Edmontonian Menasha Nikhanj leaves soon to begin Rotary Peace Fellowship at university in Thailand

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.”

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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.

Rotary Peace Fellowships prepare young leaders to assume peace-building roles

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John Lamming feels that what best prepared him for the year he spent training local police officers in Ukraine was the three months he spent in Thailand in 2013 on a Rotary Peace Fellowship.

Reflecting on that experience, John says that, “The biggest impact was how I was able to apply the skills I learned while I was in the Ukraine.”

The 11-year member of the RCMP was stationed in Grande Prairie when a friend who was a Rotarian encouraged him to apply for the Rotary Peace Fellowship.

District Governor-elect Ingrid Neitsch (RC of Edmonton West) hopes others will follow that Rotarian’s example and approach non-Rotarians who are committed to peace and to conflict prevention and resolution, to apply. She feels it’s important that District 5370 endorse at least one application for the Rotary Peace Fellowship before this year’s deadline.

“I believe that in the midst of the unrest and turmoil apparent in the world, Rotarians are needed as change-makers/peace-makers, through positive examples in projects in local communities and around the world,” Ingrid says.

“Supporting the Peace Fellowship program is an important part, because we are preparing young leaders who will work in peace-building roles throughout the world.”

On its website, Rotary International states that, “the Rotary Peace Centers program develops leaders, who become catalysts for peace and conflict prevention and resolution in their communities and around the world.”

It adds that, “Peace fellowship alumni serve as leaders in government, nongovernmental organizations, the military, law enforcement, education, humanitarian action, restorative justice, and international organizations.”

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The deadline for completing the online application form is May 31. To move the process to the next stage, applicants must request endorsement from a Rotary district before July 1.

John was part of a group of 19 participants from several countries in the three-month professional development certificate program at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.

Chulalongkorn University is one of the Rotary Peace Centre university partners and the only one that offers a three-month professional development certificate.

The other universities, which are in Australia, England, Japan, Sweden and the United States, offer 15-to-24-month master’s programs. These include a two-to-three-month self-designed, applied field experience and require a final thesis.

Working with people from different cultures

John says “the value-added was that it brought together people from different cultures and we were forced to work together for three months. We could share our experiences from our different cultural perspectives.”

His classmates included people from Nigeria, Argentina, Spain, the Netherlands, Palestine, Australia, Laos and India.

He credits the experience for changing how he views international projects. “Canadians go to help, but that does not necessarily mean we know what is best. Sometimes what we think is best is not the best approach,” he says. “We need to analyze the need from the perspective of the people we work with.”

Each year, up to 50 fellowships for master’s degrees and 50 for professional development certificates are awarded to non-Rotarians worldwide.

The Rotary Peace Fellowship includes tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation and internship/field study expenses.

Unlike the Global Grant Scholarship, which requires some club and district support, the Peace Fellowship is fully funded by the Rotary Foundation.

To be eligible to receive a fellowship for the master’s program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and have three years of full-time related work experience. For the certificate program, they need to demonstrate a strong academic background, plus have five years of full-time related work experience.

The RI website provides this explanation of the work-experience requirement:

“Relevant experience varies depending on your area of expertise and focus. It could be directly related to peace-building or conflict resolution. It can also be work in other areas such as resource and environmental issues, education and literacy, women’s rights, journalism, public health, and disease prevention, among others. International experience, working with a nonprofit or multilateral institution, working in a developing country, working with youth, or volunteer work are also considered relevant experience.”

Applicants also must have excellent leadership skills and be proficient in English. A second language is strongly recommended for those wishing to enter the master’s program.

John will share his experience as a Rotary Peace Fellow as the final speaker at the Spring Leadership Assembly in Edmonton on Saturday, April 7. Another Peace Fellowship alumni, Summer Lewis, will speak on Friday evening, April 6.

Further information can be obtained from District Governor-Elect Ingrid Neitsch, ingrid.neitsch@gmail.com or Dean Wood, the chair of the Rotary Foundation Scholarship Committee, dean.wood@shaw.ca.