With bloody conflicts raging in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and parts of Central Africa, the message of nonviolence and reconciliation that nations worldwide will observe on 21 September demands more urgent and collective attention.
In 2001 the United Nations designated the September date as an annual International Day of World Peace "to be observed as a day of global ceasefire and nonviolence" according to a General Assembly resolution.
The day's devotion to peace connects closely with what Rotary members have been fostering since The Rotary Foundation's mission to advance world understanding, goodwill, and peace, was proclaimed in 1917.
Rotary's goal of worldwide peace and tolerance has been an unwavering pursuit: conducting global forums, hosting international peace symposiums, advancing peace through its 60-year collaboration with the UN, as well as grassroots initiatives such as the Rotarian Action Group for Peace.
But Rotary's most significant effort to wage peace is the Rotary Peace Centers program, established in 2002. Each year, the program trains some of the world's most dedicated and brightest professionals, preparing them to promote national and international cooperation and to resolve conflict. They include graduates of a two-year master's degree program and a three-month professional certificate program at Rotary's partner universities.
Today, more than 900 peace fellows are applying their expertise in various fields. They're settling border conflicts in West Africa, developing aid programs at the World Bank, drafting legislation to protect exploited children in Brazil, providing security for U.S. diplomats, and many other career paths devoted to peace.
To commemorate the International Day of World Peace, Rotary Peace Fellowships alumni share how the program has shaped their lives:
David Chick, Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Duke/UNC), 2005-07
Director, Peace and Conflict Section, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
"It can really be a life-changing program. There is rarely a week that goes by where I don't use the skills that I gained. My studies of conflict resolution and negotiation assist me in thinking through options to support preventive diplomacy in Australia's neighborhoods. You never leave the peace program! After so many years of operation, there is a real community of peace fellows out there, dedicated to the cause."
Jane Kellum, University of El Salvador, 2007-09
Chief of Party, Partners for Learning/Education, CARE International in Haiti
"Two of the practical courses provided me with the most valuable skills and knowledge that I use on a daily basis. The applied field experience provided me the opportunity to immediately put my newly gained skills and knowledge into practice. The cohort element (and resulting alumni network) of the peace centers is an extremely valuable aspect of the program. The connection with Rotary provides a valuable opportunity to be connected to all the opportunities, networks, that this caliber of international organization offers."
John Foster, University of Queensland, 2005-07
Foreign Affairs Officer, U.S. Department of State
"My experience provided me with a thorough understanding of both the theory and practice of international relations, which has helped me serve more effectively at the U.S. Department of State. The greatest value of the Rotary Peace Centers program comes from the rewarding relationships that it enables participants to form with Rotarians, professors, fellow students, and other professionals through the applied field experience. Most important, it provides them with an introduction to the family of Rotary and encourages them to think of Rotary as a lifelong partner in their peace-related endeavors."
Taylor Stevenson, International Christian University, 2011-13
Design and Waste Prevention Specialist, Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative
"Rotary's Peace Fellowship was a life changer. It left me with a clear vision, confidence in my abilities as a peacemaker, and an ever-growing family of friends and colleagues around the world. The fellowship allowed me the space and support to reorient my professional strategy to more seriously and capably embrace peace ideas. This program is an incredible opportunity, especially for people who are thinking outside of the box on peace issues."
Abu Sufian Taj Elassfia, Duke/UNC, 2011-13
"The Rotary Peace Fellows program has changed my life. Without having the opportunity to get the scholarship, I wouldn't have been considered for the senior position that I hold.
In my case, Duke/UNC offered courses taught by professors who are considered the best in their field, teachers who have not only the academic knowledge but also the practical experiences that enable them to provide advice and direction and connect students with different institutions and organizations. The world, indeed, is in a great need for more peace fellows who can work hand in hand with governments and communities to counterbalance the outbreak of wars and conflict around the world. The need has become even greater for institutions like The Rotary Foundation to provide the opportunity to young people to further their knowledge of peace and to increase their understanding of the world through active participation in issues like good governance, leadership, and peaceful coexistence between nations."