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January 24, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Philip Ikita

Meet Philip Ikita, our next Rotary Peace Fellow from Class 12.  Philip is based at the Rotary Peace Center which is affiliated with the University of Bradford in the UK. Philip’s academic work is within the Division of Peace Studies at Bradford, which is the oldest and largest department of peace studies in the world.

Philip is a Sociologist and Development Worker with over a decade of experience in democracy/governance, human rights, conflict management, and peace activism.  His experience has found him working both within and outside of Nigeria as a civil society leader, project manager, researcher, trainer, advocate, and campaigner.

In just over a decade, Philip has gained a wealth of experience in his career so far by choosing organizations with which to work that reflect his activism and deep commitment to peace.  Prior to taking up residency in the UK for his graduate studies as a Rotary Peace Fellow, Philip served as Program Coordinator for  Nigeria’s People’s Democratic Institute.  In that role, he facilitated the first International Election Observer Mission to South Africa’s national elections in 2009 for that organization.

Another of Philip’s organizational choices, the Research Triangle Institute International (RTI) in Nigeria, gave him a chance to work on a key component of community development in his position as Training and Capacity Building Manager.  Early in his career, Philip served as Program Officer with the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID), Nigeria Country Office.  In keeping with Philip’s unwavering commitment to peace, he served as a member of the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in Sri Lanka Field Team from 2007-08.

As a Peace Fellow, Philip is focusing his studies on how information technology (IT) models can support citizen and community participation in managing or mitigating conflict and in promoting democracy.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questions.  Here are Philip’s answers:

1.  What is your opinion about the prospects of an end to armed conflict in the next 50 years?

I see a gloomy future with regard to armed conflict in the next 50 years. Arms spending is increasing, and the so-called world military powers continue to flex their muscles. With the growth of technology, warfare is becoming more sophisticated…the U.S. is not at war, but U.S.-made drones are killing hundreds even now. It might get worst in the future.

2. What do you believe are the three most important contributing factors to fostering peace within and among nations?

The three most important factors that foster greater peace among the nations are, in my opinion:

a.  The never-dying left movement: anarchists, radical scholars, the workers movement, occupy movement; left activists and the platform of social media…all are forces whose activities tend to pull back powerful governments and states from excesses;

b.  Education and increased consciousness of the larger majorities across the nations could prove to be liberating and capable of increasing the peace;

c.   Women emancipation and empowerment: in all spheres, in the streets and in government, women are contributors to peace, and I believe increased empowerment of women, increased roles for women in society and government everywhere will foster peace everywhere.

Your comments are welcome.  Send them directly to our Managing Editor at:  rebecca.popham@tutufoundationusa.org, or use the “Post a Comment” box below if you prefer.

January 14, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Manish Kumar

Meet Manish Kumar, our next Rotary Peace Fellow from Class 12.  He is based at The Rotary Peace Center which is anchored by the Joint Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Program.   The Duke/UNC-CH joint program gives Peace Fellows application options for either institution.  As a Peace Fellow at UNC, Manish is associated with the Gillings School of Global Public Health, specifically in the Department of Public Health Leadership.

Having lived, studied, and worked in the Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand, Manish witnessed different types of conflict and gained an understanding of the role of agriculture, health, and nutrition plays in the lives of rural poor. He strongly believes that livelihood opportunities, education, and access to quality healthcare services are critical to promoting peace and development. He is of the opinion that strengthening leadership and political systems is essential to improve governance along with the accountability of governments.

Studies in agriculture, development communication, and management of agricultural knowledge systems taught Manish about various developmental pathways. His extensive background includes work with academic, national, and international organizations in India.  As a Peace Fellow, he is carrying forth a focus on knowledge management, research and advocacy, information and communication technologies for health, organizational development, and partnership management. His work on advocacy includes interviews, both face-to-face and electronically, with prominent personalities including politicians, UN agency representatives, leaders of bilateral donors, bureaucrats, and civil society leaders.

Extensive travel within and outside of India shape the thought processes Manish applies in his personal and professional life.  He is passionate about social services and mentoring young professionals. Manish led the National Cadet Corps unit at his undergraduate college.  The Corps supports building character, discipline, leadership skills, and the idea of selfless service among youth. As a founding member and Asia representative of the Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development, Manish was instrumental in strengthening YPARD’s knowledge network which champions the cause of young agricultural professionals.  As a Rotary Peace Fellow, he is currently pursuing the Masters of Public Health in Public Health Leadership at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questions.  Here are the answers Manish gave us:

1.  What is your opinion about the prospects of an end to armed conflict in the next 50 years?

Armed conflicts, unfortunately, have shown a relatively longer life expectancy than people around the world might have expected. However, in my opinion, armed conflicts have only another fifty years, at most, to survive. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Not to believe in the possibility of permanent peace is to disbelieve in the Godliness of human nature.”

In my own view, I think that Gandhi’s thoughts have assumed greater significance in today’s world. Leaders with vested interests in the economics of conflict are preoccupied with the goal of accumulating wealth and keeping control over the access and distribution of resources.  To attain their goal, they incite conflicts within and among nations.

The balance of power is now tilted around the world in favor of these leaders who intentionally limit involvement in political, governmental, and civil society by those people at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid. It is no coincidence that we see examples around the world of countries led by the winners in the economics of conflict who have the resources to promote their own agenda, excluding all others.  The leaders with these agendas very often happen to represent the interest of a particular region, religion, ethnicity, political ideology, or socioeconomic class.

2. What do you believe are the three most important contributing factors to fostering peace within and among nations?

Strengthening leadership and improving governance is critical for fostering peace within and among nations. In a country where millions of people live in absolute poverty, their political representatives accumulate enough illegal wealth to acquire assets like coal mines in other countries. Such examples are common in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and cast a dark shadow on the quality of leadership and governance in some of those regions.

Furthermore, these examples reiterate the urgent need for revamping or reorganizing political institutions which is another important factor to nurture peace. Now the inter-linkages between local and national political institutions is weak with poor accountability.  This inadequate and ineffective “feudal” system is kept alive by a fiefdom of “high and mighty groups.”

But the 21st Century is here offering tremendous opportunities to design appropriate and innovative new uses for traditional communication pathways, as well as to develop entirely new information and communication technologies that can promote peace across geographical and political boundaries.  Seizing these fantastic opportunities will not only re-invigorate involvement of citizens at all levels of society, but give them, at last, the certainty of knowing that each and every one of them is a stakeholder in their political system.

When all members of society are known to be fully engaged, at every level, in the business of running their country, the credibility of that country’s leadership, both internally and externally, is greatly enhanced.  A society that is fully engaged in embracing 21st Century technologies will include those citizens who were once marginalized in remote locations.  They will be integrated into the larger society by virtue of communication technologies that reach into formerly overlooked places.  It follows, then, that equality of access to public delivery systems for every need identified within the society will be a reality.

In my opinion, cultivating peace within and among countries calls for a fully  integrated approach that tackles issues concerning leadership, governance, political systems, and public service delivery.  Depending upon the existing political climate at any given time, a country may choose to embrace all major elements of change at once, including socio-economic issues, overall management issues, and issues concerning developmental capacity.  The other option would be to address all of those elements in a “phased in” plan.  Either way, the bell of change is heard now daily in some part of the world.  And there is a very powerful truth about change being announced with the ringing of a bell.  Once the bell is rung, it cannot be “un-rung.”

Your comments are welcome.  Send them directly to our Managing Editor at:  rebecca.popham@tutufoundationusa.org, or use the “Post a Comment” box below if you prefer.

January 5, 2014

Neighbors Healing Neighbors – Community-based Mental Health Strategies

A Community Approach to Mental Health

Building Back Better, a recent report by the the World Health Organization (WHO), outlines a new, community oriented approach to providing mental health care in developing countries that have experienced devastating emergencies.  The report describes how, in the aftermath of wars and natural disasters, ambitious mental health reforms have been instituted and are starting to make a difference.  One of the most striking characteristics of these reforms is their focus on creating mental health care systems that put trained nonprofessionals on the front line of treatment.  According to Mark van Ommeren, a psychiatric epidemiologist at WHO in Geneva, talk therapies adapted to specific cultures show promise in easing these problems.

Eleven countries and territories contributed to the report including Afghanistan, Burundi, Indonesia (Aceh Province), Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, and West Bank and Gaza Strip.  These participants described their major achievements and most difficult challenges and shared how those challenges were overcome, in part by using community-based strategies.

For example, in Goa, India, an investigation called MANAS (an acronym meaning  “Project to Promote Mental Health” in India’s Konkani language) documented the effectiveness of group therapy led by non-medical people local to the area.  In the study, which encompassed 2,800 individuals being treated for common mental health problems, interpersonal psychotherapy and other interventions delivered by health counselors substantially relieved patients’ depression and improved their work and home lives well after treatment ended.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, another study conducted by Johns Hopkins University provided evidence for the healing power of group therapy administered by trained nonprofessionals.  The project involved the treatment of 405 women from 15 villages, many of whom were suffering symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), the emotional aftereffect of rape and other conflict-related ordeals in the war-torn country.  They were divided into groups of six to eight women and received up to 12 sessions of cognitive processing therapy administered by lay counselors supervised by a Congolese social worker trained in the therapy.  The number of women suffering from PTSD was reduced from 60% to 9% after 12 sessions.

The Limits of “Medication Only” Mental Health Strategies

The key to any of these approaches is that they are sustainable.  The treatments highlighted in the WHO report not only meet the primary need to relieve the patient’s anguish and inability to live a depression-free life, but do so at a much lower cost.  The results achieved also indicate that it is a false economy to medicate without talk therapy support, either individually or in a group setting, because patients may experience no effect or a slew of very bad effects, from unmonitored medication for mental health issues.  To date, studies done on “medication only” versus “talk therapy” (alone or with some medication) show that roughly two-thirds of patients prefer talk therapy, seeing better long-term results.

Policymakers around the world now have over a decade of data on what works well and what works less well in the design of mental health programs in developing countries.  And what they have learned points to the need to review the current state of mental health care both in developing and developed countries, particularly with regard to including various forms of talk therapy in their programs.

Ironically, in the U.S., the birthplace of interpersonal psychotherapy, this type of therapy is on the decline.  Patients seeking help for depression in the U.S. are consistently shown in surveys to prefer psychotherapy to drug therapy.  The power of the pharmaceutical industry is generally pointed to as the reason why “talk therapy” practitioners are harder and harder to find.  U.S. health providers and insurers realize immediate savings from having a patient’s Primary Care Physician (not a therapist) write a prescription for an antidepressant and promote this as the preferred treatment for a patient’s depression.  This seemingly cheaper treatment outweighs the strength of studies showing that longer term “talk therapy” with or without medication results in patients being able to sustain progress made in treatment.  But there are long term, hidden costs to the medication-only approach.

After years of medication-only treatment with no measurable improvement, patients remain saddled with ongoing depression that can make them less productive.  It can also results in the inappropriate use of medical resources.  For example, seeing physicians who are not mental health care specialists for health complaints that, in actuality, arise from untreated depression.  The cost of tests and other diagnostic efforts in pursuit of a diagnosis by physicians who are not mental health care specialists can be substantial.

Neighbors Healing Neighbors

Building Back Better is a hopeful window on how people who live in some of the most conflict-ridden areas of the world are getting effective mental health care from the members of their community to heal the deep wounds they bear after generations of war and poverty.  But it offers a lesson for policymakers of all nations to consider talk therapy, guided by trained community-based nonprofessionals, to tackle their mental health challenges.