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    Rotary Peace Fellows

August 31, 2014

The Storyteller’s Art – Bringing Ancient Wisdom and the Philosophy of Ubuntu to Life

An Interview with Kiran Singh Sirah – Executive Director of the International Storytelling Center

Kiran Singh Sirah began his career as an artist and teacher, which led him to establish a number of award winning peace and conflict resolution programs in museums and cultural centers in the UK. These initiatives address sectarian, ethnic and religious conflict, poverty, and gang violence. Kiran went on to develop arts-led projects exploring modern slavery violations, war, and issues facing socially marginalized peoples. Kiran is a graduate of the Rotary Peace Fellow program and a folklorist interested in the power of human creativity, arts and social justice, and the notion of a truly multicultural society. Kiran currently lives in Jonesborough, TN.  He was selected as Executive Director of the International Storytelling Center in 2013.

I had the opportunity to talk with him recently about the power of storytelling to unite people across different cultures and belief systems.

Rebecca Popham:      The 42nd Annual National Storytelling Festival for 2014 is rapidly approaching. This is already your second annual Festival.  Your selection as the new Executive Director of the International Storytelling Center (ISC) in Jonesborough, TN, last year came just as the 2013 Festival was ramping up—kind of a “baptism by fire.”  Tell us a little bit about why the position of Executive Director of the ISC appealed to you.

Kiran Sirah:      A baptism by fire indeed! But a great one. To some extent it was like being placed in the middle of story! I still have to pinch myself everyday for this wonderful and unique opportunity. I love my job and I am grateful for the people that support storytelling. To be in this position gives me the chance to work with storytellers of all kinds, to draw from all my experiences and my education in the storytelling arts, folklore, and peace-building and global networks to contribute to our international and regional storytelling communities. What attracted me initially to this job was the chance to promote and develop our ancient art of storytelling, to bring it to new heights and to expand the role that storytelling has to enrich people’s lives here and across the world and make a real difference to people’s lives.

RP:     As a graduate of the Rotary Peace Fellowship program can you describe the connection between storytelling and working toward global peace?

KS:     Storytelling is a powerful social force. Telling stories opens doors to help bind and form communities and find important connections to the entire human family. In essence it helps us to holds up mirrors to ours and other cultures and establishes a sense of a global identity. Storytelling is what forms relationships with others, it is the powerful expressive realm in all its dimensions that gives voice to who we are and where we are going. Used wisely it may also be the one of greatest conflict prevention tools the world might ever know. As a Rotary Peace fellow I have had opportunities to learn not only techniques to building peace but also how complex, multifaceted and diverse our peace community is. My main thrust in peace work has been to encourage intercultural dialogue and therefore Storytelling offers what I believe is the greatest way we can do that to help us all work towards a peaceful world.

RP:     Did the ISC have a history of including the concept of nonviolence and the philosophy of Ubuntu in presentations at the annual festival, or is this a new dimension that you are adding to the spectrum of human behavior already covered in stories told by the Master Storytellers who perform at the ISC Annual Festival?

KS:      The tellers that have performed over the 42 history have come from all over the world and from a diverse spectrum of storytelling traditions. Many tellers draw from family, humor, local, and global traditions as well as personal narrative and experience. There is often ancient wisdom that one can hear in the stories they tell. It is not a new idea introduced by me, but something I think storytellers have been doing ever since people started telling stories around campfires or from the time when humans etched visual pictographs onto cave walls to today when NASA scientists use visual storytelling inscribed space probe and send them out into the universe. Storytelling has always connects us to indigenous ways of life. I guess what I am doing here is expanding the way we can translate the Ubuntu concept into new disciplines and arenas, to invite partnerships and collaborations, so that we can share ways as an organization to live up to this great concept of Ubuntu.  By sharing ourselves with others and vice versa being open to learning from others we can ignite the belief in Ubuntu in really creative ways.

 On Thursday, August 21, you appeared on NPR’s Religion in Life program.  What is your primary message to that audience about the role of storytelling in our culture? (Hear Kiran’s NPR interview via podcast at http://religionforlife.podomatic.com/)

KS:      I have great respect for Reverend Shuck who hosts the NPR series Religion for Life, so it was honor to be interviewed by him. My primary message was that by sharing my own stories of my upbringing and how storytelling changes my life, I hope others may also think about how storytelling can play a part in their lives. Across the world the voices of young people need to be heard, and so the message was for us to think about how we can help to nurture the next generation. Certain stories may belong to different people or different groups and cultures, but the Art of Storytelling as an art form is something that belongs to us all.

RP:     What projects are you working on at ISC, in addition to the annual Festival, for 2015 and beyond?

KS:      Our story at ISC is constantly evolving. As the world’s oldest public storytelling festival, we are at a great time right now in our 42 year history. Right now we are developing a number of new initiatives connecting storytelling programs and establishing international storytelling programs as well as regional and national programs. We have a number of digital programs under development to reach youth, new learning programs, and we also have a long-standing relationship with the Smithsonian Institution which we are continually developing. We are also developing new strands to our key event, the annual National Storytelling Festival as well as to our Storyteller-in-Residence series that takes place between April and November. Beyond that we have some exciting work with organizations including the global Masterpeace Project and the United Nations to invite storytellers to tell their stories of peace and change.

Here at the ISC we are reigniting and discovering new ways to bring the broader Art of Live Storytelling to even more arenas and audiences. Not only is this my personal passion, it is my life’s dream to elevate this great art form to a position where it is seen as an effective tool in helping to establish intercultural dialogue.  Such a dialogue would celebrate diversity and respect for life and difference, which I see as the key components for creating a more peaceful world. Part of our mission is to connect emerging Storytellers and new audiences to the great Master Storytellers who already offer so much to the world. Ultimately, everything we do here at ISC, and my life from here on in, is about the Art of Storytelling contributing to building a better world. Storytelling for all!

RP:      Thank you, Kiran, for giving us more insight into the role of storytelling in the pursuit of peace.  Clearly, it is a critical part of any effort to true understanding among cultures within nations, and among all of the nations of the world.  And we can’t forget that Ubuntu really starts within the family unit and also between just two people.  Stories are at the very root of our human experience.

July 9, 2014

Peace Fellow Tamara Lorincz – An Update from the Field

Tamara LorinczRotary Peace Fellow Tamara Lorincz updates us about her Applied Field Experience.  As planned, Tamara is now based in Geneva.

“I’m doing my Applied Field Experience in Geneva, and it is really a great place for an internship, especially if the UN Human Rights Council is in session.  Here are some pictures of what I have been doing.

Tamara also includes a comment in her update, speaking from her background serving as Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Environmental Network before embarking on her Rotary Peace Fellowship.  She says, “Also, very glad about Desmond Tutu’s tough stand against Canada’s tar sands – he’s right when he says that it is the dirtiest industrial development on the planet.”

Be sure to view her entire photo album at the link above.  We chose with difficulty just two to include in this post.

Tamara supports Girl Be Heard

Tamara with fellow students from University of Bradford Peace Studies

Thank you, Tamara, and please keep us updated on your experiences and insights as your Rotary Peace Fellowship continues.  Read the full post on Tamara Lorincz in our Young Peacemakers archives.

June 24, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Dilshad Othman

Meet, Dilshad Othman, our next Rotary Peace Fellow from Class 12.  He is based at The Rotary Peace Center which is anchored by the Joint Duke University/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Program.   The Duke/UNC-CH joint program gives Peace Fellows the option to apply to either institution.  Dilshad is a medical doctor and, as a Peace Fellow, is associated with the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC, specifically in the Department of Maternal and Child Health.

Dilshad graduated from The College of Medicine at Al Mustanserya University in Baghdad in 2000 and finished his studies at Sulaimania University College of Medicine in 2007 in Medical Microbiology. He worked as manager of the Khanaqin Primary Health District in the Iraqi Ministry of Health from 2003 until 2008, after which he was appointed as Khanaqin’s General Hospital Manager by the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

In 2008, Dilshad was sponsored as a Peace Fellow by Rotary District 7710 and the Cary-Kildaire Rotary Club to attend the Rotary Peace and Conflict Resolution program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand and graduated from that program in 2009.  Following graduation he was hired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as a medical doctor.  At ICRC he has been involved in the development and implementation of two major medical training projects in Iraq:

First, “Strengthening the Emergency Services in Iraq,” the main goals of which are to train and educate the local community what to do in case of emergency, displacement, and/or epidemic threats.  The second program, “Supporting Selected Primary Health Care Centers in Iraq,” focuses on improving the quality of care and equality of care, ensuring that women and children have the same access to curative and preventive health care as men.

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

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

“Most people living nowadays in armed conflict zones believe that in the coming 50 years violence will decrease and more people will be engaged in creating peace and dialogue in all levels. Hopefully, this will happen even earlier since more people are aware about the destructive impacts of armed conflicts.  The Rotary International Foundation, Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, and other peace foundations and organizations will make peace possible and happen through their wide effective activities toward achieving that goal.”

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

“I believe that looking for and highlighting similarities always bring people and nations together and create a positive, sustainable, peaceful environment. The other factor will be education. I believe strongly that more education and literacy bring peace in the future for our world. Social and economic equality and good governance are other factors which together are very effective in fostering peace.”

Thank you, Dilshad, for sharing how you have built a life of service.  It is very important for people around the world who have not lived through tremendous upheaval in their countries to understand that there are courageous, determined people like you “arming” themselves with knowledge and skills for only humanitarian reasons.  Your experience also sheds much needed light on the efforts of people within war-torn countries who continue to actively work toward change that brings equality to all citizens, irrespective of gender, age, educational, or economic status.   Please keep us informed about what you observe in your studies and work as a Peace Fellow.  The whole arena of global health is of great importance and interest to us all.  We appreciate your gift of personifying how to live a life that, when joined with others who follow your example, will get us to sustainable global peace.

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.

May 25, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Introducing Geysar Gurbanov (2013-14)

 “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
                                                                        ~ Nelson Mandela

We are very pleased to offer visitors to the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation-USA website the chance to meet some extraordinary young people who are in the newest group of Peace Fellows sponsored by the Rotary Organization.  There are five Rotary Peace Centers within these universities:

It is particularly poignant now, as the world remains in mourning at the passing of Nelson Mandela, to see the reflection of this great and wise leader’s inspiration in the work of the Rotary Peace Fellows.

We remember President Mandela as a truly great leader for our time and for all time.  President Mandela’s life of extraordinary courage and accomplishment changed the world.

Introducing Geysar Gurbanov, Rotary Peace Fellow (2013-14)

As a Rotary Peace Fellow, Geysar is based at the Duke-UNC Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution.  He is enrolled as a Graduate Student at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies.

Geysar Gurbanov was born in Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. By the time the country became independent in 1991, it was a war-torn unstable state drowning in political chaos, economic crisis, and military conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict gradually grew into an increasingly violent war between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azerbaijanis, which resulted in ethnic cleansing and other atrocities. His early childhood memories were formed by Russian tanks invading his town, pogroms, armed coup d’états, poverty, crime, and food shortages caused by a large influx of refugees.

After graduating from high school, Geysar studied law at Baku State University, and in 2005-2006, he studied Administration of Law and Justice in the United States on a U.S. State Department-sponsored fellowship. Before running in the 2009 Municipal Elections, he was a director of the NATO Information Center. His professional portfolio includes work with OSCE-ODIHR, EPF-CRRC, British Council, and IREX. He served as an advisor to the Council of the European Union in matters concerning human rights and political issues in Azerbaijan from 2008 to 2011.

During summer 2009, Geysar spent a month in Poland with the European Volunteers Service as a volunteer in the Chechen refugee camp located in Warsaw, Poland. In 2011, shortly after moving to the United States, he started “The South Caucasus Diary,” a blog devoted to political and human rights issues in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. It also advocates for a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In a short period of time his blog attracted more than 100,000 readers from 197 countries.

In 2013, he became a Rotary Peace Fellow. The program was created as part of Rotary’s ongoing effort to promote greater tolerance and cooperation among nations.  As a Peace Fellow, Geysar was admitted to the Duke-UNC Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies (CSEEES). He is also working on his professional certificate in peace and conflict resolution at the Duke-UNC Center for International Studies. He is fluent in English, Russian, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and also studies Polish and Persian languages.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questionsHere are Geysar’s answers:

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

Realistically speaking, it is not possible. You can neither disarm all nations, nor solve all of their problems that eventually lead to those armed conflicts. Nonetheless, what is possible is to make future armed conflict less violent and destructive, more controllable and predictable. While these measures will decrease the negative consequences of armed conflicts such as civil casualties, destroyed infrastructure, refugees and internally displaced people, the international community should work together to prevent armed conflicts when and wherever possible.

By promoting greater religious tolerance and intercultural dialogue among nations, and by supporting democratic changes with open, accountable governments, we can achieve this goal. Also by closing the gap between the rich and poor, the fortunate and less fortunate people, with the  development of viable, sustainable economic policies beneficial to all concerned, we can contribute to preventing violent conflict across the world. This will require strong effort on a global level.

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

Liberal education, political democracy, and cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

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.

April 11, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Tamara Lorincz

Meet our next Rotary Peace Fellow from Class XII, 2013-14, Tamara Lorincz, who is sponsored by the Harbourside Rotary Club of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is pursuing a Master’s of Arts degree in International Politics and Security Studies at the University of Bradford in England. Tamara is sharing her adventure as a Rotary Peace Fellow with her husband and two little boys.

Tamara’s professional background is in environmental law and policy. In 2003, she graduated with a Master’s degree in Business and Law from Dalhousie University in Halifax. She earned a specialization in Environmental Law and Environmental Management. Upon graduation, Tamara became the Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, an umbrella organization for all of the environmental groups in the province.

For three years, the Network partnered with the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation on an international development project in Honduras. Tamara also coordinated the Nova Scotia Working Group on Education for Sustainable Development and launched the annual Green Roots Sustainability Education Symposium. She co-founded the East Coast Environmental Law Association and established environmental legal capacity building and training programs. From 2006-2012, Tamara served on the national board of Eco-justice Canada and from 2008-2010, she served on the Minister’s Roundtable on the Environment and Sustainable Prosperity.

From 2010-2013, Tamara helped her sons’ former school, École Burton Ettinger Elementary School, in Nova Scotia, become one of the first and the best Green Schools in the province. She raised over $40,000 to improve the school grounds, provide an eco-retreat for all the teachers, give nature fields trips to all the students, buy new library books, bring in expert environmentalists, and acquire new green curriculum resources. With the money raised, the students and staff built three outdoor classroom spaces, raised vegetable beds for every class, created two butterfly gardens, and built a native bog with a bridge. They also installed birdhouses, benches, a bike rack, added more trees to their school forest, and planted a school orchard. Last fall, the school was featured in a film by TD Environment – A Greening Story: École Burton Ettinger Elementary School – Tamara’s sons are in the film!

Tamara has been a long-time volunteer in the Canadian peace movement. She has organized many local events and national campaigns. She is on the board of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. Tamara serves on the advisory council on the Global Network Against Nuclear Power and Weapons in Space.

From 2003 until 2013, Tamara was a member and one of the spokespeople for the Halifax Peace Coalition. In 2004, she won the Keep Space for Peace Award in New York. In 2012 and 2013, Tamara was invited to speak on military spending and military sexual violence on NGO panels at the Commission on the Status of Women Conferences at the United Nations.

In 2012, Tamara launched Demilitarize.ca and her blog “Wednesdays against Warships.” Last month, Tamara spoke on demilitarization and economic conversion at a peace conference in Santa Barbara, California.

As a Rotary Peace Fellow, Tamara is expected to create an Applied Field Experience.  This coming summer of 2014, Tamara plans to work for the International Peace Bureau (IPB) in Geneva, Switzerland, where she will help assist the IPB with its workshops at the International Peace Conference  in Sarajevo from June 6-9, 2014, and will help with the IPB’s Disarmament for Development campaign and its Global Day of Action Against Military Spending project. Her research interests involve the intersection of peace, the environment, and women’s rights. Tamara plans to pursue a PhD in the future to promote education for peace, non-violence, and disarmament.

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

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

“I am hopeful that armed conflict will continue to decline over the next 50 years. I must have hope because a world without weapons and war is the world that I am working for, and it is the world that I want for my children and everyone on this fragile planet.

There is evidence to show that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. In 2011, two major books were published, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” by Steven Pinker, and “Winning the War on War,” by Joshua Goldstein. With great research and analysis, these authors show how violence against women and minorities, wars between nations, battle deaths, slavery, and torture have decreased over time because of the increase in human rights, international law, and democracy. Last August (2013), the British people chose their “better angel” and forced Parliament to vote against a military strike in Syria.

There is an incredible growing global movement for peace. Almost 6,000 mayors have joined Mayors for Peace to demand the abolition of nuclear weapons. There is the Peace One Day organization that works hard to bring about a day of global ceasefire and non-violence annually on September 21st, which is the United Nations International Day of Peace. In 2010, the Global Day of Action against Military Spending started to raise awareness every year of the $1.7 trillion dollars wasted on military budgets that is not spent on urgent social and environmental needs. In 2012, One Billion Rising was launched on Valentine’s Day to end violence against women around the world.

This year, World Beyond War, an international, nonviolent campaign to put an end to war, and to establish a just and sustainable peace.   In many ways, our homes, schools, and communities are more peaceful, and it is only a matter of time before our international relations become more peaceful, too.

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

  1. Renouncing violence and war. We must stop violence at all levels from our private homes to all organizations and the people within them who work on policy making for international affairs at every level. Work must continue vigorously to reach the goal of complete, total disarmament—again, every place where people congregate to live and work together, from private homes to mammoth institutions, there must be “zero tolerance” for weapons that maim and kill.  The economics of the business of war must end, replaced by the economics that foster health and well-being for all living beings.  A “hard stop” must be imposed on the arms trade, eliminating military spending and stopping militarism in all of its forms, including “games.” We must live up to Alfred Nobel’s statement which he put in his will, [let there be]“No more standing armies.” 
  2. Investing in peace and sustainable development. We need to invest to tackle our dire climate and ecological crises. We can do this by building a global low-carbon economy that is green, peaceful, and fair.  We also must prioritize the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals for global social justice.
  3. Respecting gender equality, human rights, and international law. We must treat people with dignity, respect human rights, abide by international law, and implement the United Nations Security Council resolutions for Women, Peace & Security.  In addition, Western countries must be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the recent past, e.g., Vietnam, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

We look forward to hearing from Tamara with updates on her activities.  She, along with the other Rotary Peace Fellows you have met so far, provide us with the inspiration to create the path we wish to follow in the pursuit of making the world a place that celebrates life.  We extend our great appreciation to all of the Peace Fellows for the work they are doing now and will do in the future.

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.

March 17, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Nixon Nembaware

Nixon Nembaware graduated with a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor of Science undergraduate degree in Political Science and Administration, with honors from the University of Zimbabwe. He accepted his Peace Fellowship from the Innational Christian   Before accepting the Rotary Peace Fellowship, Nixon was working as a Gender and Equality Advisor for Concern Worldwide, within the organization’s various programs. He focused primarily on women’s empowerment in agriculture.

Nixon is now based at the Rotary Peace Center at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan. But he can travel to any of the other Rotary Peace Centers. While Peace Fellows are assisigned to a specific peace center, there is sigificant travel among the centers.  The whole list of Rotary Peace Fellowship programs include:  Duke/UNC, NC, USA; International Christian University, Tokyo, JAPAN;

Prior to working with Concern Worldwide, Nixon worked as the Gender Advisor for Padare-Zimbabwe Men’s Gender Forum which is a leading men’s gender movement in Zimbabwe. His work focused on engaging men and boys in Zimbabwe to envision a new Zimbabwean man by curbing male violence against women and children and by redefining toxic notions of masculinity. Nixon’s work emphasized the importance of providing education on HIV/AIDS and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights.

Nixon has already built a notable career as an activist and organizer, putting together a men’s march against male violence on Women’s Day in 2009. He participated in the Silent Witness National Initiative against domestic violence organized by the Women’s Crisis Support Team located in Grants Pass, Oregon, which is in the Northwest region of the United States. While in Grants Pass, a city within Josephine County in the southern part of the state, Nixon also worked with boys in a project that focused on developing positive masculine behaviors as well as a culture of peace and tolerance.

Nixon has provided consultancy services to several organizations in Zimbabwe on “mainstreaming gender,” helping them plan strategically to achieve gender equality. He also served as an advisor on an initiative for the involvement of men, organized by the Ministry of Health, to support the Prime Minister’s campaign for child immunization in Zimbabwe.

In 2011, Nixon helped to successfully mobilize 20,000 Zimbabwean men to support a new gender-sensitive national constitution ahead of a data gathering exercise and a referendum.

Nixon’s career aspirations are to work on gender and equality issues in war torn countries around the world. He hopes to contribute positively to the creation and maintenance of an effective and progressive governance system in Zimbabwe.

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

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

Tackling poverty, inequality, and challenging the invisible forms of structural violence will help us achieve considerable levels of peace. I believe that our generation has to lay the foundation if ever peace is to be a reality. If ever we are going to leave a meaningful inheritance for our children and grandchildren, we have to leave them peace.

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

  • Respect for human life
  • Putting peace on the agendas of the national governments
  • Concerted efforts to fight poverty

We are very grateful to Nixon for sharing his interesting and inspiring biographical information. As he moves ahead with his career focusing on gender equality, we hope he will keep us informed of what he thinks we should be talking more about to reach the goal of full gender equality.  The Rotary Centers around the world include

The Rotary Peace Fellows we have introduced to you in this series have, we hope, inspired some of you to find a part of the complex peace process that motivates you and will pursue it, whether you just learn more about it, or find local groups where you can network and do more. Keep this fundamental truth in mind as you look for a role you can play—only in a fully fair and just environment that ensures economic and gender equality for everyone will our world survive and thrive.

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.