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.

Spring 2019 Leadership Assembly prepared incoming club leaders for the next Rotary year

This spring’s Leadership Assembly (March 8 and 9) was an opportunity to celebrate the successes of 2018-2019 and set the table for the next Rotary year, which begins on July 1.

Approximately 175 Rotarians attended this event, including District leaders and club presidents-elect and members of their leadership teams, including for the first time, the presidents-elect of Rotary Clubs of Whitehorse and Whitehorse Rendezvous. 

Effective July 1, these two Yukon clubs will become part of District 5370.

District Governor-Elect Tracey Vavrek used the assembly to introduce the 2019-2020 theme set by incoming Rotary International President Mark Maloney (RC of Decatur, Alabama): Rotary Connects the World.

Watch as Mark announces the theme to DGEs at the International Assembly in San Diego in January and read about the course he has mapped out for Rotary’s future in an interview in the March 2019 issue of The Rotarian.

“When you reflect on the theme, what comes to mind?” Tracey asked.

T1920EN_PMS-C“For me, it is that we share values and follow the Four-Way Test, we collectively take action for a better world, and we are doing this together,” she said.

“We connect with friends we would never otherwise have met. Rotary connects us to people who need our help and through Rotary we are connected globally through countless projects and programs.”

“The world needs Rotary. As you reflect on the unrest and challenges around the world, it is concerning. We know the work we do and our service do create peace within families, communities and around the world. By bringing fresh water to a community, we bring peace and economic wellbeing to the individuals living there.”

Tracey referred to being part of the Project Amigo work week in mid-February with past and future District Governors as “an example of how we connect with others. It’s life-changing—we are helping people reach their dreams.”

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DGE Tracey Vavrek introduced the 2019-2020 theme during Spring Leadership Assembly

She also asked participants in the assembly to imagine a world without Rotary. “Imagine what would happen with polio if we stopped now. Imagine the people who would go hungry in our own communities and around the world. Imagine the children who would not have extra support to reach their dreams. The children of today and of tomorrow need Rotary.”

Continue to grow Rotary

Tracey asked participants to think about how to grow Rotary.

“Membership is a critical topic,” she said, noting the importance of attracting younger people to Rotary. “Only five per cent of Rotary members are under the age of 40.”

“Few organizations span generations and professions and build personal connections the way Rotary does. We blend tradition with innovation and use trust and respect to close the generation gap.”

“Many of us have been able to get younger generations to visit a meeting or participate in a project but getting them to join our clubs has been more difficult,” Tracey said.

She stated that Rotary can offer younger people what they want. “They crave connections—a network of more experienced professionals, mentors with insight, with clout. They also crave experiences. They want to do good.” 

PDG and Zone Membership Coordinator Jim Adamson from Washington State (District 5060) followed up Tracey’s presentation by reminding participants of the importance of inviting the right people to join Rotary.

“None of us would have joined Rotary if someone hadn’t asked us. We need to ask them,” he said.

“We aren’t just looking for bodies. We are looking for quality people.”

DG Ingrid highlights 2018-2019 successes

Current DG Ingrid used her time on the stage to “share some highlights of our Rotary year to-date and emphasize the need to follow through on current plans.

“My District Governor journey has been amazing, engaging and rewarding—confirming the true value of Rotary and why we are doing this service work. I am immensely proud to be a Rotarian and the District Governor of this District.”

Ingrid’s favourite experiences so far this year?

“Absolutely, it has been visiting our clubs, engaging in our community projects, and connecting with our members.”

She has visited all 57 clubs, making repeat visits to some.

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DG Ingrid Neitsch highlighted successes during 2018-2019 during Spring Leadership Assembly

“Each area of our District is unique and the range of projects is astounding. Some clubs shine with their welcoming atmosphere and signature projects. Some clubs are passionate about international projects and concentrate on fundraising. Some clubs focus mainly on keeping current members engaged in fellowship and attracting new members. Some clubs have chosen to focus on aligning Rotary projects with peace-building activities. Some clubs collaborate, support other clubs’ projects and focus on hands-on projects.”

She emphasized that the culture and value base established in the club is what keeps members engaged.

Highlights Ingrid identified were:

“The District Conference 2018 was fabulous! Some clubs are still following-up with some of our amazing speakers. Thanks to all who participated as volunteers, conference committee members or attendees.”

She reminded her audience of the 2019 District Conference that will be held in Grande Prairie October 3-5.

A second highlight was the relocation of the District office to the Orange Hub in west Edmonton. “It’s a bright, cheerful space accessible to all, with security and maintenance in place.”

Ingrid also referred to the goals in the District strategic plan. “Many goals are completed, some are in progress and some are ongoing.”

She encouraged clubs to create their own plans. “To be change-makers, your club needs a plan of action.”

“One of the main goals this year is to reverse the declining membership trends these past several years. I mentioned that in every single one of my club visits. Every club was asked to retain the current membership and attract three new members,” she said.

“I want to regain the minus 110 members lost last year, plus make a net gain of 50 members by the end of June.”

She urged club leaders to “treat your membership list like a gift. Just because you haven’t seen someone for a while, do not take them off your list. Reach out. Find out what is happening in their world. They are Rotarians and at one time were passionate about Rotary.”

The District membership plan includes establishing new clubs, including the Passport club which is being formed in Edmonton. “We are launching a new Passport club for new and former Rotarians and plan to charter it before June 1.”

5370 reached goal to become a Peacebuilder District

IMG_8851A key District initiative for 2018-2019 was for the District to become a Peacebuilder District, which Ingrid announced during the District changeover event on June 11, 2018, and to sponsor a peace scholar.

“We achieved the peace scholar, as was announced at the District Conference. Out of 1,100 applicants from around the world, only 50 master’s and 30 certificate applicants were chosen, including our applicant, Menasha Nikhanji.

The goal of becoming a Peacebuilder District was also reached.

“We needed to donate $US 25,000 to the Rotary Peace Centres to receive Peacebuilder status within Rotary International. “We have had tremendous support. Clubs and individuals donated close to $24,000, which along with $20,000 in District Designated Funds brings us close to $50,000,” Ingrid says.

“We have reached the goal for this year and are very close to two years of support for the Peace Centres.”

Ingrid closed with words of encouragement for the rest of 2018-2019:  “Let’s finish strong! Keep the positive momentum going, finish blazing our trail and we will continue to flourish as we inspire each other as ‘Rotary Connects the World!’ ”

Leadership Assembly will prepare leaders to “Be the Inspiration” for their clubs

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In planning the District 5370 Leadership Assembly, Donna Barrett (RC of Edmonton Sunrise) and her learning and development team have woven the 2019-2019 Rotary International theme and priorities into all aspects of the event.

“The 2018-2019 theme will be central to the keynotes and to how the breakout sessions are organized,” Donna says.

“[District Governor-elect Ingrid Neitsch] will be sharing the theme and the keynote speakers will help convey this message.”

Rotary International President-elect Barry Rassin (RC of East Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas) revealed the theme, “Be the Inspiration,” to incoming district governors during RI’s Assembly in San Diego, in January.

“I want you to inspire in your clubs, your Rotarians, that desire for something greater. The drive to do more, to be more, to create something that will live beyond each of us,” he told the district governors-elect.

“Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities and in ourselves.”

He asked the incoming district governors to “inspire the club presidents and the Rotarians in your districts to want to change, to want to do more, to want to reach their own potential.”

Click here to watch the RI President-elect’s presentations at the Assembly in January.

T1819EN_RGBDonna says the assembly will provide “incoming leaders with the tools they need to ‘Be the Inspiration’ for their clubs.”

The assembly will be held April 6 and 7 at the Chateau Louis Hotel and Conference Centre, 11727 Kingsway in Edmonton, and will offer something for every Rotarian.

“There is something in the assembly for current leaders, incoming leaders and other Rotarians who want to learn more about Rotary,” Donna says.

“The leadership assemblies are planned to provide motivation, current information, support, opportunities to learn, and to share ideas and strategies to prepare presidents-elect, other club officers and members to have a successful year,” DGE Ingrid says.

“The leadership assembly is also an opportunity to form friendships and networks that support and enhance our relationships. There exists a splendid synergy when like-minded leaders collaborate on making a difference in our communities.”

To encourage participation, the District is offering several attractive registration packages, which provide reduced fees when several Rotarians from a club register as a group. When five Rotarians from one club, including the president-elect, register together their cost will only be $450. If five Rotarians, not including the president-elect, register as a group, the fee is $600.

Individual registrations are $150.

There is a separate fee of $35 per person for Friday evening’s Mix and Mingle.

Click here for additional information and to register.

This spring’s program builds on the Leadership Assembly held in the fall, which received praise from participants.

“The feedback from participants at the fall learning assembly is that it was one of the best learning and development assemblies they had ever attended,” Donna says.

Rotary Peace Fellow will speak about the “Magic of our Foundation” Friday evening

The assembly will kick off at 6 p.m., Friday evening, with what Donna promises will be a mix of fun and information. Following a mix-and-mingle networking reception, which offers a light buffet supper, a no-host bar and entertainment, Rotarians will have the opportunity to hear from the first of two Rotary Peace Fellowship alumni scheduled to speak during the assembly.

Summer Lewis, who also spoke at the RI assembly in January, is currently the Rotary Institute for Peace Partnership Co-ordinator. The topic of her presentation is the Magic of our Foundation.

The Rotary Foundation supports Peace Fellows, paying all the participants’ expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, round-trip transportation and internship/field study expenses.

Saturday morning, DGE Ingrid will share the RI theme and three priorities for 2018-2019:

  • Support and strengthen clubs
  • Focus and increase humanitarian service
  • Enhance public image and awareness

Ingrid will be followed by keynote presentations from two co-ordinators for RI Zone 24.

Zone Co-ordiantors will focus on Membership and Public Image during Saturday morning keynotes

Assistant Co-ordinator (Membership) Denis Boyd will build on what happened at the fall assembly. He will share strategies to strengthen membership and look at the club culture. Public Image Co-ordinator Sean Hogan will focus on ways to enhance Rotary’s public image. He will suggest techniques that can be used to share what Rotary is doing.

Following the keynote sessions, there will be more breakout sessions than have ever been offered at a District 5370 assembly. Some will be specifically for presidents-elect, treasurers and secretaries.

In their session, Ingrid will ask presidents-elect to set one goal for each of RI’s three 2018-2019 priorities.

All the other sessions are open to all Rotarians. Topics include membership, the Rotary Foundation, youth, club culture/public image, liability, the Rotary Employment Partnership, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and the Emmanuel Foundation, which partners with Rotary to arrange humanitarian shipments to other countries.

The day will conclude with a second Rotary Peace Fellowship presenter. John Lamming, who was working with the RCMP in Grande Prairie when he was selected as Peace Fellow, has entitled his presentation, Adventures in Peace.

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.