Member interview: How peace makes a Rotarian

Illustration by Monica Garwood

From the August 2015 issue of The Rotarian

Patricia Shafer founded the nonprofit Mothering Across Continents, based in Charlotte, N.C., after a trip to Uganda with Save the Children. “I wrote an opinion piece in the Charlotte Observer and pointed out that if we took all the Ugandan children who were orphaned by AIDS and put them in Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium, we could fill it twice,” she says. “People came out of the woodwork and proposed that I do something to help the children of the world.” Later, a Rotary Peace Fellowship inspired her to create a program that would deliver peace-related education to high school and university students worldwide. Shafer is a member of the Rotary Club of Charlotte.

THE ROTARIAN: How did you begin focusing on peace-building?

SHAFER: A large number of Mothering Across Continents’ projects are in conflict or post-conflict zones, and as a consequence, they sync with Rotary priority areas, such as water and hygiene, education and literacy. A Rotarian I knew suggested that having a formal background in peace and conflict would be appropriate for the work I do. I became a Rotary Peace Fellow at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand in 2012. Going through that program helped me see that if you are meeting needs related to equal access to health, nutrition, education, and so on, you are creating a context for peace.

I went on to discover that there were no programs for young people that integrated peace education, Rotary-inspired values, and project management training to help student teams complete a peace action project. So, with Rotary Peace Fellow Carla Lineback, I helped create a program called NewGen Peacebuilders. It’s for young people ages 14 to 25. We’ve run it in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Bolivia, and soon we’ll introduce it in Ohio, Thailand, Ghana, and Mexico. It’s now an official program for Rotary District 7680, in North Carolina.

When people hear that 15- and 16-year-olds are doing these projects, they’re blown away. In Charlotte, there’s an area where 72,000 people cannot access fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable price. One team recognized that a greenhouse at their school wasn’t being fully utilized. So now they are using the greenhouse to grow seedlings to give to families, so they can create their own small gardens.

TR: How do you define peace?

SHAFER: One of the things we say in the program is, “Peacemaking is stopping bullets. Peacekeeping is negotiating.” But peace-building is a thing you do around education, hunger, water, hygiene, all the things that create an environment of security. On a massive scale, you can never hire enough peacemakers or peacekeepers. You have to train at the civil society level. Doing this with teenagers around the world is the way we believe we’re going to get to large-scale peace.

TR: Why did you join Rotary?

SHAFER: Rotary has supported me twice, with an Ambassadorial Scholarship and then the Rotary Peace Fellowship. Both were life-changing. I realized that Rotary is the largest network I know of caring and involved people in action for service and positive global change. Why wouldn’t I want to be part of and supported by such a group? Also, they asked – more than once. That makes a difference.

The Rotarian