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MONDAYS WITH PATMEI | Rotary: fellowship of peacebuilders

I have been a RotaKid (child of a Rotarian) for more than 30 years since my mother became a charter member of the Rotary Club of Downtown Davao (RCDD) in 1993. Then I became an Honorary Member of my mom’s club because I always tagged along to her Rotary meetings and events. During the pandemic, I was inducted as a full-fledged Rotarian having initiated and implemented several community projects with the club as a response to the crisis brought by the lockdowns.

It took me quite a while to become a Rotarian even though I have been immersed in Rotary through my mother. My reasoning then was my work in government was already community service and embodies Rotary’s motto of “Service Above Self.” I thought then that if I would join a social club, shouldn’t it be something that takes a break from my full-time work?

But after attending my very first Rotary International Convention in Singapore last May 25-29, 2024 I finally get why people want to join Rotary.

It is the fellowship of peacebuilders— a feeling of being among kindred spirits who share your passion for doing good and promoting peace in the world — that makes Rotary special.

Rotary International 2023-2024 President Gordon R. McInally of the Rotary Club of South Queensferry, Lothian, Scotland inspired the more than 14,000 Rotarians who attended this year’s convention to promote peace through their work with Rotary.

“We are an example of what a better world could be: one where people find common ground across their divides and common purpose in elevating humanity,” McInally said in his opening day speech. “Through our service projects, our humanitarian efforts, and our systematic approach to peacebuilding and conflict resolution, we can be catalysts for positive change in the world.”

The entire week of the convention buzzed with that energy — from the House of Friendship, a big exhibition hall of many themed neighborhoods that showcased programs, projects, and products of various Rotary clubs and their partners in service around the world, to the breakout sessions where resource persons and Rotarians learn more about the tools and resources needed to be more effective in their peacebuilding work.

I especially enjoyed my time exploring the Peace Neighborhood in the House of Friendship. I got to see a world map of peacebuilder clubs; learned more about the Aussie Peace Walk, a two-day intercultural walking festival that draws participants from around the world to Canberra, Australia to foster peace and understanding through connections with fellow walkers; and wrote my message of peace and tied it to the Peace Tree with other messages so they will “bloom and flourish.”

I also loved the 360 degrees Dome Experience of UNICEF and Rotary International where I watched short films about amazing projects Rotarians initiated that were unique and inspiring. A project from the Philippines was among the featured films. It is entitled “Bahura” (shoal) and it is the story of how the Rotary Club of Atimonan, Quezon in partnership with the Rotary Club of Madera, California helped restore the local fishing industry in Lamon Bay by building an artificial reef in the shape of a Rotary wheel.

The project started in 2005 and cost around one million US dollars, funded through a grant from the Rotary Foundation. The Rotary wheel-shaped artificial reef has plenty of surface area for coral to grow on and plenty of nooks for fish to shelter in. It’s made of steel-reinforced concrete and measures about four meters tall and 21 meters wide and weighs several tons. It is the biggest artificial reef in the Philippines that restores marine life, sustains livelihood of local fisherfolk, and attracts tourists.

When I got tired exploring all the neighborhoods in the vast exhibit hall, I was delighted to discover another dome, smaller than the one where I watched films on a 360-degree screen. This dome invited me to a multi-sensory experience — using our five senses to pause and engage more deeply with our surroundings and emotions.

Before entering the small dome, we are asked to remove our footwear and wear a wireless headphone. We take a seat and settle in to see and observe our surroundings, touch what we can feel around us, listen carefully to the soothing music from our headphones, smell our space as we breathe in deeply, and taste the “flavor sensation.” It was so calming and wonderful to be in that little cocoon while the rest of the event hall were hustling and bustling.

I emerged from the small dome in time to join the group karaoke at the Peace Town Hall. A singer with a guitar on a small stage led the community singing while a big screen flashed the lyrics. We sang peace songs and I imagined that this must be how it felt like singing “We Are The World” with a diverse group of voices. It was awesome!

Rotary is proud of its Peace Fellows as it celebrates its 25th year since the Rotary Peace Centers program was announced. These peace centers are based at seven premier universities around the world offering fully funded master’s degree or professional development certificate. They are in North Carolina, USA; Bradford, England; Uppsala, Sweden; Kampala, Uganda; Tokyo, Japan; Brisbane, Australia; and the newest one is in Istanbul, Turkey (the previous one in Asia was in Bangkok, Thailand).

Since the program was launched, there are now 1,800 Rotary Peace Fellows from more than 140 countries and they continue to help Rotary in its peacebuilding efforts.

Rotary Peace Fellow Maria Antonia Perez stressed the importance of sustaining these efforts by sharing: “To believe in peace is to have hope, and to do so, one must be both stubborn and optimistic, and be eager to persist and make a difference.”

In his speech during the closing program, RI President McInally reiterated Rotary’s long-standing commitment to building peace. “Our dedication to building a more peaceful world has its ups and downs, but it has been a critical part of how we define ourselves, going back even before the First World War,” he said. “From our earliest days, we have always had a vision of our organization as something more than just the people we see right in front of us and the direct results of our service projects.”

With 1.4 million Rotarians around the world, volunteering approximately 47 million hours to community service and peacebuilding each year, and raising hundreds of millions of dollars every year to support local and global initiatives, I have faith that world peace is possible.


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