Iraq, the institute hopes to inspire other young workers in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to pursue humanitarian efforts in the field.
“It’s easy to talk about peace in New York or Tokyo, where there is no conflict,” says Kishitani. But she believes that to achieve peace, NGO workers and world leaders must spend time “where people struggle to survive because of a lack of peace.”
After her experience in the Kurdish autonomous zone, Kishitani knew she wanted to be a professional aid worker. For that, she needed a master’s degree. In 2005, as a Rotary World Peace Fellow, she received a master’s in conflict resolution from the University of Bradford in England. Her fellowship was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Urawa, Saitama, Japan.
“I faced limitations in the field due to a lack of knowledge and methods,” says Kishitani of her first time in Iraq. “My experience [at the university] is helping me in
program planning, negotiation, and coordination with other agencies.
"Iraq’s problems are very much driven by geopolitical, religious, and ethnic interests,” she says. “My knowledge of conflict resolution is helping me to read this political
map to ensure the greatest efficiency in my program.”
A strong believer in the power of education, Kishitani plans to continue her own. With her award money, she hopes to improve her research and language skills to
better serve Iraq’s people. But getting mobile is her first goal. “I want to first get a driving license. Then, secondly, I want to learn Arabic.”