Gada Roba – AFE Blog – Wilder Foundation, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Gada Roba, AFE Blog- Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) Wilder Foundation


My AFE, with the educational initiative Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, or SPPN, shed light on the many challenges faced by urban citizens in America. It also gave me hope—with communities in the neighborhood collaboratively working with anchoring institutions, it is possible to fight generational poverty through education. This summer, it was an honor to be a part of the committed team of SPPN researchers, program coordinators, staff members, parents, and the partner agencies I had the privilege of working with.

SPPN Initiative is based at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a non-profit social services and research organization. SPPN partners with four schools in the Frogtown, Rondo, and Summit-University neighborhoods to bring much needed programs and services in order to ensure positive educational outcomes for generations of elementary school children throughout the year. During the summer, SPPN runs educational, recreational, and social activities. This summer, I have had the good fortune of working closely with the director and researcher Muneer Karcher-Ramos by assisting him with literature reviews of different perspectives on the roles of schools in driving neighborhood change.

Working with the director on the literature review gave me a deeper knowledge of poverty in America, and the complicated challenges to address it. I was exposed to critical race theory looking at the relationship between schools and property; economic development and the role of schools as anchor institutions; conventional school financing “per pupil” funding formula; community schools as neighborhood resource hubs; neoliberalism view of school as a tool to produce workers; and finally, the importance of schools as the cultural hubs, serving as a site for cultural knowledge production and transmission. I now look at schools through a different perspective as the means of addressing poverty.

In addition to weekly meetings with the director, I also had the opportunity to help with The Freedom Friday School at Maxfield Elementary School. The Freedom School is an all-day program designed to prevent learning loss during the summer with activities such as reading, academics, cultural activities, and nutrition. I coordinated my role with MK, the program manager, and Ebony, the program assistant as needed. I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with the students: I accompanied them to sporting events, academic and social activities, and field trips once or twice a week. Some of my favorite trips include visits to the Minnesota Science Museum, Como Regional Park Pool, and Jimmy Lee Recreation Center. I also helped at the Rondo Day Parade, the Rice Street Festival, and the Wilder Foundation Block Party.


Top: Me, Ebony, Muneer & Jr.              Bottom: Me & Mr. Melvin Carter, who helped create SPPN


What I got out of my AFE with SPPN

During my time in the Humphrey Policy Fellow Program from 2012-2013, I worked on a project entitled Collaboration, Community Engagement, and the Achievement Gap. I was introduced to the “Collective Impact” model, by John Kania and Mark Kramer, that can be used to address social problems. This model states that large-scale social change comes from collaboration rather than silo intervention. That is to say, more progress can be made on many social problems if “nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact.”

This summer, I experienced first-hand how SPPN fulfills the collective impact model. SPPN mobilizes all stakeholders—the neighborhood, family, schools, service-providing agencies, and philanthropic community—around the same goal. Through my interaction with SPPN staff, partner agencies, students, and parents, I learned that high-level, collaborative, and collective efforts truly do provide a strong sense of community to change the status quo. High levels of community member participation in the process of change will undoubtedly lead to sustainable community development.




Rotary Club of Minneapolis University

About a month ago, I attended a talk by my former human rights professor at the University of Minnesota, Barbara A. Frey. She gave a speech entitled “Protecting Human Rights in a Turbulent Time.” She talked about basic legal instruments and institutional framework designed to protect international human rights. She elaborated on how the institutional capacities are sustaining the current threat to human rights’ principal and a shift in global alliances. It was a timely presentation and her inspirational talk gave hope to many aspiring human rights defenders. As one of her former students, it was an honor to be there and share a table with her.


Me with Professor Barbara Frey


Last week, I gave a talk on “Understanding Social Conflict and Fragility in Ethiopia.” In the last two years Ethiopia, an important strategic US ally in the region, has been in the global spotlight. The government that has been in power since 1991 has been accused by human rights organizations of committing serious human rights violations against their own citizens. To bring about stability and security, the government imposed a state of emergency beginning in October of 2016, just ending last week.



I used Protracted Social Conflict (PSC), a multidisciplinary theory, to explain the root cause of the ongoing social conflict in the country, how we might better understand the complex historical legacy that led to the current situations, and the possible paths to be taken toward achieving peace in the country.


Me with Bob Margolis


Bob (Robert Margolis) the club president, Jerry Yanz (Program Co-Chair) and Emily Grobelny have been great hosts and very accommodating.

Special Acknowledgements
I would like to give special thanks to Rotary Club of Minneapolis University. It is where my journey to become a Rotary Peace Fellow began, 4 years ago. I read an article about Rotary Peace Fellowship that was written by Dr. Ellen Kennedy (co-president). She invited me to the club for an informational session. Not only I was given the opportunity to become a Peace Fellow in Uppsala Sweden, but this “small and mighty group of local professionals…with a big heart” has been with me throughout the setbacks in my life.

I want to give a big shout out to the leaders and members alike, specifically Ellen Kennedy, Bob Margolis, Bob Narotzky, Carol Cline-Hedblom, Carole Peterson, and Erica Fields. You all have a special place in my heart. 




Gabriele Gardenal – AFE Blog – Creative Associates International, Washington, DC

My experience and the first exposure to peace and violence:

 In 2004, the last year of my BA, I decided to study in Colombia for one semester as a member of the University Exchange program. Living and studying in Bogota was a very interesting experience, as travelling and discovering Colombia was enriching and eye opening. No need to say how amazing Colombian people are, with their cultural diversity and their interest in listening to your experiences. I had exposure to some of the difficulties typical of a country characterized by an ongoing conflict and with still considerable pockets of the population living in poverty. After my BA, I was interested in studying poverty from an economic perspective, with the ambition to understand the causes of poverty and to develop economic interventions to alleviate poverty. With this great ambition in mind, I went back to school, where I received my MSc in Public Administration and Economics. After two years of studying, I was looking forward to travelling to wherever the needs were, and so my trip started.

Since 2007, I have been supporting the development of communities suffering from social discrimination and extreme poverty, mainly in Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America. Between 2012 and 2016, I have been working specifically on humanitarian crises. This decision took me to one of the most fascinating and challenging countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C).

The job focused on managing an international NGO, the Association of Volunteers in International Service (AVSI), providing relief to populations escaping war and conflict in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C).

During those four years in D.R.C., I focused on developing new programs and solutions for households escaping war torn areas. Needs assessment showed significant gaps in a variety of sectors: nutrition, access to safe water, hygiene, health, food security, civilian protection etc. The families I met were seeking a safe environment, as a temporary solution toward better living conditions. The places these families thought to be a temporary solution, most of the time turned out to be long-term solutions.

Since the war in 1996, insecurity characterized the country and in particular the eastern region. After twenty years of insecurity, in 2016, D.R.C. was the country with the highest number of new displacements due to insecurity, 922,000, and has a total displacement population of 2,230,000. Most of the time insecurity lasts for several years in these areas. When discussing the wishes of these families, many wished to go to back to their homes, but insecurity stopped them from going back. So, the new homes of these people were: refugee camps, internally displaced camps, and most of the time, displaced families were hosted by local families in host communities. All this was happening in a challenging context, as D.R.C. belongs to a group of countries that constantly score at the bottom of the Human Development Index. This is a typical picture of a complex emergency. Usually, these emergencies are protracted, and governments have little capacity to respond to the crisis because their service delivery is weak and the political environment is facing different challenges.

The Peace Fellowship and its contribution to my education:

When providing relief to displaced populations it is important to understand what drives violence and the broader context. The conflict and political analysis along with risk analysis assure humanitarian assistance increases a person’s security and well-being, while reducing potential harming risks. To increase the chances of this happening, learning about local policy, politics, actors, interests, culture and behaviors can be helpful and was one part of my job.

The Peace Fellowship at the Duke-UNC Peace Center is a unique place to study this. In my Public Health Leadership program at the University of North Carolina, I am studying evaluation techniques that help me to read the context, especially from a health and behavioral perspective. It is interesting for me to learn why people behave violently, what can reduce such behaviors and how to identify the most effective interventions. Peace and conflict courses offered by the fellowship are a great way to learn more about the macro conflict dynamics, the importance of human rights and the impact on everyday life for people.


Evening walk by Capitol Hil


The Applied Field Experience:

To pursue this field of work, I decided to spend my summer with Creative Associates, a USAID contractor working on Education, Community in Transition, Citizens Security and Preventing & Countering Violent Extremism. The organization works mainly in fragile countries or areas characterized by high levels of violence such as South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia and so on. I wanted this AFE experience to be an opportunity to understand how governments, such as the U.S.A, design their policies and programs. When working for government contractors, I can analyze the US Agency for International Development and the Department of State policy goals. Usually, these policies describe very complex environments, similar to the one of D.R.C., and set very ambitious goals such as violence reduction, increasing security and democracy, supporting transparent and fair elections and so on. Design programs that address the needs identified by such policies can be fascinating and be challenging at the same time. Having the right lens to understand the problems can be an effective way to start developing evidence based solutions. The Public Health Leadership program is providing me with statistical, research and epidemiological tools that can be highly beneficial to understanding violence and address it from a prevention perspective.

Creative was interested in further developing their Public Health Approach to Violence Prevention and Reduction in fragile contexts. The research I am conducting helps to develop and communicate how an approach that focuses on prevention, people development, support to families and mental health, can effectively reduce violence in areas where violent organizations such as gangs, extremist organizations and armed groups operate.

The work builds on epidemiological tools commonly used in the public health sector to understand what are the characteristics helping a disease to spread and what are the protective factors preventing this from happening. When these tools are used to understand violence, interesting trends emerge. In some cases, violence can be a lifelong cycle where people who experienced violence in their youth are prone to be violent in the future or become targets of violence. The impact of violence on young people can be seen later on during adulthood and the effects of this can hinder people from living a fully accomplished life.

In the case of youth and gangs, violence is a reactionary behavior and appears with a higher frequency when youth spend time in antisocial networks and when parents have little control over their children.

My research looks at how to prevent violence at three levels:

  • Identification of those communities suffering from high rates of violence and finding solutions to increase their capacity to respond to violence,
  • Identification of youth who are at higher risk compared to their peers, to affiliate with violent organizations, and support the youth and their families to prevent this from happening,
  • Provide support to people who previously committed violent acts and who are seeking to reintegrate back into their community.


Meeting with Mike T. Harvey, Former Director USAID Nigeria


The research findings are very encouraging; violence prevention works and it is possible to prevent violence from happening or recurring in all the three levels mentioned above. I would like to share with you four key messages: there is a lot to be discovered about violence, gold standards research design found some interventions effective even in the most challenging environment, innovative and effective solutions can generate important earning for the society, and it is important to share this information with the general public and decision makers.

Context matters, having a model is helpful in understanding the problems and building effective interventions. Public Health relies on hard numbers to find where, when and how much violence is happening and helps to identify the risk factors associated with violence.

Rancone 2014, shows how the justice system can play an important role in reducing violence.

In fact, once in the justice system, people who once were unaffiliated with violent organizations are now more likely to become associated with these organizations. This is more likely to happen when youth share the same facilities with adults, or where people who committed minor crimes share facilities with people who committed violent crimes1.

Another important issue concerns mental health. In the UK, the majority of gang members in the prison system have accessed psychiatric and other mental health services before entering the justice system2.

These two studies gather evidence about gaps in the current justice system in which these results can be beneficial for the justice system to improve facilities and legislature, so the system can provide better support to the people inside.


Meeting at the World Bank with Gender Specialist, Johanna Lundwall


Some interventions proved to be effective even in the most challenging environments.

Providing psychosocial and economic support to former rebels in west Africa successfully reduced antisocial behaviors within a year since the beginning of activities. In this case, psychosocial and economic support are effective solutions; when offered together, the results of these two activities were positive and were protracted. The evidence from this study can be very beneficial to all the countries going through the reintegration process of former combatants. The reintegration policies have a high default rate, these interventions along with strong political support could provide practical solutions to such a problem3.

Another example comes from an intervention offering summer work programs to youth from at risk neighbors in Chicago. Results from studies about this intervention showed a considerable reduction in violent crime among those youth undergoing the program during the first year after the intervention4.

To support the conclusions of such studies it is important to use rigorous research design, and the collaboration between development actors and academic institutions can be a powerful solution toward this goal.

Despite how expensive some reintegration programs may sound, in reality, these are much less expensive compared to the cost of managing the prison system or other less effective reintegration programs.

In Canada, a new reintegration program was designed to help people reintegrate into their communities by supporting them with ad hoc activities based on their personalities and preferences. The program successfully reintegrated 30 of the 33 youth who initially joined the program. By successfully reintegrating 30 youth, the program saved 5 million dollars from the justice system, this is the one year cost of the justice system.5 The evidence shows that despite the higher initial cost, these programs can also generate enormous benefit from an economic perspective.

Considering that the work of academia in this sector is relatively new, and major discoveries have resulted, it is important to continue supporting research in this sector. Some of the new approaches and techniques have delivered impactful results, and this is just the beginning. Supporting the academic community will assure their work continues. Sharing the results produced by this research can help impact policies and support politicians and others in decision-making positions, to make better decisions.

I hope my work at Creative Associates has contributed towards increasing the efficacy of their efforts toward peace, especially in those areas where insecurity has spread and affects the everyday lives of the population.

Beyond my personal work, the AFE was an interesting opportunity to work with people from other sectors, such as security, the justice system, and economics and so on. Their experiences they shared with me were very enriching. I had the pleasure to work with Susan, a teacher who has dedicated thirty years of her life teaching in the Middle East. Now she is managing a project supporting literacy in Afghanistan, with her practical experience, she is able to communicate what being a teacher means. It was also great to work with 16 members of the summer program, to learn from their work and hear their thoughts on how peace can be enhanced from the economic, justice system and education perspectives.


Visiting the Capitol

Washington D.C. was a great place to spend my summer. Thanks to Creative Associates, I had the chance to visit: the United States Institute of Peace, the US State Capitol, the US Agency for International Development, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brooking Institute. The meetings with all of these institutes were enriching. I had the chance to learn more about their work and meet with some of their directors. In particular, I had the pleasure to meet Michael T. Harvey, former director of USAID Nigeria, who led the action supporting civilian population fleeing Boko Haram.


4th of July by the Washington Memorial


Overall, this experience has been a great source of inspiration to continue my work, and I would recommend it to future Peace Fellows and anybody else interested in the sector.


  1. Roncone ES, Delisi M, Beaver K, Gangl A, Wold J. DYNAMICS OF PRISON GANG AFFILIATION AND VIOLENCE: THE HEARTLESS FELONS AND THE DOWN THE WAY BOYS—A SOCIAL LEARNING STUDY. 2014.…&cit%3Apub=ProQuest+Dissertations. Accessed July 5, 2017.
  2. Coid JW, Ullrich S, Keers R, et al. Gang Membership, Violence, and Psychiatric Morbidity. Am J Psychiatry. 2013;170:985-993. Accessed June 22, 2017.
  3. Blattman C, Jamison JC, Sheridan M, et al. Reducing crime and violence : Experimental evidence from cognitive behavioral therapy in Liberia ∗. 2016. doi:10.3386/w21204.
  4. Davis JM V, Heller SB, Bonhomme S, et al. Rethinking the Benefits of Youth Employment Programs: The Heterogeneous Effects of Summer Jobs. 2017. Accessed July 10, 2017.
  5. Beausoleil V, Renner C, Dunn J, et al. The effect and expense of redemption reintegration services versus usual reintegration care for young African Canadians discharged from incarceration. Heal Soc Care Community. 2017;25(2):590-601. doi:10.1111/hsc.12346.


Chenai Kadungure – AFE Blog – Social Designs, Greensboro, NC

Building Future Leaders for SustainABLE Peace

“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world”. –Jack Ma

What I wanted out of an Applied Field Experience (AFE):

Upon the completion of my Masters in Global Studies, with a Certificate in International Development, I plan to work in the international development sector. My topics of interest in International development are civic engagement, democratisation, and economic and sustainable development. My capstone thesis will focus on leadership, so finding an internship that included it, would be ideal for giving me the best of both my career and academic life. I wanted an AFE that would address one or all of these. As I did my search, I found a few that addressed these, but Change Institute touched on all, excluding democratisation. Because I have only worked in Africa, I was specifically attracted to the opportunity of working in both Greensboro and Barbados, which added two very different countries and another continent to my growing global experience. That shift of context alone was enough to address gaps in my career, but through my AFE, I achieved so much more.

The Change Institute (CI) is a Global Leadership Training & Travel Exchange Program for Youth aged Grades 9-12. Founded by Social Designs, this is a two-week long study abroad program, where youth from Greensboro, North Carolina travel to Barbados to learn about; culture, conflict resolution, sustainability, food justice and equity. The world is in a sustainability crisis. Projects like Change Institute slow the growing problems by upskilling youth to remedy them. Fostering an entrepreneurial and leadership perspective in young people will ultimately lead to international communities that are fully engaged in ensuring the world can meet the United Nations 2020 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals, while ambitious, are embodying everything the world aims to do in achieving that shiny unicorn of “world peace”. I very much appreciated the links between Rotary’s own work and focus areas and what my AFE offered.


Students from a previous CI cohort. (image sourced from Social Designs)


Why I chose Change:

“Leadership requires the courage to make decisions that will benefit the next generation. –Alan Autry

If there is anything my career has proven to me, it is that I have a penchant for adding new or transforming initiatives. There is something energising and exciting in helping organisations forge a path for their future work. In working both with CI and its Barbados based partner, The Sojourner Foundation (TSF), I had the amazing opportunity to work directly on the growth direction of the organisations, as well as influence which future projects they would consider doing in Africa. In working with both organisations, it was highly appealing for me to have the opportunity to help shape our future leaders. As a change agent whose vision is “creating an impact by inspiring, encouraging and developing the world”, the alignment of both organisations, with this plan for the future, made the choice easy of all the opportunities that were presented to me.

My role at CI and TSF

Below is a brief description of my role as an International Program Development Fellow. In two months, I stretched myself by sharpening existing skills while at the same time, challenged myself in a very new terrain.I worked in Greensboro, North Carolina for one month, supporting the development of Change Institute. I spent the second month in Barbados, where I continued to work for CI and TSF, implementing similar procedures, with the welcome addition of going to multiple sites and partner visits, which helped me to see the operational components of this work, including:

  • Fundraising
  • Strategic Development –recruitment, expansion and funding
  • Supporting organisational capacity development
  • Research (Academic and Market related)
  • Investor and potential investor relations/partnership work
  • Developing Programmatic Measurement Tools


African-American knowledge exchange

“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards”. –Theodore Zeldin

The above quote, best describes what it was like for me working with the CI team in Greensboro, NC. Amazingly, it felt like even though I stood as an African woman talking to African-American women, it was clear we could have been neighbours raised in the same community, because of the alignment and connection we made with each other. It was magical when we would arrive at similar conclusions, request similar information from one another and question certain facts, as if we were of one mind in many or many minds in one. The interactions gave me hope, if there can be so much harmony between us as strangers, the same can be done for many other people who feel isolated in the development journey.


My Greensboro office at Collab. (image sourced at greensborodailyphoto)


My favourite structure in Greensboro CBD near the Guildford county court house.


Afro-Carribean fusions:

The Sojourner Foundation (TSF) is a charity and a non-governmental organization (NGO) which exists to become a catalyst for community cohesion. The foundation has been facilitating this by running sustainable farming projects, especially geared at youth and women development at Kamp Deed; a 30-acre farm in St Andrew’s Church Parish in Barbados. It is currently busy with the UNDP funded Operation Eradication Project and soon to begin Operation Kultivation – thanks to the support of the Marie Holden Memorial trust.

While I was there, it was harvest and hurricane season. The dynamic team of farmers and project managers were happy to benefit from the rain of Tropical Storm Don. Growing everything from cucumbers, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes and various trees, the farm boasts some of the freshest, fully organic vegetables, and will also create organic fungicides and pesticides this year.


An impressive expert presentation on composting at Kamp Deed.


Kamp Deed: the 30-acre farm where TSF operates.


With some of my colleagues at The Sojourner Foundation.


My favourite place: The cool and shady bamboo corner, at an often hot and humid Kamp Deed.


One of the most interesting discoveries I made over my trip in Barbados, was that of how Bajans view Africa. People took a keen interest in me, as someone from the continent. There seemed to be a hope that if Africa can make it out of “dark continent” status, there is, even more hope, for those in the Caribbean. Many local people reiterated this in various ways, and the music was one of the ways they did this. This is why my colleagues at TSF felt it would be great to collaborate on songs and I featured on two. Due to their appeal to youth, in particular, the use of music was a profound way of relaying messages of the world they dream of. I enjoyed the experience and especially enjoyed acting as a bridge between Barbados and Zimbabwe.


I enjoyed discussing sustainability with Shari Inniss from UNDP Barbados as we planned for the next cohort of CI students.




Putting the inability in sustainability

“The nature and structure of belief systems are important from the perspective of an informational theorist because beliefs are thought to provide the cognitive foundation of an attitude. In order to change an attitude, then, it is presumably necessary to modify the information on which that attitude rests. It is generally necessary, therefore, to change a person’s beliefs, eliminate old beliefs or introduce new beliefs.”— Richard Petty and John Cacioppo

If there is something I have learnt about sustainability, it is that the ability to perform it, is steeped in opposition. Most people are unwilling to unlearn habits that affect the environment and this is further compounded by the contexts and circumstances of individuals. Someone who doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from, is hard pressed to care about the effect of their accumulated plastic being dumped in the ocean. The Future Centre Trust works tirelessly to convey educational messages as well as legislation around the effects, but the largest opponent to remedying the problem seems to be a change of mindset.


This sign was present in almost all public places in Barbados.


There is a level of privilege associated with sustainability, as green living itself is expensive. As an example, the ease and efficiency of plastics or dryers versus the inconvenience of recycling bags, drying laundry on a washing line are key challenges to this endeavour. There is a need to get smarter about how we can encourage ‘responsible convenience’. I will discuss this more in my concluding thoughts.


While in Barbados, I met with Rotarians who invited me to the installation dinners of the 2017-2018 Rotary Club of Barbados (RCOB) and the Rotary Club of Barbados South. At the RCOB installation, I was fortunate to meet amazing people like Barbados’ President of the Senate Kerryann Ifill. She became the first woman to hold that position, and the first person with a disability, as well as the youngest ever holder of the position, at the age of 38. I also had great conversations with PDG and Assistant Regional Rotary Foundation Coordinator, David Edwards who seemed to know every Rotarian on the planet. It was delightful getting to know PDG Milton Inniss and his wife, as we attended a few events together. These connections were  valuable, as I facilitated the future involvement of Rotary affiliated Bajan youth, in Change Institute’s future cohorts, as well as discussed project ideas. I hope to see TSF connect with Rotarians in Barbados, as they are a growing organisation, but share synergies in opportunities for community development. RCOB president, Paul Ashby was busy with a Global Grant on Sustainable Lives, which TSF and CI will definitely benefit from.

In my last week, I was a speaker at the RCOB meeting and I enjoyed networking with Rotarians there. When I spoke at the Rotary Club of Barbados, the message of Afro-Caribbean connections continued, and we ended up planning an exchange trip where their members can visit Zimbabwean Rotarians so that they could see for themselves the amazing work Rotary is doing in Zimbabwe.


The Afro-Caribbean handshake of friendship with Rotary Club of Barbados Paul Ashby.


An amazing limited edition gift was given to the RCOB Installation dinner attendees, with an inspiring message attached.


Lessons learnt and final thoughts

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”— Niccolo Machiavelli

A recurring theme in my conversations with fellow “soldiers for peace” in Barbados was that around lip service. Many people felt like sustainability and environmental preservation were hot topics to discuss and deliberate about, but they never dared to act on them. There was very little action to follow the popular talk. This is what drove groups like TSF to literally get their hands dirty and walk the talk of sustainability. My uncle volunteers weekly with Future Centre Trust and has taken sustainability as a type of religion. One can’t merely like or promote it. It is a lifestyle and very few people are capable of practising it.

As much as I love new adventures, challenges and endeavours, I have learnt the mammoth task involved in working in sustainable development. Beyond the daily concern of climate change, I found that the minds of people; myself included are a bigger challenge. Without the buy-in of ordinary people in changing their daily behaviours, convenience and self-serving actions continue to overshadow the hope in remedying the situation. How do we get beyond plastic, beyond electricity abuse, beyond water wastage, beyond pollution, when they are reliant on the daily actions of individuals? We need to get smarter about making impactful laws that make it difficult to remain compliant, redesign how we access these via technology and innovation, but no doubt, the road to solutions will not be a smooth one. Thank goodness people like us are up for the ride!



Johanna Schubert – AFE Blog – United Nations, Medical Services Division, New York, NY

“Choose a placement that fits your field of studies and interest, with any organization of your choice, in any country you want – as long as you’re reasonably safe.”

This was the basic instruction for a Rotary Peace Fellow, to choose an Applied Field Experience that will enrich and keep us busy over the summer trimester. Wow. There I was, sitting in front of my laptop in October last year, feeling like I had just arrived in North Carolina, and I was supposed to identify the perfect option for my professional development and future career somewhere on this planet– no pressure! And at the same time: What a privilege. Choose wisely! But what, with so many options?

Soon I figured out the main criteria for my choice of an AFE: I wanted to be of use (to the organization as well as to beneficiaries directly), learn something new, and find an organization that I would enjoy working with afterwards and that actually is employing new staff even in May 2018. After much deliberation, I decided to stay in my general field of expertise, Mental Health, but to challenge myself with a broader focus, applying Public Health methods and mechanisms that I had acquired at the Gillings School of Public Health, UNC, so far. So, I ended up applying to various organizations such as the International Medical Corps (IMC), UN Headquarters, the International Criminal Court, the World Food Program, UNHCR, WHO, and the World Bank, throwing my hat in the ring. In the end, UNHCR, WHO, and the IMC decided for me that I should work under the IMC’s roof, but on projects for their umbrella organization, the Mental Health Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Working Group in Gaziantep, Turkey, at the refugee camps along the Syrian border. My focus would be to evaluate the provision of Mental Health Support to refugees, in specific the care taken of children and adults with cognitive disabilities. Also, the MHPSS working group wanted me to lead a consensus process on the definition of Mental Health terms in order to enhance communication and cooperation between agencies. It was great! I successfully negotiated with both Rotary and UNC (Thank you, Shai!) to convince everybody that I would be safe and could handle myself in today’s Turkey. I booked my flight and was good to go.


Nizip Refugee camp in Gaziantep, Source: European Commission .


However, shortly before my departure, the Turkish government started to arrest even solely German journalists and aid workers in Turkey for allegations of espionage and conspiracy. Hmm. Slightly unsettling. Then, two weeks before my booked flight, my supervisor at the IMC called me to tell me they had to put all operations to a halt, as they had not received the necessary assurance from the local government in order to proceed with their work. It was possible that they would have to pull out of Turkey completely and abort all projects. The organization was very cooperative and friendly, however in the end the internship had to be cancelled.

What to do, at such short notice? Luckily, from previous work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, 2010, I was still in touch with some of my colleagues, who were so kind to help me out immediately. Soon I received an offer from UN Headquarters, Medical Services Division, to support the Staff Counselor’s Office in New York City. They knew about my background in Stress- and Psychotrauma Prevention for Humanitarian Aid Staff and my qualification as a psychotherapist in Germany and therefore warmly welcomed me to their team for the summer to support their Mental Health Strategy, Occupational Mental Health Risk Assessments, as well as the Training Needs Assessment for UN Medical Staff worldwide. This offer was a wonderful opportunity, as it combined every part of my previous professional experience, with my newly acquired skills in Public Health Leadership.


UN Headquarters in New York City


First day at the Medical Services Division


View from my desk at the Staff Counselor’s Office – courtesy of a caring team!



“Non-Violence”, the famous knotted gun sculpture donated to the UN by the government of Luxembourg in 1988


“What we see is a new type of war veteran, the international humanitarian worker, returning from battlefields unable to escape the horrors seen there.” [1]

We all admire international professionals like our fellow Rotary Peace Fellows and all other committed Humanitarian Aid Workers worldwide for the fact that they dedicate their life to support the less fortunate, foster peace and mutual understanding, further the economic and infrastructural development of less-developed or war-torn regions.

But who takes care of the Peace Builders and Aid Workers?

Interestingly, for decades the world just assumed that they are invulnerable, immune against the atrocities they are witnessing in their jobs, like heroes in movies or on TV who simply shake off their experiences, crack a joke and live happily ever after. The British Army in WWI first recognized a condition called “shell shock”, when physically intact soldiers trembled uncontrollably for days or even weeks after traumatic experiences (recommended reading: Dr Jonathan Shay’s “Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character”). Since then, slowly but surely the world learned to recognize Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a common consequence of extreme and existentially threatening incidents or experiences of loss. Today, International Organizations are much further realizing the impact, of not only traumatic stress, but also seemingly small or routine factors such as everyday work stress or the effect of bad management on employees’ mental and physical health. The UN, like many other organizations, now has been working on the improvement of psychosocial care for their employees in the cause of duty of care for several years now, the employer’s ethical and legal obligation to avert any foreseeable harm to their staff members.

Duty of care does not exclusively consists of basic security and physical integrity. And it is not only direct attacks on UN staff and premises such as the attack on the UN guest house in Kabul, 2009, or the bombing in Abuja, 2011 that can severely affect UN staff members’ mental health and wellbeing. UN duty stations all have their health and safety hazards immediately or progressively affecting employees’ health status. This Fall, the Medical Services Division will publish a major Mental Health Survey they undertook recently in order to find out more about the status quo of their staff members’ psychosocial wellbeing globally. The team used a comprehensive online assessment tool to screen for a number of risk factors and possible symptoms for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depression, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Hazardous Alcohol Consumption. Over 15,000 staff members globally participated. For reasons of confidentiality and not to ruin the suspense, let me only say so much: The results will certainly show that the efforts to identify and tackle mental health hazards to staff are a good idea. My role in this project is mainly to serve as a qualified cold reader, also to prepare presentations on the results and support the core team finalizing the report for submission to the Secretary General, His Excellency Mr António Guterres.


Feeling humble in front of the impressive UN Headquarters building


Currently, my supervisor Dawn Straiton, the Staff Counselor’s Office’s Chief, is conducting Mental Health Risk Assessments at different duty stations in order to get first impressions of the different intra- and extra-organizational mental health hazards to the staff members. I am supporting her, identifying and appraising validated online assessment tools for a global assessment and risk-mapping to prepare the factual basis for targeted mental health risk management interventions.

In-between, I have tasks a little less gloomy and more exhilarating, and that is everything related to Chloe, the therapy dog.

Meet Chloe, the certified Therapy Dog at UN Headquarters, with official UN ID card


















From February until June 2017, she visited a number of different offices and received visitors at the Staff Counselor’s Office for stress relief! To the reader unfamiliar to the concept of Animal-Assisted-Activities and Therapy, this may sound surprising: UN staff petting and playing with a dog during working hours? Don’t they have more serious stuff to do? Actually: No. UN staff everywhere are under a lot of pressure and carry a lot of responsibility. Successful Stress Management is key for them to continue doing their job at the best of their capabilities, and pleasant breaks from war and humanitarian crisis are crucial to take a breath and avoid burning out in the long run. For people who are not opposed to dogs for allergic, personal, religious, or hygienic reasons, interaction with a dog can actually significantly reduce symptoms of depression [2, 3, 4, 5], anxiety [4, 5, 6, 7, 8], high blood pressure and heartrate [4, 8, 9, 10, 18], PTSD [11, 12] as well as chronic pain and fibromyalgia [11, 13, 14, 15, 16]. The positive effect of animals on human wellbeing is believed to be mainly mediated by an increase in oxytocin levels in the blood through physical contact and display of affection between the animal and the human individual [17, 18, 19, 20, 21]. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide and peptide hormone primarily related to social bonding and sexual reproduction, but increasingly found to be linked to various physical and psychological health benefits, such as decreased stress levels, reduced depression and anxiety in both humans and animals, as well as to more satisfying relationships in life [22, 23, 24, 25].

In a nutshell: Hanging out with Chloe the therapy dog is fun AND good for your health:


“No comment…”

All current interns at the Medical Services Division enjoying a break with dog therapy


Last, but not least, my current most challenging task is the Training Needs Assessment for global UN Medical Staff. The UN provides clinics in remote locations providing emergency health care, occupational health support, medical evacuation and referral services to staff members and eligible dependents. For medical staff in general, the rapidly changing nature of their profession makes it crucial to participate in Continuous Professional Development. While it is not mandatory in all employees’ countries of origin, it is certainly desirable from an organizational point of view in order to provide UN staff, based in remote and underserved areas, with best-possible health care and to build local capacity, training national health care staff along the way. My job is to develop a comprehensive concept on how to incorporate systematic Training Needs Assessment into the Standard Operating Procedures of the Medical Services Division and ideally create tools in order to do so. The diversity of the staff members’ backgrounds, locations, resources and occupational demands make this an interesting puzzle to solve. My previous experience in hospital quality management back in Germany is of great help in this.

My brooding over my knowledge transfer flowchart was briefly interrupted last week by a fire alarm (“This is not a drill!”), causing the evacuation of the entire UN building, which went very smoothly. Nonetheless interesting how your perception of these incidents changes when you are studying for a FEMA certificate in Disaster Management at UNC Chapel Hill!


The entire UN Secretariat Building being evacuated July 18th 2017 due to a faulty smoke detector


A highlight besides work was certainly my trip to the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta. I had been invited to lead a breakout-session on “Resilience in the Field”, stress management for Rotarians undertaking field projects. Of course, I was honored to contribute my expertise to the colorful and inspiring buffet of breakout sessions offered at the Convention. Almost 100 participants attended the session and I was incredibly happy that everyone was so interested and active, that we could collect a number of factors and suggestions how to make Rotary field projects successful and a positive experience for all concerned. Currently, I am analyzing the notes and group work results in order to provide the Rotary Foundation with written recommendations to hand out to interested Rotary Clubs.


Workshop preparations


A little theory about instinctive stress reactions


Productive group discussions on stress factors on Rotary field trips


What I have always loved about the Rotary Conferences is all the inspiring people you can meet and listen to. And this time, apart from amazing keynote speakers during the general sessions, I was most inspired by fellow Peace Fellows. To see what they have accomplished further down the road from where I am, the projects they are undertaking, NGOs they founded – there is no better energizer to strive for more impact and success on the path in the international field.

The day after my breakout session, I wanted to inhale some more of this spirit but came too late: The Session “A Day in the Life of a Peace Fellow” was completely full with 25 people waiting outside the door in vain. Encouraged by Beccah Bartlett, I then initiated a spontaneous breakout session next door as it would have been a pity not to serve all these very interested Rotarians who wanted to learn more about the program!


Spontaneous breakout session “A Day in the Life of a Peace Fellow”

And of course, the fellowship of the Rotarian family is another factor that makes the international conventions so special:

…with fellow Peace Fellows…


… as well as with German Rotary friends I haven’t seen in many years.

All that is left from a summer that went by so quickly are three more weeks to finish up my work for the UN, say good-bye to New York and go back to North Carolina via Germany, where I will visit my family after eight months “on the way”.

Summing up, I have to say I was incredibly fortunate to have such a great “Plan B” for my AFE, which brought me in touch with a lot of committed professionals working behind the curtain to keep the UN staff in the field fit and sane for life as well as their job. I learned a lot about Occupational (Mental) Health administration for Peace Builders and feel encouraged in my strive to “help the helpers”, a concern of mine since 2009. I will continue my studies in Global Public Health Leadership with a new inspiration and energy, and all that’s left to say for now is



Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals at UN Headquarters, July 2017

New York, New York! Visiting the sculpture “The Sphere” (by artist Fritz Koenig from my home town Landshut), that used to be located in front of the World Trade Center and was miraculously spared on 9/11


Bye-Bye, New York City!




[1] Smith, B., Agger, I., Danieli, Y., & Weisæth, L. (1996). Health activities across traumatized populations. Emotional Responses of International Humanitarian Aid Workers. In: Y. Danieli, N.S. Rodley, L. Weisæth (Eds.), International Responses to Traumatic Stress (pp. 397-423). Amityville, NY: Baywood.

[2] Folse, E. B., Minder, C. C., Aycock, M. J., & Santana, R. T. (1994). Animal-assisted therapy and depression in adult college students. Anthrozoös, 7(3), 188-194.

[3] Souter, M. A., & Miller, M. D. (2007). Do animal-assisted activities effectively treat depression? A meta-analysis. Anthrozoös, 20(2), 167-180.

[4] Nimer, J., & Lundahl, B. (2007). Animal-assisted therapy: A meta-analysis. Anthrozoös, 20(3), 225-238.

[5] Berget, B., Ekeberg, Ø., Pedersen, I., & Braastad, B. O. (2011). Animal-assisted therapy with farm animals for persons with psychiatric disorders: effects on anxiety and depression, a randomized controlled trial. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 27(1), 50-64.

[6] Barker, S. B., & Dawson, K. S. (1998). The effects of animal-assisted therapy on anxiety ratings of hospitalized psychiatric patients. Psychiatric services, 49(6), 797-801.

[7] Barker, S. B., Pandurangi, A. K., & Best, A. M. (2003). Effects of animal-assisted therapy on patients’ anxiety, fear, and depression before ECT. The journal of ECT, 19(1), 38-44.

[8] Cole, K. M., Gawlinski, A., Steers, N., & Kotlerman, J. (2007). Animal-assisted therapy in patients hospitalized with heart failure. American Journal of Critical Care, 16(6), 575-585.

[9] Lasa, S. M., Ferriero, G., Brigatti, E., Valero, R., & Franchignoni, F. (2011). Animal-assisted interventions in internal and rehabilitation medicine: a review of the recent literature. Panminerva Med, 53(2), 129-36.

[10] Morrison, M. L. (2007). Health benefits of animal-assisted interventions. Complementary health practice review, 12(1), 51-62.

[11] Yount, R. A., Olmert, M. D., & Lee, M. R. (2012). Service dog training program for treatment of posttraumatic stress in service members. US Army Medical Department Journal, 63-69.

[12] Dietz, T. J., Davis, D., & Pennings, J. (2012). Evaluating animal-assisted therapy in group treatment for child sexual abuse. Journal of child sexual abuse, 21(6), 665-683.

[13] Marcus, D. A., Bernstein, C. D., Constantin, J. M., Kunkel, F. A., Breuer, P., & Hanlon, R. B. (2012). Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic. Pain Medicine, 13(1), 45-57.

[14] Lust, E., Ryan-Haddad, A., Coover, K., & Snell, J. (2007). Measuring clinical outcomes of animal-assisted therapy: Impact on resident medication usage. The Consultant Pharmacist®, 22(7), 580-585.

[15] Coakley, A. B., & Mahoney, E. K. (2009). Creating a therapeutic and healing environment with a pet therapy program. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 15(3), 141-146.

[16] Marcus, D. A., Bernstein, C. D., Constantin, J. M., Kunkel, F. A., Breuer, P., & Hanlon, R. B. (2013). Impact of animal‐assisted therapy for outpatients with fibromyalgia. Pain Medicine, 14(1), 43-51.

[17] Uvnäs Moberg, K. (2010). Oxytocin verbindet. Deutsche Hebammen Zeitschrift, 1(2010), 12-17.

[18] Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 234.

[19] Chandler, C. K. (2012). Animal assisted therapy in counseling. Routledge.

[20] Rothbaum, B. O. (2013). Service Dogs in Military Medicine. Psychiatric Annals, 43(6), 291-291.

[21] Olmert, M. D. (2010). Made for each other: The biology of the human-animal bond. Da Capo Press.

[22] Amico, J. A., Mantella, R. C., Vollmer, R. R., and Li, X. (2004). Anxiety and stress responses in female oxytocindeficient mice. J. Neuroendocrinol. 16, 319–324.

[23] Guastella, A. J., Howard, A. L., Dadds, M. R., Mitchell, P., and Carson, D. S. (2009). A randomized controlled trial of intranasal oxytocin as an adjunct to exposure therapy for social anxiety disorder. Psychoneuroendocrinology 34, 917–923.

[24] Kirsch, P., Esslinger, C., Chen, Q., Mier, D., Lis, S., Siddhanti, S., and Gallhofer, B. (2005). Oxytocin modulates neural circuitry for social cognition and fear in humans. J. Neurosci. 25, 11489–11493.

[25] Uvnäs-Moberg, K. (1994). Role of efferent and afferent vagal nerve activity during reproduction. Integrating function of oxytocin on metabolism and behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology 19, 687–695.


Patrick Bwire – AFE Blog – Kenya National Land Commission , Nairobi, Kenya

WHERE I DRAW MY INSPIRATION FOR PEACE BUILDING                                                             

Rotary, through the Peace Fellowship Programme, has granted me a great opportunity to contribute to peace in the world. It has enabled me to plant seeds of peace today. I am confident that tomorrow, the plants will bear fruit. And that the fruits of peace will multiply, be harvested and enjoyed in the world. – Patrick Bwire

Born in a conflict prone environment, witnessing societies torn apart by conflict, and having worked in war-torn areas for over 12 years now, peace is the most precious wish I keep dreaming for.

With a passion for peace, I have dedicated my life to pursue this dream.

I have devoted my energy and skills towards my mission; To Aspire, Inspire and Conspire for Peace and Development.

I have chosen to keep dreaming. And dream big.

I look forward with hope, to that day when I will wake up to see my vision realized – a world where peace prevails and sustainable development is guaranteed.



Surely, from childhood, I have had an inner-passion for building peace.

But, I didn’t have adequate building tools and skills.

Rotary bridged the gap.

With kind support from Rotary, I was granted the opportunity to pursue my dream – as a Peace Fellow.

Today, I am confident and able to build more and better pieces of peace.

The chance to engage with various Rotary Family members, has been a great honor to me, towards my dream. Lessons and inspirations from them, have kept renewing my energy for peace.

People like Mary and Art Kamm (my Rotary Host Family) have always cheered me on.

Others like Susan Grossman and Maxim Schrogin (from my sponsor District 5160) have kept motivating me toward my dream.

Some like Susan Carroll and Amy Cole (Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center) have always guided us in the chase for our dreams.

Those like Bart Cleary (Oxford Rotary Club) have inspired us to believe that surely, we have what it takes to realize our dreams one day.

And always, I am happy to add my contribution to that of Rotary and other Peace Fellows with whom I share a common dream.



Point to any area in Africa, and indeed many other areas in the world – soon, you will realize there is a land conflict.

The land question in Africa is one of the most complex and difficult questions to answer.

Land, especially in Africa, is increasingly becoming the biggest driver of conflict.

Yet, it seems this trend is not about to reverse.



Land constitutes the most critical resource for livelihood and survival.

The population is rapidly growing – the land is static.

In Africa, more than 60 percent of people and more than 80 percent in some countries derive their livelihood directly from land – yet landlessness in increasing.

In Africa, land is more than just an economic resource. It carries critical social, spiritual and cultural attachments – thereby attracting heightened land fights and revenges.

To an ordinary person, land literally means life.

The historical injustices, colonial legacy, weak land governance systems, just add layers of complexity.

The effects of climate change and its associated stress on land, make a bad situation worse.

Land is a determinant for virtually every sector of development.

But land conflicts remain a fundamental obstacle to the peace and development we are seeking.

Future peace is therefore highly dependent on our ability to manage, resolve and prevent land conflicts.

True, the land question remains a difficult question to answer, but we cannot afford to sit and do nothing.



In search for answers for peace and to the land question, I sought to have my Applied Field Experience at the National Land Commission of Kenya.

For a period of 3 months, my main aim was to learn the practical experiences of addressing land conflicts and promoting peace.

With a mandate of researching and providing land policy recommendations to the government, the Commission was a perfect placement for me.

And with a responsibility of promoting alternative dispute resolution in addressing land disputes, the Commission fed directly into my area of passion.

The opportunity at the Commission has enabled me to learn, share and build a great network. I have learnt a lot from the Commission’s interventions, policy initiatives and research work. Personal engagements with people like my supervisor Dr. Fibian Lukalo (Head of Research and Advocacy Directorate) have offered great insight in addressing land conflicts.

During my AFE, I have drafted a journal article on “Land, Conflict and Its Impact”-  a case of Kenya, written a policy brief on “Changes in Land Use and its implication on Conflict”, reviewed/edited papers on Land and Conflict, drafted a paper on Land Conflicts in Kajiado County, and another one on “Why Alternative Dispute Resolution is Vital in Settling Land Disputes” – a case of Kenya. These assignments have enhanced my insight and understanding of the context of land conflicts, as well as policy and practical responses. I am also compiling best practices in land management and conflict prevention from Kenya, that I intend to share.

This AFE has provided me with the chance to share and apply experiences in peace building, public policy, research, and the means of addressing land conflict, among others – both drawn from my field experiences as well as skills obtained at Duke University. I also cherish the times we just made jokes and had fun, networked, shared stories about my work and that of Rotary, and even taken off time to take selfies.


Patrick Bwire with a few members of the commission staff


The AFE has also provided me with opportunities to reach out and learn from other organizations working on land issues – such as UN-HABITAT/Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) in Nairobi. I have learned more about the management of land and land conflicts, frameworks like Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM), land transparency and administration. This experience has also enhanced my mediation skills in addressing land conflicts.


UN-HABITAT/GLTN, Nairobi, Kenya


While on my AFE, I was invited by the Land and Policy Initiative – a continental initiative of the Africa Union Commission, UN-Economic Commission for Africa and the Africa Development Bank as one of the experts to validate a report on Land, Ethnicity and Conflict. This involved vital learning and sharing on addressing land issues in Africa.


Experts Group Meeting – A validation study on Land, Ethnicity and Conflict in Africa. Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia (June 13-14, 2017)


I have also had great times joining and serving with those “Serving Humanity” and sharing my experiences as a Rotary Peace Fellow.


At the Rotary Club of Hurlingham – Nairobi, Kenya


Thank You


I am a Ugandan Rotary Peace Fellow pursuing my 2nd Master’s Degree of International Development Policy – with a concentration in peace building at Duke University – USA.

My sponsor is Rotary District 5160

Daniela Schermerhorn – AFE Blog – UNDP, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: A delightful journey through diversity!


14 of May 2017 was the day I arrived in Colombo, the vibrant commercial capital of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. I was about to start my internship adventure working with the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, the United Nations Development Programme and the Peacebuilding Fund.

Upon arriving at the airport, I found a big Buddha statue providing welcome, and outside, the city was set to celebrate the Vesak day[1].  My heart was pounding as I was stepping into a dream, to experience life in Asia. This mystic world had always inhabited my imagination, but it is so distant from Brazil…

Observing each detail, I continued to my hotel destination, forcing my jetlagged mind to assimilate every new shape and cultural trade. After a long winter in the United States, it was delightful to feel the embracing ocean breeze.

I realized that I am on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean that has a great strategic importance to the economic development and trade history of South Asia.

Joining the gentle pace of Sri Lanka and its hospitable people is a lifetime opportunity, one I am determined to explore at the max.


As a legacy of ancient kingdoms that ruled the country for centuries, followed by diverse colonial empires, Sri Lanka offers a surprisingly colorful and culturally rich journey.

Surrounded by warm golden sandy beaches, the heart of the country is a surprise with its completely different landscape. Cool mountains and natural parks host a great diversity of plants and animals, such as the majestic elephant – a national symbol.  Large paddy fields and tea plantations still provide subsistence to those inhabiting rural areas, and indescribable UNESCO world heritage sites enchant any curious soul, such as: Siguiriya, Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Pollonaruwa, Kandy, Galle and many others[2].

To face the crazy traffic of Colombo, a traditional “Tuk Tuk” ride is mandatory. What an experience! No rules seem to apply and those tiny vehicles are quite a challenge to the laws of physic. The traffic defies the leisurely pace of Sri Lanka, with noisy horns always advertising brave risky maneuvers. Nevertheless, the preserved green scenery around the city soothes the environment with beautiful parks, large cricket fields, and deep-rooted trees spreading their pleasant shade along tiny sidewalks. The city seems to have been built around its natural beauty.

People walking with flowers to decorate temples, and the sway of sarongs, saris and skirts remind me of a slower traditional and refined lifestyle striving to survive in modern times. You can also stumble upon some cows crossing the road, transporting the rural scene to the middle of the city, a clear representation of Sri Lanka’s diversity.

Another worthwhile experience is to practice yoga and meditation, which are great ways to build bridges with spirituality and peace of mind. It is helping me to raise awareness to a simple vital activity that we usually forget, which is breathing.

Complementing the magic, spices and curry give a special taste to a rich healthy menu, and wonderful teas had offered me a new meaning to this brew.

However, an attentive observer can easily identify the mixed turbulent marriage of coexistent faiths and ethnicities, and the divergent level of development and social welfare that resulted in twenty-six years of civil war (from 1993 to 2009). Yet, Sri Lanka has a high human development index (UNDP, 2016), and is managing to sustain peace for the last nine years.

According to the Global Peace Index 2017, Sri Lanka had the largest jump in rankings this year (17 positions), placed within countries on the mid peace group, showing a huge improvement in regards to the Societal Safety and Security Domains (Vision of Humanity, 2017). Thus, some questions come to my mind, such as: What makes Sri Lanka successful? The progress achieved in past years, is it sustainable? What are the threats to peace and stability on the status quo? Development is for all? How to achieve reconciliation and social reintegration of affected communities? …


The work done by the United Nations and many other international and national social actors is supporting the country to answer some of those questions, taking crucial steps towards long term progress and peace. The UN concentrates in supporting the Government to develop war affected areas and implement its reconciliation and accountability commitments to its people, a fundamental phase to allow sustainable peacebuilding.

I have had the honor to learn in practice how the UN system works to support peacebuilding. I can’t help but to thank the amazing team that received me and patiently shared their knowledge, allowing an easy adaptation to such an amazing work environment. I have been working in many different fronts, which gives me an overview of real coordination within the UN system. Specifically, with the UNDP, I am assisting the work being done to enhance capacity of the National Police Commission, as well as other relevant projects involving Gender Based Violence. With the Peacebuilding Fund, I am looking forward to join a field visit to Jaffna in mid-July, to better understand the projects and programs funded by the UN, engaging war affected communities at the local level.

Also, I had the opportunity to join a debriefing promoted by the UN MAPS Mission about Sri Lanka (Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support)[3]. And most recently I attended the Workshop “Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia”, which received the former President of Sri Lanka Madam Chandrika Kumaratunga as guest speaker, a reference in Peacebuilding and Reconciliation in South Asia. The workshop promoted productive discussions featuring “Liberal and Illiberal Transitions from Ethnic Conflict and Authoritarianism” in the context of Peacebuilding in Asia[4].

What an amazing and intense experience!


Another remarkable opportunity relates to engaging with the Rotary Club in Sri Lanka. As soon as I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by a generous and attentive community, which helped me in finding accommodation and getting settled right away. I joined events promoted by Rotary District 3220 (Sri Lanka and Maldives), where I had the opportunity to meet many Rotarians. I was also invited as a guest speaker to the Rotary Club – Colombo[5], which gave me the opportunity to talk about the Rotary Peace Fellowship, while they were in the process of choosing their candidates, and the partnership between Rotary and The Global Peace Index.

Similarly, I was invited to speak to students from the Elizabeth Moir International School[6] about being a female international Police Officer promoting peaceful ways to conflict resolution. It was such an amazing chance to break paradigms, showing the potential of women empowerment and a different perception of Community Policing to young minds growing in a socially divided society.

The Rotary community in Sri Lanka is a reference towards action in development and significant support to war affected communities. There are many ongoing programs and projects, and more partnerships with international Rotary Clubs could enhance their scope.

Once more, I am amazed with the impact Rotary has around the world, and how this powerful network is always striving to do good and promote peace.

I feel very privileged to be part of the Rotary family. Thank you all for this amazing opportunity!



Cummings, Joe et. al. (2006). Lonely Planet: Sri Lanka. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd: USA, 10th Edition.

UNDP Sri Lanka. (n.d). About Sri Lanka. Retrieved from:

UNDP. (2016). Sri Lanka Human Development Report 2015. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users

Vision of Humanity. (2017). Global Peace Index. Retrieved from:


[1] Vesak is the name used for the 2nd month in Sri Lankan traditional Moon calendar (Lunar calendar) which corresponds with the month of May in the Gregorian calendar (Solar calendar). The Buddhist community celebrate the Vesak to honor three important occasions of the life of the Buddha. It was on the full moon day in the month of Vesak that Prince Siddhartha was born, became enlightened and attained Mahaparinibbāna or nirvana-after-death. 

[2] More information about the UNESCO world heritage sites in Sri Lanka can be found at:

[3] More information about the UN MAPS can be found at:

[4] More information about the Workshop “Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia” can be found at:

[5] More information about the Rotary Club Colombo can be found at:

[6] More information about Elizabeth Moir International School can be found at:


Hayley Welgus – AFE Blog – Save the Children, Washington DC, USA & Camp-Perrin, Haiti

The right to life

Having dedicated my entire career to issues related to gender and rights, choosing to embark on a Master of Public Health was a plan that came slightly out of left field in some ways. While I had never given much specific thought to vaccines or cancer screening, I have always cared immensely about people and the inequities that persist between different kinds of people – particularly those inequities that are based on gender. UNC’s department of Health Behavior has been providing me with an exceptional opportunity to interrogate, through the lens of systemic oppression and injustice, the questions of why some groups of people live while others die.

It is by no coincidence that the divisions that persist along the lines of class, race, ethnicity, immigration status, (dis)ability, sexuality, and gender result in those with the lowest privileges shouldering the majority of society’s burden of illness, disease, and physical and mental harm.

When certain groups of people systematically get sick because of who they are and where they are born it is not only a public health concern, it is an issue of human rights. Environmental, social, and policy conditions have real and serious implications on who enjoys the most basic of human rights: the right to life.


Photo by Maria Tsolka

Reproductive health

When women are denied the opportunity and resources to maintain control over their own bodies, the health consequences can be significant. Access to modern family planning methods and an understanding of how to properly use them enable women to control the number of children they have, when they have them, and how long to wait between pregnancies. Research shows that mothers whose pregnancies are spaced fewer than three years apart are at higher risk of miscarriage, seeking an unsafe abortion, and even dying during childbirth[1]. In fact, one in three maternal deaths globally could be prevented by ensuring access to family planning[2]. For the children born of inadequately spaced pregnancies, they are more likely to be born premature, have low birth weight, or to be stillborn.

Reproductive health is, therefore, a life-saving intervention for both women and children. Perhaps nowhere is this more pronounced than in situations of conflict and natural disaster.



Photo by Maria Tsolka

The impact of crisis

When disaster strikes – be it through the forces of people, politics, or nature – people’s lives are often disrupted. Displacement, insecure living conditions, separation of families, and increased violence are common, and often result in lack of access to public infrastructure including health services. Couples can find themselves unable to obtain contraception, and women experience pregnancies they didn’t necessarily intend. Even intended pregnancies become more dangerous when adequate healthcare is absent.

It is also well-documented that sexual violence increases during situations of conflict and crisis[3]. There are many reasons for this, primarily related to abuse of power, impunity that comes when legal safeguards are disrupted, and environmental factors such as unsafe routes for necessary daily tasks such as water collection, and overcrowded camps. These increases in sexual and gender-based violence result in the need for acute responses to assist with unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, contraction of STIs or HIV, and physical injuries.

Whether they come about through consensual means or through rape, the bottom line is that pregnancies do not disappear during emergencies. Failure to recognize this means that women die unnecessarily due to complications associated with miscarriage, unsafe abortion, and childbirth. While ensuring access to food and shelter might, understandably, be deemed a priority in situations of crisis, ignoring the specific health needs of women under these circumstances costs lives.


Photo by Maria Tsolka

My AFE: Reproductive Health in Emergencies at Save the Children

This summer I have been working with Save the Children USA’s Reproductive Health in Emergencies program, based in their headquarters in Washington, DC. This program operates in both protracted and acute emergency contexts to integrate reproductive health into humanitarian health responses, ensuring that women are respected and supported to make reproductive choices. Focusing on family planning and post-abortion care services, Save the Children provides direct medical services, supports clinical training to local service providers, supplies health facilities with medical commodities, and invests in strengthening the systems necessary to deliver effective reproductive health responses.



Unmet reproductive health needs in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew

In October last year, Hurricane Matthew caused devastation to numerous parts of the Western Atlantic. Haiti, still recovering from the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, has been severely impacted. Many of the worst-affected locations are remote and hard to reach, and more than half the population does not have access to health services. According to UNFPA, more than a quarter of those affected by the hurricane are women of childbearing age, who require quality health services. Haiti’s maternal mortality ratio is also the worst of any country in the Caribbean or Latin America.

My role: What can the numbers tell us?

For my AFE, I am supporting Save the Children’s reproductive health response in Haiti, which is enabling 5 health facilities in Sud and Grand’Anse departments to provide family planning and post-abortion care services. Fundamental to evidence-based program implementation is the collection and analysis of quality program data, as well as an understanding of what these numbers can tell us. The ability to spot trends and make sense of the reasons that are driving them can help service providers to do their jobs better, and can help program managers to figure out if the right women are getting the right services, and whether or not the services are helping them.

As such, the main focus of my AFE has been on preparing a training program on monitoring and evaluation for the program team in Haiti. The aim is that this package will give them better tools to track their program and make greater use of the data they obtain for meaningful decision-making in their daily work. I will be heading to the field soon to deliver this training, but also to spend time on the ground to observe how the partner health facilities are currently keeping track of their clients, and how Save the Children’s data collection can be most conveniently integrated. I will also help get staff set up with more efficient data systems such as using tablets, and familiarize the team with the program database. I am building in time to learn from the Haitian staff about what makes the most sense in their specific context, and to do some creative thinking around establishing systems of best practice for data utilization. I will be working closely with the Haitian program coordinator to incorporate her team’s perspectives into the approaches developed by headquarters.

Based on key learnings from Haiti and other program locations, I will make recommendations to Save the Children on guidelines for optimal monitoring, evaluation, and data use.

Finally, in addition to supporting the Haiti program, I am looking at evidence-based approaches to integrating sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) responses with reproductive health programs. From this research, I am developing guidelines and making recommendations to Save the Children USA that will help various country teams to take practical steps to respond to SGBV in their work.

This AFE has, in many ways, provided the perfect opportunity to apply my learning from both my public health program and the Rotary Peace Fellowship curriculum, while also enabling me to gain experience within a new topic area (reproductive health) that is still firmly rooted in my wheel house of gender and human rights. I am very appreciative of the wonderful professional development and learning opportunity that Save the Children is currently giving me, and I extend heartfelt thanks to the generous Rotarians whose support has made it possible.



[1] World Health Organization. (2005). Report of a WHO Technical Consultation on Birth Spacing Geneva, Switzerland, 13–15 June 2005. Retrieved from

[2] Ahmed, S, Li Q, Liu L, Tsui AO. (2012). Maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use: an analysis of 172 countries. Lancet.

[3] Inter-Agency Standing Committee. (2015). Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action, 1–366. Retrieved from

Odette Rouvet – AFE Blog – World Bank, Washington DC

I started my internship at the World Bank in May and it has been so far, an incredible experience to learn from peers and to understand the complexities of the development work that the Bank does.

I’m a member of the topic team of Seeds at the Global Indicators Group of the Bank’s Development Economics unit, which is responsible for the elaboration of the Enabling the Business of Agriculture (EBA) report.

The EBA issued its first report in 2015, and since then, yearly reports have been produced. Each report reflects a full year of work that includes data collection, validation, and stakeholder’s meetings. The coming year is the first time since the beginning that an EBA report will not be produced. Timing for being at the Bank at this moment is precious. The rationale of the EBA and its more widely known Ease of Doing Business Report, also part of the Global Indicators Group, is to measure regulatory framework of countries and encourage a healthy “race” to improve themselves and measure themselves against their regional peers, and/or similar economies. Nonetheless, this year, the EBA unit is pausing, in order to stop and reflect on the impacts of this encouraged “competition” among countries and assess who is following the good practices highlighted by the Bank. The current efforts are focused on refining the methodology and increasing the potential to improve agricultural practices, as well as seeds quality and security in the countries that are measured by this report, 162 in 2016.

For me it has been a real learning experience, and humbling to be having essential discussions on how the competition of EBA can lead to good, but also poor policy practices. From my experience, I have been on both sides, at the government trying to address the good practices encouraged by international organizations such as the Bank, and trying to get everything done right so we can get a better score; but also, as part of international organizations trying to engage the country counterparts to assume a self-critical role to evaluate what has been done so far and what can be improved. It is never an easy or painless job.

The hard-to-achieve balance between having real policy addressed to improve regulatory framework, while also considering the specific context and limitations of each country, must be considered in marginal steps to enable the business of agriculture. The very end of our work here at the EBA, will not be only reflected by a reform or a published law, but will, and it is what we hope, increase the chances of millions of women having a better access to training for water irrigation systems, which will impact positively livelihoods of communities, many in conflict affected countries. We think about this every day, and we are aware of how, through the EBA report, we are shaping countries’ regulations and reforms. Therefore, the EBA has decided to pause and rethink.

We are addressing the concerns and questions raised by country counterparts and by academia regarding the role of the informal agriculture sector and the informal markets for seeds that are hard to measure.

The focus on the law and regulatory framework of the EBA is its biggest strength, but it is also a limitation itself when dealing, for example, with the particularities of developing countries and traditional agricultural practices. I am humbled to have a peer to peer relationship in the team to be able to ask questions, and also suggest, ways to improve the understanding of this hard to grasp reality of small-sized farmers. My experience working in many developing countries, in particular in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and in South Asian countries has brought some real life understanding of the day to day difficulties that farmers have to access formal markets for seeds, or the gender gaps in rural settings. My preparation so far as Rotary Peace Fellow, and in the Master of International Development Policy Program (MIDP) has helped to position me at the Bank with a useful and different lens to approach the work we are doing here. In this sense, I’m bringing my Peace and Conflict Management knowledge, and the Conflict Sensitivity analysis tools that I have learned and mastered during my first year at the Duke-UNC Rotary Peace Center. I can say that I feel confident that I’m bringing to the Bank, and in particular to my area, a multi-dimensional understanding of the problem, which I hope will bring more comprehensive and fine-tuned regulatory understanding of when and how are countries comparable, and where are the limitations of such comparison.

Although the EBA does not itself produce policy recommendations, the countries that are measured year after year (now every two years), will be introducing reforms and policies to better address how they are doing in comparative perspective. With the acknowledgements of the limitations, and the context and characteristics of the agricultural sector of each country, I think that policies will be better introduced by the countries, and will be addressing the contextualized problem, instead of trying to apply a regulation that is working well in one country but that can have disastrous results for another one.

I look forward to my last weeks at the Bank where I’ll continue to keep working to leave a positive mark on the team. My work here as Rotary Peace Fellow has been a constant reminder to the EBA team the relevance and impact on people’s livelihoods of what we are doing, that is what is behind a country’s scoring number, or behind the measurement of the frontier distance of good practice. We are trying to reduce poverty, and in many cases, contribute to peacebuilding through enabling the business of agriculture.

Techa Beaumont – AFE Blog – Alianza Arkana, Yarinacocha, Peru

A calling to return to Peru

Five years ago I travelled to Peru for the wedding of one of my dearest childhood friends. While visiting the Amazon I began a conversation with a group of Indigenous women artisans from the Shipibo- Conibo tribe.  A woman from Sweden arrived to buy 20 pieces of their traditional weavings and embroidery to send to Europe for a friend.  She bargained hard, forcing the women down from the asking prices for their handicrafts, a unique and beautiful textile embroidered with traditional designs called ‘kene’. Each of the pieces can take from two weeks to one month to make. She later boasted to me in English that she would make 1000 Euro from her effort of purchasing the items from the women and putting them in the post.

The strained looks on the women’s faces when they accepted these reduced prices told a tale that has become an entrenched part of their reality. With a lack of access to international markets and a reliance on the unpredictable flow of tourists into their township, they would take what they could now for their work rather than wait for a fair price and have their children go hungry next week.

This anecdote reflects the systemic discrimination and unequal power relations that characterise so much of the relations between Amazon tribes and the outside world. It is this reality that motivated me to return to the Amazon supported by my Rotary Peace Fellowship to undertake my Applied Field Experience (AFE).

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2012 Shipibo designs were traditionally painted onto the body and face for beauty, protection and good luck

Photos: Alianza Arkana 2016, Hand embroidered textiles based on traditional Shipibo designs called Kene are now a principal source of livelihood for many families

Photo: Alianza Arkana, 2016 Shipibo girls dancing at a celebration in traditional skirts, each with their own unique embroidered design

About the Shipibo-Conibo people

The Shipibo-Conibo people[1] are an Indigenous people whose territories are along the Ucayali River, a major tributary of the Amazon River in the Amazon of Peru. Some  urban communities live around Pucallpa in the Yarinacocha suburbs, an extensive indigenous zone set around an oxbow lagoon and the primary location of my field work. The vast majority live in scattered villages over a large area of jungle forest extending to the Brazilian border. The Shipibo-Conibo have a rich and complex cosmology that ties directly to the art and artifacts they produce and a deep knowledge of and relations with the jungle’s medicinal plants. Like many other Indigenous people around the world they are on the frontlines of growing global consumption of forest hardwoods, minerals and other products that threaten their livelihoods, cultures and territories. Significant tracts of Peru’s Amazon rainforest, the earth’s most expansive buffer against extreme climate change, fall within Shipibo-Conibo territories, while ironically and sadly, many of the villages are now heavily impacted by climate change as longer lasting and increasingly more intensive annual floods inundate villages for two or more months each year. During this time villages suffer extreme food and fresh water shortages as well as health and hygiene problems. (Peace Fellow Linda Low’s recent AFE blog explored this subject, and specifically links between climate change and deforestation in Brazil and growing global demand for soy products.

Photo: Techa Beaumont. Many Shipibo villages have been flooding more severely each year due to the impacts of climate change. Food shortages are more severe and health problems increase as many villagers are forced to live on the rooftops of their houses for months. Fruit and trees have been destroyed by these prolonged inundations in many communities, taking away a staple part of the villagers’ diet.

Photos: Leeroy Mills, 2012: The territories of the Shipibo are located along the Ucayali River in the Peruvian Amazon that extends to the Brazilian border.

Photo: Leeroy Mill 2017 Textile art is a daily task and a principal source of livelihood for a majority of Shipibo women.

Photo: Leeroy Mills 2017 Many Shipibo communities are only accessible by boat, and the dug out canoe remains a principal mode of transport for many.

While rich in resources, the dynamics of their relations with the outside world are often exploitative and do not recognise or fairly value the technology, skill and energy inherent in the traditional knowledge of the Shipibo that range from their incredible natural medicine, environmental and botanical knowledge to their unique textiles and designs. Language barriers (many Shipibo are not fluent in Spanish), poor educational opportunities in the villages, racism, government corruption and the proliferation of illegal logging, narco-trafficking, oil and mining speculation all play their part to entrench many Shipibo people in extreme poverty and decrease the natural resources they have traditionally relied upon for their needs.

 While relatively peaceful on the surface, the threat of violence is an ongoing reality for the Shipibo as it is for other Indigenous Amazonian tribes, in particular those seeking to enforce their rights against outside developers. The leaders of the community of Santa Clara de Uchana, who successfully took the regional government and an oil palm company to court in 2016 for illegally cutting down 5,000 hectares of their forests, continue to face death threats. Protests over other extractive projects that are damaging Indigenous livelihoods and lands across Peru have ended in the death or  extrajudicial killings of protesters.

Photo: Alianza Arkana 2016, Government officials at the oil palm project at Shipibo community Santa Clara de Uchana. As of the writing of this blog, the company has refused to obey court orders or government officials on site who have ordered them to stop work. Community leaders face death threats and fear violence from the company.

It is informed by this context that I chose to work for two small grassroots organisations for my Applied Field Experience. Rather than position myself with a large international organisation, I wanted to donate my labour and skills, and apply the generosity of the Rotarians who funded my fellowship where I felt it was most needed. I also wanted to experience firsthand the work and realities of those on the ground in the Amazon, both the Indigenous women seeking to survive and support their families from their traditional crafts, as well as the organisations that work with them. It is my view that international development practitioners are often far removed and out of touch with the realities of intended beneficiaries and I feel strongly that the deeper our relations and more direct our contact is to those we seek to work with, the better placed we are to be able to be friends and equal partners in assisting them meet their needs and aspirations.

With this in mind, the aim of my applied field research is to contribute in a small way to improving the opportunities of the Shipibo people to live peaceful and prosperous lives while protecting their forests, livelihoods and culture, and to improve the capacity of the organisations that are here in the long term to do their work.

For the last three weeks I have been working with two organisations in Pucallpa, Peru. Pucallpa is a frontier town that is the main link between the territories where an estimated 32,000 Shipibo-Conibo (making up around 8% of Peru’s Indigenous population) live in the vast stretches of  the Ucayali River and its tributaries and the regional and national government. The city of Pucallpa was developed as a camp for rubber gatherers at the beginning of the twentieth century and in 1930 it was connected to Lima by road (850km of it), and since then its expansion has been intense and unstoppable. Sawmills surround the city and spread up the main highway towards both Lima and the mountains.

 My main roles during my AFE and my work so far…

After three weeks I have acclimatised to the jungle heat (thankfully with a very relaxed dress code here in Pucallpa that takes account for the general absence of air conditioning).  My basic Spanish is rapidly improving, and I have a busy schedule that includes work for two organisations; Alianza Arkana, a non-governmental organisation, and the Maroti Shobo cooperative (translated from the Shipibo language  as ‘the house of mothers’ ), an artisanal cooperative of Indigenous women artisans from the Shipibo-Conibo tribe.

My principal host organisation, Alianza Arkana, is an intercultural organisation that has arisen out of unique collaborations between Shipibo people and a team of international volunteers and researchers to address the issues facing Amazonian communities. Its programs are diverse and responsive to specific requests, mostly from the surrounding Shipibo-Conibo, such as the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya whose lands were illegally sold to an oil palm company by the regional government, leading to destruction of over 5,000 hectares of their forest, and the community of Pouyan who are increasingly inundated with floodwaters for months of the year as an impact of climate change.  Taking a holistic approach based on reciprocity and relationships rather than hand outs and paternalism, their work supports diverse needs articulated by those in the communities, that includes mentoring youth leadership, enhancing the role of women and engaging young girls in health and sexual education to reduce high instances of teen pregnancies, providing researchers to investigate issue or problems, supporting effective bilingual and intercultural education through the production of educational resources in the Shipibo language, and forest regeneration. One of their major successes is the development of eco-latrines that can continue to operate during flood periods, a project adopted by UNICEF and the Peruvian government that addresses one of the major hygiene and health issues facing the Shipibo and other Amazonian communities, and that they are now seeking to roll out across Shipibo territory. By leveraging researchers such as myself who come for between three months to one year they create intercultural solutions that both respect and engage Indigenous knowledge and technologies and can effectively interface with the modern world.

The people I have the opportunity to work with at Alianza Arkana epitomise the Rotarian values of service over self. One of its founders and the Director of Organisational Development, Dr. Paul Roberts ‘retired’ to full time work here,  voluntarily taking on various tasks including building the capacity of the organisation and its Shipibo staff to meet its mission. International volunteers often spend a year or more here donating their skills to the organisation. Shipibo-Conibo people themselves make up the core paid staff in this dynamic tri-lingual work environment. Any given conversation can alternate between Shipibo, Spanish and English.

My role with Alianza Arkana is to conduct an organisational assessment and help design and implement a strategic planning process within the organisation.  Organisational development has been one of my favourite professional tasks since I was tasked with building capacity of a not-for-profit environmental organisation in Papua New Guinea more than ten years ago.  I enjoy being able to support individuals and organisations to evaluate and strengthen their work and love the opening it provides into the workings of inspired and passionate people. This particular assignment allows me to apply learnings of my last semester in monitoring and evaluation while drawing on my existing experience and gaining insight into the unique context of NGOs working with indigenous people in the Amazon. The conversations not only assist me in helping the organisation do the work it does even better, but opens my eyes to the unique challenges and complexities of life in this part of the Peruvian Amazon and the work of a deeply multicultural organisation.

Photo: A meeting with Alianza Arkana workers Dr. Paul Roberts and Jane Shirely Mori Cairuna, and a representative of the Shipibo Council, Coshikox Consejo Shipbo Konibo Xetebo, Vice President, Demer Gonzales Vasquez

Photo: Alianza Arkana Some of the Alianza Arkana staff and volunteers

Photo: Alianza Arkana, 2016: A workshop organised by Alianza Arkana with young people exploring challenges they face within their communities as young people

Photos: Alianza Arkana, 2016: A project regenerating the rainforest and eradicating weeds in the community of Santa Clara

Photo: Alianza Arkana, 2015, The organisation pioneered eco-latrines that are flood proof, solving long standing health and hygiene issues that plague increasing flood prone communities.

The other organisation I am working with is “Maroti Shobo” (house of mothers in the Shipibo language), a cooperative of Indigenous women artisans. They are the same group of women I had the conversation with five years ago, at which time they had asked for help to set up a website to sell their goods. I promised in my heart to find a way to support them to shift the exploitative practices that confronted me at our first meeting.

Determined to have a meaningful impact and make the most of the opportunity this AFE presents, I came to Peru during semester break last December to set the groundwork for my summer’s work. From the direction and ideas I received during this visit I was able to conduct research that would better enable me to have impact while here over the summer. This included investigating some of the artistic knowledge and practices that are dying out and exploring opportunities for distribution of their products within fair trade and other international markets. I was also able to integrate the issues into my actual coursework in the semester in the lead up to my field experience. This research has enabled me to hit the ground running and come best prepared for a productive summer. In July I will be presenting outcomes of an independent research project I conducted over my last semester at Duke University that explores options to protect the tribe’s traditional designs and symbols, as well as their extensive medicinal plant knowledge using intellectual property and other legal regimes. Presented as an options paper for the Shipibo-Conibo Representative Council, COSHICOX, women artisans association representatives and other indigenous rights bodies who had identified this priority for research during my visit here in December, it will help the leaders decide upon the best way of protecting their culture from outside appropriation. This will be my first formal presentation (ever!) in the Spanish language and a great opportunity to gain confidence in engaging professionally with Spanish speakers.

Reviving old traditions while creating opportunities for the future:

On my way to the jungle I had arranged a meeting in Peru’s capital, Lima, with Dr. James Vreeland, an anthropologist turned social entrepreneur who, after discovering that ancient Peruvian coloured textiles were not dyed, but rather were natural cotton colours, started a company to create markets that would enable the revival of a 4,500 lineage of almost extinct native cottons species whose natural colours range from greens and browns to purples. After twenty years of dedication, he has successfully created sustainable fair trade and organic markets for these products, ensuring the motivation of local people to continue to cultivate them. He has created a vibrant industry that supports the maintenance of previously declining cultural traditions. I came out of this meeting with both inspiration for the work ahead and the perfect materials for the women to work with.

As I write, the women of Maroti Shobo have begun to design products from these better quality and fair trade fabrics that can be sold for higher amounts than their current products and can now meet stringent requirements of international fair trade markets (using the 100% Peruvian grown organic and fair trade cotton mentioned above rather than the cheap Chinese fabrics and threads they otherwise find in local stores). Using the fabrics inspired discussions on the native cottons that Shipibo grow and traditional techniques for weaving and dying fabrics that are being lost as cheaper manufactured and synthetic goods flood the market. Many women have also stopped making traditional loom work that involves weaving cloth out of native cotton and then painting and embroidering on this handmade fabric because most tourists don’t value the product, and with some initial inquiries we have already found three galleries keen to buy these more traditional items at a fair price. Seeing firsthand the effort involved reinforces how important it is to find fair trade markets for their work both to provide decent livelihioods and to help keep traditional knowledge alive.

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2017. Celedonia is an 85 year old great grandmother who has ten children. She is one of only two women in the village that still practice making traditional cloth. Much more intensive than embroidering on purchased cloth, finding markets that value the artistry and time is essential if the next generation is to maintain this practice.

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2017 Discussing with Se Le, one of the children of the artisans, who speaks close to fluent English, plans for their online shop at the “Etsy” marketplace.

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2017 Some of the artisans of Maroti Shobo during a workshop to learn about the potential of fair trade production.

Photo: Leeroy Mills, 2017 Maroti Shobo member Claudia Mori Valera, hands on with new organic fair trade materials

Photo: Techa Beaumont, Luzmilla, the cooperative president, and Claudia sewing the first products with organic fair trade native Peruvian cotton materials.

Photo: Techa Beaumont, 2017, A beautiful cotton scarf, One of the first organic fair trade products to be produced by the women of Maroti Shobo, finished last Friday!

Another task with the women for the summer is to explore different ways to cut out the middle wo/men who often take the majority of the profits from the women’s labour. This requires accessing international markets directly. Some of the steps towards this are small, but still significant in breaking barriers and setting a precedent amongst the women themselves.  Over the coming two months we are working with the support of the NGO Allianza Arkana to help the Maroti Shobo cooperative to establish their own online shop on ‘Etsy’ a global online marketplace for handmade and artisanal goods. While there are existing Etsy shops selling Shipibo crafts, none of these are owned by Shipbo people, so the main profits are going outside the community that makes them.  An ongoing program of training and mentoring for both the artisans and a number of their adult children who have computers, Spanish and English skills are essential to help the ‘mothers’ manage the online shop. This includes classes in quality control, marketing and social media, smart phone photography, online sales and marketing, posting and shipping that will enable them to manage the Etsy shop on their own in the future.

At the same time we are linking this and other Shipibo artisanal associations to potential wholesale clients in the fair trade industry, and exploring raising funds so that one Association of artisans can attend the Santa Fe Fair Trade Market where they have the opportunity to raise significant funds for their group and gain ongoing international customers.

There is so much more I could say about this work, and I wake each morning with passion and excitement for the tasks ahead of me.  I am so deeply grateful to the Rotary community for making it possible for me to take these significant advances towards realising a vision dreamed up with the Maroti Shobo women five years ago.  I invite anyone interested in staying abreast of its development or with ideas or contacts that may assist going forward to contact me directly at

And a little of my life in the Amazon:

Pucallpa as a town is a sprawling urban environment with an abundance of three wheeled motorcars, which reminds me of the toktoks that define my experience of urban India, where my mother was born. The distinct sounds of their horns and engines is the backdrop to much of my day.

While these projects make for a busy summer, I have found time to begin my exploration of life in the jungle. Being surrounded by one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet is an opportunity for constant learning and wonder.

The joys are diverse and including sampling exotic fruits, making friends with monkeys, cooling off in waterfalls, adopting a street kitten (and, bittersweetly, finding it a good home due to my inevitable departure). I am still hoping for an encounter with a pink river dolphin, a species of toothed whale found in the rivers around Pucallpa, but I have included a picture for animal lovers reading this post.

Photo: Pink River Dolphin from the Amazon (shared pinterest photo, Nic Bou, 2013)

Photo: Techa Beaumont, 2017.La velo de la novia (the bride’s veil), a beautiful waterfall 3 hours from Pucallpa

Photo: Techa Beaumont, 2017. Majestic trees dot the urban landscape of Pucallpa

Sunset over Laguna Yarinacocha, the oxbow lake on the edge of Pucallpa

I will be visiting and sharing my work with the local Rotary Club here in Pucallpa (Yarinacocha) whom I first made contact with last December, and will catch up with the wonderful Elohim Monard, Pucallpa’s own Rotary Peace Fellow (Class 13 at Duke University) who lives in Lima but visits his family here from time to time. It’s inspiring to see how the Rotary and peace fellow network both extend here and have provided me opportunities for connection and local knowledge.

I am also deeply grateful to my partner Leeroy Mills who has previously volunteered and travelled in the Amazon and shares my passion for this place and its people. He has taken time off work in Australia to be here with me and is self-funding in order to work on these projects with me. The use of ‘we’ in the blog above reflects his presence in enhancing the work I am undertaking here.

You can find out more about the Shipibo people and the work of NGOs in this area at the website of one of my host organisations, Alianza Arkana, at


[1]  The Shipibo-Conibo, sometimes simply referred to as the Shipbo people  are part of the Pan ethno-linguistic group. Formerly two groups, the Shipibo (apemen) and the Conibo (fishmen), they eventually became one distinct tribe through intermarriage and communal ritual and are currently known as the Shipibo-Conibo people. Eakin, Lucile; Erwin Laurialy; Harry Boonstra (1986). “People of the Ucayali: The Shipibo and Conibo of Peru”. International Museum of Cultures Publication: 62


Linda Low – AFE Blog – Environmental Defense Fund, Raleigh, NC

My growing fascination with climate change

The first time I understood that the world did not have infinite resources was in the year 2000 when someone told me it would take seven planets to sustain the current level of world consumption into the future. I absorbed the comment but didn’t process it until much later. In 2006, Al Gore released the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, a call to action to the world that global warming was a man-made disaster in the making that, if left unchecked, could melt ice caps, create floods, force millions of people to flee coastal communities, and increase temperatures to the point where biodiversity on our planet would change forever. I remember seeing the movie and being intrigued. It was the second time I recall thinking about the sustainability of our world. I started a new job and the words “climate change” and “global warming” fell off my radar.

Climate change gets real

From 2010 to 2016, I served with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). On a daily basis, we were coordinating assets and expertise from Red Cross societies around the world to support disasters on all continents. I witnessed the real-life implications of our changing climate every time we issued an emergency appeal, for example, in response to a drought, food insecurity, unprecedented flooding, or increased dengue epidemics because longer periods of rain and still water serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Within a six-year window, from 2010 to 2016, the IFRC doubled its international emergency appeals for natural mega-disasters because local communities could not cope with the shocks of climate change. I found myself being more aware of the issues that caused many of these crises. I found myself increasingly concerned with the concepts of inequity, scarcity, and climate change. When I moved to North Carolina to attend Duke University as a Rotary Peace Fellow, a key question that weighed on my mind was: how can I contribute to making our world more sustainable, and how can I learn more about climate change?

Tackling climate change, one soybean at a time

This summer, with support from Rotary International, I am interning at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a leading NGO that marries science with market incentives, policy levers and practical partnerships, to make our world more sustainable. I am part of the EDF + Biz team which works with corporations to drive responsible sourcing through local and global supply chains: from how raw materials are derived in fields and forests and processed in factories, to how they are manufactured, packaged and placed on store shelves, and everything in between.

Linda Low, Rotary Peace Fellow, Class IV, is interning with Environmental Defense Fund in Raleigh, North Carolina, with the aim of reducing deforestation in Brazil and combatting climate change.

My specific task this summer is to research the supply chain impact of soy farming on deforestation in Brazil – where some forests are being cleared to make way for more soy farms, to accommodate the world’s growing demand for soy. I am talking to experts, reviewing reports, and researching the economics of the soy industry, the stakeholders, and agricultural and environmental policies. At the close of my internship I will make recommendations for my team to consider, ideally, potential levers of positive change – be it at the community, policy or business level; only time – and research – will tell.

How does this connect to climate change? Forests play a key role in cleaning the air we breathe by capturing the global emissions of carbon dioxide from things like cars, planes and power stations. According to EDF, deforestation causes climate change on a global scale, and is responsible for about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil’s beautiful forests have been called the “lungs of the world” for their role in cleaning the air we breathe by capturing global emissions of carbon dioxide from things like cars, planes and power stations.

The US Department of Agriculture projects that global soybean production will surpass 345 million tonnes this year, and that Brazil will be the largest exporter of soy; research agency BMI predicts that 100 million tonnes will be produced in Brazil alone. So what does the world do with all this soy?

Surprisingly, soy is in many things that we consume, not just soy sauce. For example: beverages, oil, flour, bran, desserts, and protein supplements. Soy also goes into pet food! Derivatives of soy are even used in pharmaceuticals, paint and plastics. But the majority of soy that gets produced globally goes into animal feed for beef and poultry which we eventually consume. Clearing more forests for soy is a bad option for our climate, but intensifying soy production on existing farm lands could be a good one.

Speaking of the climate, in the wake of the US Administration’s recent decision to leave the Paris Agreement, I have seen concerned citizens, communities and corporations double-down on their commitment to addressing climate change. Over the weekend, some business leaders matched public donations to EDF to demonstrate their continued dedication to the cause. It makes me proud to be part of an organization that is recognized for their hard and good work. It makes me proud to be part of EDF.

By mapping the supply chain of soy in Brazil in my internship, I hope we can get a sense of the soy footprint in the country and perhaps try to collaborate with stakeholders in the supply chain to drive more sustainable sourcing practices to reduce deforestation. Perhaps it’s possible to tackle climate change one soybean at a time.

Linda Low, Canadian, is a Rotary Peace Fellow pursuing her Masters of International Development Policy at Duke University. She is based in EDF’s office in Raleigh, North Carolina, for her summer internship.

Follow this website