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A Rotary Story – Rotary Peace Fellows – Uppsala University

George and Kerstin Trowbridge were honored with an invitation from Rotary Past World President Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar, to attend the graduation of the World Peace Scholars in Appsala, Sweden, and the following is the story about the event and the impact that it had…….

Friday evening in Uppsala

We are back in Stockholm after an amazing weekend in Uppsala.  It started last evening with a dinner on the University campus in a house that was built for a professor in 1906 where he housed his family and seven servants. We were seated at a long table that held thirty people.  They came from several different countries and professions.  It was a banquet and in Sweden a banquet is not like one in the USA.  First, couples are never seated together and toasting is normal but rigid and very formal.  Kerstin and I were shocked to be seated as the honored guests.  She sat with Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar on her right, On his right was the President of the University and to her right was yours truly and next to me, Mrs. Stenhammar.  Oh, to Kerstin’s left was the world’s number one mediator of conflict resolution.

The dinner was catered, three courses and very delicious.  After much wine and toasting and dessert, we were serenaded by a group consisting of five university students singing in amazing harmony.  Closing remarks were given by a Past R.I. International Director, Ekkehart Pandel, and Carl-Wilhelm Stenhammar.  From there we adjourned to a room off the dining room for coffee and tea which is never served as part of a banquet but kept completely separate and usually served away from the dining room.

To be continued……..

Saturday’s Activities

To be honest with you, I had never met a Peace Fellow before this weekend.  Now I have met and listened to nine of the most fantastic young people on the face of the earth.  There was one young woman from Connecticut, the only American.  She told me that it takes at least 1 1/2 years from the time of application until one officially enters the program and only one out of ten applicants makes it all the way.  A young man from Toronto was sponsored by a club in Copenhagen and a brilliant young woman from Australia was sponsored by a club in Colorado which I found rather interesting.  None of the Fellows were recent college graduates.  They had all worked in at least one occupation, some already had been in war torn areas of the world doing conflict resolution prior to Uppsala.

Three hours were devoted to describing what the nine had accomplished so far, three Fellows per hour.  They had all seen the results of civil wars and the aftermath.  One had worked at Darfur, perhaps the largest refugee camp in the world.  Kate, from Connecticut, had traveled to the rebel held territory of Sri Lanka on her project. Krystal, from Canada, had travelled to Cambodia and done research on post genocide memories of victims and soldiers of the Khmer Rouge where almost two million Cambodians were murdered.  Kerstin and I spent the most time with a beautiful young woman from Australia, Meena Pillai, who was born in Nigeria, spent her early years in South Africa where her father was a teacher and graduated from high school, college and law school in Australia.  She had worked as a lawyer in Sydney  dealing with asylum seekers and had lived in Sri Lanka during their civil war and before Uppsala, had lived in Kosovo helping minorities.  Exceedingly impressive was Ahmad who grew up in Afghanistan but only went through the 6th grade there.  He was able to get to the USA where he completed high school and college.  He has worked for the US Dept. of Defense and NATO before Uppsala.  He had such a powerful command of the English language that he was an orator in the finest sense of the word.

I could go on and on but I think you understand now what it meant to be in the presence of these scholars.  Also on the program was a Swedish journalist who had spent 483 days in an Ethiopian prison on a trumped up charge of spying where he was brainwashed and tortured.  He spoke for an hour but it seemed like five minutes.

It was a great day and I have one more experience to describe.  Later.

Final Installment

The Rotary Peace Center Director, Peter Wallensteen, is an amazing individual.  Kerstin was very fortunate to have him on her left during the Friday night banquet.  I often looked over at her and saw her in deep conversation with Peter.  A Rotarian since 1990, he has published more than 200 scholarly articles and written/edited more than 40 books in the field of peace research.  He has also been involved in the settlement of armed conflicts, notably in Papua New Guinea, Israel-Palestine, Sudan and Cyprus.  Since 2006 he has been a Richard G. Starmann Research Professor of Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute of Notre Dame in South Bend and he spent four years as a visiting professor at The University of Michigan.

Peter and his wife sat with us at lunch on Saturday.  Kerstin and I learned that they will be in the USA from August 29th until December 8th, most of the time with him as visiting professor at Notre Dame.  I asked if there was a possibility if he could come to Grand Rapids and speak to our Rotary club about heading a Peace Center Fellowship program and all the ramifications that come with what it takes to have a successful program as Uppsala has, year after year.  Most people don’t know that the program ceased to exist at The University of Paris and The University of California/Berkeley because they weren’t able to maintain the high standards Rotary insisted on.  Peter can be very proud about what he has achieved at Uppsala University. He said it would be an honor to speak to our Rotary club!  His wife, Lena, a scholar in her own right, has actually visited Grand Rapids when they were living in Ann Arbor.

After this weekend, we now consider them close friends and look forward, with great anticipation, to having them spend a day or more in Grand Rapids and have Peter speak to our club.


Below is a response from Dr. Jackie Taylor on the importance of George’s story and the importance of Rotary, the Peace Scholars and Rotary’s impact on our world:

“George,  Your emails are some of the most fascinating I have read for a long, long time.   Thank you so very much for sharing this extremely valuable learning with us.   If every Rotarian could even begin to understand what you are sharing, they would finally begin to understand the meaning of Rotary and Peace Scholars, and how Rotary “connects and supports” throughout the world.    We are not a “luncheon” group, and we are not focused on “ourselves,” but we are part of an organization that truly can help change the world – “service above self” is not just a motto – it is a “Way of Life.”   These Peace Scholars get it and do it!!!!”

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