Alumnus discusses the prospect of peace
Marios Antoniou, a former Rotary Peace Fellow, speaks to attendees during the secondary plenary session on 21 June in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Photo by Monika Lozinska-Lee/Rotary Images
At the 2010 RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada, current and former Rotary Peace Fellows discussed the prospect of peace and Rotary’s role in building bridges of understanding within the family of Rotary.
Marios Antoniou, a recent graduate of the Rotary Peace Center at Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was among dozens of peace fellows attending the convention. Addressing attendees at the secondary plenary session on 21 June, Antoniou, who is from Cyprus, explained the context of conflict and progress toward peace on the island.
"The division line is still guarded on the northern side by the Turkish army, the southern side is guarded by the Cyprus national guard, and in the middle [is] the UN peacekeeping force of Cyprus, the longest-lasting peacekeeping force in UN history," he said.
Antoniou said he learned a valuable lesson as a teenager during an international peace camp, a meeting between 20 Greek and Turkish Cypriots. "A group of teenagers were in a circle, talking and trying to deconstruct the negative image of the fearful enemy -- the fear of the 'other,'" he said.
That experience put him on the path toward looking deeply into the roots of conflict.
"Truth is like a puzzle. The problem is that each side had half of the stack of the puzzle pieces, and therefore it was impossible for us to look at the whole picture," said Antoniou. "At that moment, I realized that our knowledge and our perceptions were the product of our education, and that was the experience that gave me a new life’s goal. I decided to pursue a degree in education in order to be able to become a change agent in our educational system."
Antoniou went on to work with nongovernmental organizations promoting peace in Cyprus, working with youth at the same camp he attended.
"Through several projects over the years, I worked on bringing together teenagers from both communities of the island, and through deliberation sessions, I tried to help them realize the same thing that I had realized after my first experience of meeting people of the other community," he said.
In his work, Antoniou has stressed that education and social justice are the building
blocks of peace. "A future political peace without the existence of social peace is only condemned to once again fail," he said.
Sponsored by the Rotary Club of Nicosia Salamis, Antoniou says his training as a peace fellow has built upon this foundation of social justice education.
He explained how Rotary is contributing to peace in Cyprus by setting the example of harmony under a common goal. “Now clubs from both communities hold their president-elect trainings and other functions together, in English," he said.
Antoniou also participated in a breakout session dedicated to building peace with three other alumni: Scott Lang, Cheryl Hebert, and Raymond Hyma. A steady stream of Rotarians visited former peace fellows at the program’s booth at the House of Friendship.