The Peace Summit of Emerging Leaders, held in late November of 2018, was an initiative organized by Humanitarian Affairs Asia designed to empower and mobilize the next generation of leaders to strengthen peace efforts within delegates’ own local, regional and national communities. The summit gathered about 350 young delegates from around the globe, in Bangkok at the United Nations Conference Centre. The summit ran for three days.  

The first two days of the summit consisted of speeches from those who have been adversely affected by conflict, genocide and structural inequality. Of these four speakers, two had been the victim of genocide, specifically the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides. The extent of the horrors they experienced which they were courageous enough to communicate to us are difficult to put into words. Both speakers personally witnessed the deaths and torture of their closest family and friends, and were plunged into some of the darkest depths of human experience.  

Another speaker, a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was discharged from the military after over a decade of service in 2014 due to PTSD. He too witnessed the deaths of those closest to him during his time in the military. He also spoke of his first experience killing another human being whilst on deployment in Afghanistan, an experience which he says filled him with the deepest of regret, sadness, resentment and anger.  

The final speaker was an Afghani woman who currently resides in Australia. She escaped persecution in Afghanistan and was forced to flee to different regions within the Middle East, due to the fact that she attempted to attend school in her childhood village posing as a boy. Girls are not permitted to attend school in certain regions of Afghanistan, and when she was caught, she was forced to flee, and part ways with her family and friends at an extremely young age.    

One thing which connects all four of these speakers is the fact that despite personally bearing witness to some of the worst of humanity, they were still able to find the courage to move on and use those experiences to empower themselves to deliver positive change in the wider world. The Cambodian woman has started a school for young children in poverty in Cambodia, the former Marine is involved in Veteran support networks in the U.S., the Rwandan man is involved in community work in Rwanda to bring polarised communities closer together, and the Afghani woman is involved in activism for women’s rights to education around the world. These were truly inspiring individuals, helping me to understand that light can be found even in the darkest of places.  

We also performed a negotiation activity over a hypothetical resource rich island, acting as either countries or stakeholders to debate over what ought to be done with it. This was a rewarding exercise as it helped delegates to understand how peace can be constructed through effective discourse with parties with interests differing to your own.

After attending this summit I feel that my worldview has broadened. I have learned that the world is a much bigger place than I could ever have imagined, filled with the deepest pain and suffering but also the greatest love and happiness. This overwhelmingly great variety in the spectrum of the human condition has made me realise that there is much more out there to see, and that there is a great deal that I still do not understand.

I feel like I learned how to listen, first and foremost. I learned to listen without judgement, without feeling the need to state my opinion or my worldview, and just simply appreciate another human experience as if it were my own. One of the key messages that numerous speakers delivered was to ‘treat others simply as human beings, by taking away the labels with which we associate them with’, and I think that to simply try to understand and appreciate life trajectories other than my own is extremely important. This was one lesson I feel I only was able to truly appreciate when confronted with stories as shocking and thought provoking as those delivered at the summit. 

Academically, I took steps in researching the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides, the Iraq and Afghan wars, and women’s rights in Afghanistan, so I am now better versed on those topics. I also took a greater interest in humanitarian NGOs and organizations around the world. 

Professionally, this was an amazing networking opportunity, and I am now in touch with many highly successful people who have worked or are currently working in public and private sectors all around the world. The experience has motivated me but has also given me a set of contacts which will no doubt be very useful throughout my professional career. 

A key challenge which I faced during the summit was trying to match up my own experience with what the summit expected of me in the year following its conclusion. Humanitarian Affairs Asia wants all of its delegates to become Peace Ambassadors in the year following the summit, but I am unsure as to what to do, but most importantly, how I can even relate to the experiences of those people surviving such horrors around the world. Coming from a country where I have never experienced any serious oppression or conflict, I find it hard to put myself in a position where I can relate to these people enough in order to implement initiatives leading to actual change. However, upon listening to other delegates and speakers, I realised that the best thing that I can do is to understand that I am in a position of great power relative to much of the rest of the world, socially, economically, and politically. Therefore, I should use this position of privilege and power to empower and lift up others who are unable to do so due to their own structural constraints and obstacles.

 This experience has certainly made me more interested in humanitarian work. To use one’s own position to help other disenfranchised people overcome their specific structural constraints and oppressive conditions is work which I believe is extremely important. It has also peaked my interest in further research on the issue of authoritarian regimes and oppressive rule. That is, what are the drivers and dynamics of the sorts of circumstances experienced by some of the speakers? What allows for genocide and wide-scale oppression to occur? The human capacity for evil is something which I have always been interested in, but this summit has peaked my interest further. I will now be applying for international humanitarian organisations such as the ICRC directly due to the experience I had at the summit.

Alexi Heazle

B International Studies (International Relations and Japanese)

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

9 January 2019

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