29 Mar 2016
On the southern coast of Sri Lanka, there is a special place just north of Galle where the waves crash over the rocks after their long journey across the Indian Ocean.The rains arrive in the early evening to inundate the verdant, tropical lands.
Last week, this was the setting for 10 former Rotary Peace Fellows, and one gifted facilitator from Northern Ireland, Susan McEwen, who joined Rotary Alumni Director Mike Pfriem for the second Rotary Peace Fellow Leadership Retreat. The Peace Fellows in attendance arrived from all corners of the globe, including Juba, Mindanao, Nicaragua, Somaliland, Kurdistan, London, Ottawa, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka itself.
Susan McEwen is the Head of Programs at the prestigious Corrymeela Community, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization. Along with an organizing committee of two of the participating Peace Fellows, she designed the retreat to highlight the importance of reflective practice, echoing the works and teachings of John Paul Lederach, but also incorporating the unique ethos and experience of Corrymeela and the dedication to service and peace so inherent in the Rotary philosophy. Reflective practice is designed to allow practitioners to dig deeper into their own perspectives, observations and experiences, while also taking the time to listen carefully to fellow participants and enhance listening and communication skills. It proved invaluable for sharing important lessons and struggles from the field and discovering how we can unite to form valuable networks of resilience. Susan’s mastery of facilitation, dynamic energy and skill in discussing sensitive areas surrounding peace and conflict issues as well as personal and emotional development helped us grow together tremendously.
Sri Lanka is a unique and inspiring destination for a Peace Fellows reflection: on the one hand it possesses all the magic and allure of any top tourist destination in the world, but on the other hand, it is a post–conflict country seeking to turn the page and change the dialogue after years of conflict. On the final day of the retreat, Peace Fellows received an overview of the post–conflict realities and challenges currently facing Sri Lanka via a prominent field worker, Ananda Galappatti, and this only served to open up a wider and deeper discussion on our collective experiences in conflict or field settings. Ananda is the founder of the Good Practices Group and the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services Network. Psychosocial approaches to trauma, reconciliation and recovery were discussed at length and the group gained a much greater understanding of the history and scope of the Sri Lankan struggles, and the lessons we can take to inform our own work in our own diverse contexts.
Three days is a relatively short span of time for a retreat or conference or a gathering of minds for the first time, but this session was unique from the beginning.
There was a special group chemistry was in the air from the start of our very first session and it was clear that these hours together marked critical building blocks for our professional development and personal wellbeing. Some of the key quotes at the end of the session included the following statements: “We all got so much out of this;” “I didn’t even know that we needed this, but we did;” “These reactions are a testament as to why these types of connections need to happen at least every other year, if not more frequently.”
As the retreat drew to a close and our reflective practice turned fully inward in preparation for the long return travel, and the processing of all the new perspectives and lessons acquired in Sri Lanka. A wave of gratitude and sadness swept over the group, and everyone marveled at how quickly the bonding and connecting process can take place when Rotary Peace Fellows are put in the same room with wonderful facilitators and staff. In the end it was safe to say that none of us will ever forget this retreat and it clearly marks a continued step forwards in our collaborative development as peacemakers, peacebuilders, and international development professionals. Susan’s final words and guided reflections, particularly the moving closing ceremony on Unawatuna Beach, will resonate with us for a long time to come. In just a few short days we have a newfound network of strength and friends, and an even deeper respect and admiration for Rotary’s dedication to the cause of peace.
Rotary Peace Fellow
Assistant Director International Programmes
Trees Water People