A chance meeting with then-District Governor-Elect Ingrid Neitsch in spring 2018 opened the door for Edmontonian Menasha Nikhanj to become a Rotary Peace Fellow.
Menasha had been invited by a friend to attend a Rotary fundraiser, where she met Ingrid. “She asked about what I did for a living,” says Menasha, who works for the Alberta Government in the Department of Justice and Solicitor General. That led to a conversation about Rotary Peace Fellowships.
The purpose of the program is to develop the fellows into experienced and effective catalysts for peace.
“Ingrid mentioned this was something I might be interested in. Initially, we talked about the master’s program, but at this stage of my life, that’s not something that I thought I would be able to do,” Menasha says. “Then we talked about the fellowship (which lasts) for three months.”
Menasha leaves early in June to begin the intensive three-month professional development certificate program at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.
“I am leaving from Edmonton on the sixth of June and arrive in Bangkok on the seventh of June, late in the evening. Then I have the eighth and ninth to get my bearings about me and then on the 10th, course work starts.”
In addition to classroom study, the program includes two field trips.
“One is in Thailand. I don’t know where we will be going, but they have given us some possibilities. There is also one outside of Thailand. In the past, people have gone to Cambodia or Nepal. Sri Lanka was on the list this time, but I’m not sure we are going there,” Menasha says.
After the program concludes on August 30, Menasha will return to her job with the Alberta government.
“I’ve worked with government for 30 years. I was in a training unit for a while, where we did joint training for police and children services around how to work with child sexual abuse. For 14 years, I was with the Edmonton Police Service in a joint operation called the Child at Risk Response Team. I was in a police car, with a police partner, where we responded to child abuse types of calls and social welfare situations.”
More recently, Menasha has worked with representatives of other departments and service providers to find ways to bridge gaps between them.
“We work on the premise of the collective impact and that one system can’t solve all the problems and that without a collective group addressing some of issues, we really end up spinning our wheels,” she says. “Our work here within my area is really about how do we integrate each system into working together, and how do get that conversation happening, which happens as a result of trying to look at what our commonalities are, as opposed to the gaps keep us apart.”
“I believe the fellowship will support me in the work I currently do, and perhaps even elevate it.”
The application process began soon after Menasha met Ingrid.
The deadline for submitting an application to the District 5370 Scholarship Committee, chaired by Dean Wood (RC of Edmonton Riverview), was May 31, 2018. After she was interviewed by the District committee, her application was forwarded to Rotary International.
“I found out in September that I would be going. Then around September/October, I began to take steps around work. I had to find out whether I would be able to get an educational leave. Work has been very good. They provided me with some educational leave and some leave I can take as holidays. My assistant deputy minister and my director were both very supportive,” Menasha says.
Her class in the professional development certificate program includes individuals from around the world.
“I’m the only one from Canada. There are two people from the U.S. and people from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Japan and from different parts of South America,” she says.
“I am excited to see what happens. I have talked to one other person who did this. He went through the same process in 2013, and he’s an RCMP member down in Calgary. I spoke to him. What should I expect? To me, it’s an exciting opportunity. I can’t believe I am going because there were so many people around the world whose names are put in for this fellowship. That’s a pretty proud thing for me.”
Menasha has met other members of the group virtually, thanks to the initiative of one of her classmates.
“He reached out to the rest of us via email to identify who he was,” she says. “He’s a police officer from Australia, who is originally from the U.K., and then we all sort of responded accordingly and introduced ourselves and talked about who we were and what we did. That will be a basis when we first meet on June 10.”
“We all hope that we provide that value-added at the end. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I want to make sure I do my best at this and that I am able to come back and share what we learn and how it applies, not only to the Alberta scene, and also how we can apply our learnings in Canada in terms of the work we do.”
Chulalongkorn University is the site of one of six Rotary Peace Centres at universities worldwide.
Each year, two groups of up to 25 individuals each are selected worldwide for the professional development certificate program and another 50 receive scholarships to attend two-year master’s programs at the five Peace Centres in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Sweden.
Peace Fellowship scholarships cover the full cost associated with the program—tuition, travel and living expenses.