World Peace: “The best antidote for international fear is international understanding”, Paul Harris 1928
I had the life changing experience of attending the Rotary World Peace Conference in Ontario, California in January and I feel that I must share it with you.
Even though Rotary has held Peace as a focus of the organization since 1921, it isn’t a subject that arises at a lot of Rotary meetings. We have funds to raise, fellowship to enjoy and programs to deliver.
When I saw the Rotary World Peace Conference advertised, I thought, “I don’t have time to take a weekend and attend. I need to stay home for once and do some laundry.” But it nagged at me until I couldn’t stand it and so, yes, I registered.
I had previously attended the Rotary Peace Conference in Vancouver, so I knew there would be incredible speakers. The shock came when I realized I had a choice of 13 tracks with over 150 presenters covering everything from Peace in the workplace to working with Peace through media. Each of these tracks covered two full days devoted to building Peace in those specific areas.
There were also general sessions with talks throughout the peace spectrum. The stories were incredible but one really touched my heart. Dr. Fozia Alvi’s description of her experience as a volunteer physician in the Rohingya refugee camps was overwhelming.
She is petite and soft spoken but has a passion and energy that fills the room. She describes herself as a working mother who grew up in Pakistan, trained in the United States and moved to Canada in 2007. In truth she is a brave and determined woman who helps the Rohingya refugees who are stranded in Bangladesh. Her parents fear for her safety and never want her to travel back home to Pakistan alone. Dr. Alvi is a woman who is creating peace quietly, in a remote corner of the world.
Dr. Alvi shared the stage with several other peace warriors. Like her, they were thoughtful and determined to help make our world a more peaceful place. 
Azim Khamisa shared the heartbreaking story of the murder of his son and his path to forgiveness. Eva Haller spoke of her time in a Nazi concentration camp and not letting that experience define how she viewed the rest of her life. Marilyn Tam, former CEO of Aveda, told us about being the unwanted daughter in a Chinese family. Her story was of a physically and verbally abused little girl who turned “I am worthless” into “I can do anything”.
The underlying message in so many of these presentations was that forgiveness allows us to heal and move on. It doesn’t mean putting yourself in danger or letting crimes go unpunished. It is about each of us understanding we have the power to create personal peace. Dr. Frederic Luskin, Director of the Stanford University’s Forgiveness Projects, helped us to understand how to forgive, so we can let go of the negative thoughts that hold us back.
Rotarians are Peace Builders. What you do in your community, to make it a safer place, is creating peace. The time and dollars you put into literacy creates peace. When you educate children, you increase their self confidence and improve their chances of a better life. Dr. Alvi told us she is not allowed to educate the Rohingya children in the refugee camp in Bangladesh. It is much easier to control illiterate people.
You create peace when you provide clean water and health care and microcredit. You improve the health of the planet when you work on peace. PDG Jiro Kawatsuma from Hiroshima, Japan described the destruction caused by nuclear weapons and why he works tirelessly to advocate for peace. He plants peace trees around the world.
As Rotarians we are serious about Peace. The money you donate to the Rotary Foundation supports Peace Centers around the world where students earn a master’s degree or professional development certificates. Since 2002 over 1200 Peace Fellows have graduated from these Peace Centers and are working in more than 116 countries.
One of the truly inspiring and entertaining speakers was Rotary Peace Fellow, Scott Martin. You will have the opportunity to meet Scott at the District Training and Conference in Victoria this May. He graduated as a Rotary Peace Scholar in 2017 and is a founding member of Mediators Beyond Borders.
I look forward to seeing you at the District Training and Conference. We have the opportunity to work together to create safer, healthier and more peaceful communities and a better world.