Global University 2018 took place between August 31 and September 18, with the theme of "Building Peace Together: Inclusive and Sustainable Societies in Asia". Over the course of 19 days, 17 students of 6 Asian nationalities travelled to Hiroshima (Japan), Xiamen (China), Singapore, and Siem Reap & Phnom Penh (Cambodia).
The programme explored Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through various activities that focused on "building peace together." Students came from Brunei Darussalam, India, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and Timor-Leste, and included students from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (Japan) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (India). The group met in Hiroshima for fieldwork, joined Peace Boat's 99th Global Voyage from Kobe (Japan) to Singapore, and then flew to Cambodia to finish the programme with a week-long fieldwork programme in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Taking up actual cases from Asia, participating students discussed what they can do to realise inclusive and sustainable societies in the region.
At the core of Peace Boat's Global University programme lie individual stories of those who experience what we abstractly conceive as social or global problems.
At the first stop, Hiroshima, the group met with survivors of the atomic bombing 73 years ago. Through this, participants learned that some continue to live with the guilt of having left their dear people behind; that there are Korean survivors who have experienced the double discrimination of being Korean and of being atomic-bomb survivors; and that many suffer from long-term health effects of radiation. "I thought nuclear deterrence was a necessary evil. But after listening to the survivors, I think the weapons are just too terrible for any country to have," one student reflected.
After three days of sailing, the next port was Xiamen. The group visited one of the many abalone aquaculture farms located in the area. With rapid population growth, overfishing is a serious problem in China, threatening food security and food sustainability. Some see aquaculture as one of the most viable solutions. Yet, supporting the farm were many contract laborers who engage in hard labour for low wages. At Xiamen University's Marine Station, researchers emphasised: "the problem of overfishing is with us for decades. We really have to do something."
In Singapore, participants met organisations that work to ensure appropriate support is provided to socially marginalised people. One such organisation was Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), which provides legal and medical support to migrant workers. At TWC2, we had the opportunity to talk with migrant workers from Bangladesh. Asked about the happiest moment since coming to Singapore, one answered, "I do not think I have had one." Students could not help but realise how one country's economic development can humiliate the dignity of some, if we do not make active efforts to make societies inclusive.
In Cambodia, the group learned about the massacre and torture that took place during the Pol Pot regime, as well as about the issues of landmines and poverty that still persist more than twenty years after the end of the civil war. At the same time, they encountered many people who work hard for a better future: a group that gives vocational training to disabled people; an organisation that provides prosthetics and orthotics to landmine victims; schools that support children without parents. "I do what I do because this is how I can help my fellow people," said someone working on demining activities. His words in turn made participants think what they can do to make societies better.
Many problems witnessed during the fieldwork seemed to students too big to be able to do anything. However, the programme navigators (guest educators) encouraged and inspired them, by demonstrating a wide range of actions one can take to make changes.
This year, John Gee, Fauziah Mohd Hasan and Isezaki Kenji joined the programme as navigators. John has long been involved in migrant workers' rights issues in Singapore. Fauziah is a physician and an activist, and has been part of various humanitarian efforts in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Kenji has led the process of disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) in several countries including Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. In addition to these three navigators, Kawasaki Akira, Peace Boat Executive Committee member and International Steering Group member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), and Fukatsu Takako, Association Montessori Internationale Certified Teacher, also joined the students in some occasions.
By reflecting on their own experiences, these navigators demonstrated that there are a number of things people can do to affect change in societies. One can raise awareness on a particular issue by using SNS or by taking part in petition campaigns. On a more professional level, students also learned how to make effective policy recommendations based on research or how to leverage international law to change international norms.
Onboard, students deepened their learning and widened their perspectives through a series of interactive sessions. In one session, they engaged in a role-play discussion on whether the Atomic-Bomb Dome should be preserved. In another, students brainstormed a two-day curriculum on peace and conflict for primary school pupils. Through these activities, they learned to listen to each other's ideas and integrate different perspectives to come up with sound plans that work for everyone.
These practical skills were showcased through the "Onboard Challenge". Students were divided into four groups and each group took up the theme of inclusiveness or sustainability. They came up with a vision, goals and targets, and an action plan that they then implemented on the ship. The actions included a workshop on gender and discrimination, an exhibition on migration, and an interview and presentation on food waste on the ship. This experience certainly gave students confidence that they can be the agents of change.
One student reflected on the journey at the end of the programme and wrote: "It may be a cliché to stress that we are all humans after all, but I find remembering this really helps with overcoming the fear, suspicion and self-defence that often even pervade our most mundane conversations in daily-life."
What the SDGs aim to achieve is a society in which no one is left behind. Aligning with that goal, Peace Boat's Global University aims to nurture in students perspectives that allow them to see violence, suffering and scars that are socially made invisible. In recent years, many societies are becoming more prone to division and exclusion. Inequality within and between countries is widening. It is imperative that those of us who are privileged to travel and see the wider world make a contribution to a world where no one is left behind. Global University will continue to work with young future leaders to sow the seeds of peace.