In Search of the Whole Picture: Being with Nagasaki and Hiroshima- Natalija Vojno, Class XIX

Statue of girl featuring names of countries from around the world in Nagasaki

As a Bosnian-Canadian, a human of this Earth, I felt called to pay respects to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is sorrow and a sense of collective responsibility that drove me to understand what happened and why.

During the ICU Rotary Peace Seminar in April, we heard directly from Hibakusha, Ms. Keiko Ogura and Prof. Robert Jacobs of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, and learned that current nuclear weapons are exponentially more powerful than the ones that destroyed the two cities. We were reminded of the impact of nuclear waste on present and future generations. Given current global tensions and the normalization of nuclear weapons, spaces to consider the human and more-than-human consequences of nuclear stockpiles in the world are vital.

Bearing witness to the past and present of both cities became an imperative, but time was constrained. The four of us in Class XIX were scheduled to graduate in late June and my return flight was booked for early July.  I arrived in Tokyo in April following a year of online studies and dove into the thesis process with breaks exploring life in and around the Nogawa river. Regardless of the time, leaving without understanding a formative aspect of Japan’s modern history was unthinkable.

One of the many reasons I had chosen the ICU Rotary Peace Center was the opportunity to be immersed in the history and culture of Japan. A drive to acquire a holistic understanding of peace guided me to know this half of Earth. And so, I arrived with more questions than answers. What happened here during the warring period of the early 19th century? What parallels if any could I draw to the experiences of my own ancestors in the Balkans? What can be learned?

Weighing the trade-offs and advice given, I ultimately booked a train ride straight to Nagasaki. Few make the long trip to the island of Kyushu to visit the city of hidden Christians nestled among the hills. Some might not even know that this was the place where the second atomic bomb was dropped on a civilian population. Along the way I notice cranes, working alongside the farmers, they flank the side of tractors. Terraced rice fields and lush forests. Japan is greener than I imagined.

My Airbnb host is kind, a second-generation hibakusha who serves delicious breakfasts with peppers and persimmons from his garden. The city is now bustling, children head to school, and life is cradled beautifully by the valley. Nagasaki’s history and future extend beyond the dropping of a uranium-enriched atomic bomb on August 9th. The harbour greeted Portuguese ships in the 16th century and led to the arrival of St. Francis Xavier, Christians worshipped in secret for centuries, and the world recognized Nagasaki University School of Medicine leads cancer research and produces humanitarians. I learn of the generous heart of Dr. Takashi Nagai.

Being present in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki a thought arises, “what does the world remember and what has the world forgotten?”

Excerpt from Paule Saviano’s photography exhibition in Nagasaki “From Above”
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How have the Covid-19 Travel Restrictions in Japan (and other countries) affected Rotary Peace Fellows in attending ICU? – Olivia Wellesley-Cole, Class XIX


And when, in the fullness of time, they ask me “What did you do during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020/22?” I aim to answer, “I was one of the first to start and complete a master’s degree funded by the Rotary Peace Fellowship at ICU, Japan – online”.

However, that is not how it was planned to be.

Like others in Rotary Peace Fellows Class 19, I spent early 2020 finalising the application for the Rotary Peace Fellowship, gaining sponsorship from the relevant local club and district in Australia, aiming to move to Japan in August 2020.  However, this was not to be due to travel restrictions in both Japan and Australia.  So I started online classes using the videoconferencing App Zoom along with other students, and that’s how I completed all my classes, even those in 2022.  It was only after submission of my thesis in May 2022 that I travelled to Japan.

In third term (Spring 2021) I joined the class Qualitative Research Design (QPSC510) where we were asked to contribute to a research project on the “Everyday Lives of Foreign Students in Japan in the time of COVID-19”.  This overall study aimed to examine how the pandemic affected students as they navigated disruptions that occurred due to travel bans, lockdowns, states or emergencies, and other consequences of various national responses. 

The subsidiary research question that I decided to investigate was “How have the Covid-19 Travel Restrictions in Japan (and other countries) affected Rotary Peace Fellows in attending ICU?” as I felt it was of relevance to all Peace Fellows and I knew how to contact those at ICU. 

At the time that I undertook this research I could find no literature on how RPFs had been affected by such travel restrictions.  Since then, however, there has been an article by a Class 18 ICU RPF in an academic journal which surveyed 27 self-identifying peacebuilders predominantly within the Rotary Peace Fellow network (“Peacebuilders & the Pandemic”, Lorraine Jean Hayman, ICU Japan, Journal of Student Research vol 10, issue 2 2021) and a newspaper article also by a Class 18 ICU RPF reflecting on the plight of foreign students barred from Japan while athletes arrive for the Tokyo Olympics (“As athletes arrive for the Tokyo Olympics, foreign students at Japan’s universities are left stranded”,  Priyanka Borpujari, South China Morning Post, 19 July 2021).  Both of these provide additional information against which my research can be reviewed (see Conclusions below).


As a result of the pandemic all the people I wanted to interview were in different countries from me, so it was clear that I would be using some form of online research method.  I at first considered undertaking individual videoconference interviews followed by a focus group discussion of all but realised that the latter was unlikely to be suitable due to different time zones.  I eventually decided to use online methods including email and WhatsApp.

I sent information about the research with a consent form to the ICU RPF WhatsApp group of 28 people, requesting their email addresses if they consented to be interviewed.  For the six people who responded I sent the survey to their email addresses, and we conversed by email from then on.

My survey was in WORD format, with some multiple-choice answers and then some open-ended questions of the form of “other”, and “what else would you like to say?”.   

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Memory and Dealing with the Past:  Reflections from Kosovo – Sabina Kaqinari, Class XIX

Photo: Sabina Kaqinari, (Mural in Prishtina, Kosovo, 2018)

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined house once stood.
Poem by Yehuda Amichai

Memory has always been an essential dimension of human existence’s individual and collective history and identity. Memory means the present ideas people hold about past events of what happened, who did it, who intended what, who suffered what, and what it was like. But memories are not just cold facts; they involve meaning and interpretation. This I learned during my journey of applied field experience as a Rotary Peace Fellow at the International Christian Univesity, which led me to get deeply involved in memory and dealing with the past process in Kosovo.

During my applied field experience, I got involved as a researcher and methodology expert for the Virtual Museum of Refugees Project with Youth Initiative for Human Rights, a regional organization active in the Balkans. The memory museum project is creating digital archives that help preserve memory, provide a basis for understanding the past in Kosovo, enrich and challenge the narratives by adding experiences of people from different ethnicities, gender, religions, and cultural backgrounds, prevent war recurrence, build a sense of sustainable peace, and enable a shared vision and vision process future reconciliation. Through my work, I developed the conceptual framework for the museum, defined the target groups and audience, developed a research methodology guide for volunteers and researchers adaptable to the regional context, and further recommendations and conceptual notes for the museum website.

Inter-ethnic relations between the two major ethnic groups Kosovo Albanians and Serbs continue to be tense and delicate after the war and consequently the independence of Kosovo in 2008. Changes in ethnic composition structure, war atrocities, the missing, and many refugees (over 1 million according to data) have left a legacy of deep mistrust and hostilities between Kosovo Albanians and Serbs. Moreover, the Serbia government has rejected Kosovo’s independence and has rigorously refused any governance by Kosovo authorities. To this day, there has not been an official acknowledgment of the past nor an official apology, or a proper accountability process.
As a result, Kosovo’s postwar society remains deeply affected and divided when understanding and interpreting its recent past. While dealing with the past is a necessary precondition for the pursuit of peace and reconciliation in practice and theory; however, the word “reconciliation” has been used in scenarios or practices that need a deeper understanding of what it means not just for the academia and civil society involved but day to day lives of Kosovo citizens.

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Nagasaki Vitality – Trang Thi Nhu Nguyen Class XVIII

People are weak and quick to forget
They repeat the same mistake again and again
This one thing must never be forgotten
This one thing must never be repeated
Under any circumstances whatsoever…

– extract from a poem written by a woman who lost her family in the Nagasaki atomic bombing at 11:02 a.m August 9, 1945 which now forms part of the Nagasaki Peace Declaration.

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