In Gear | Rotary in Southern New Zealand In Gear - Issue 3 - Page 14

Another emotional encounter she had had during her time in Tel Aviv was also pivotal in her thought processes and decision-making – and still is today. As part of her studies, she met members of the Parents’ Circle Families Forum, a group brought together on tragic common ground, the loss of a loved one to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. “Their idea being, if I’m a Palestinian mum and I’ve lost my son to the conflict, and there’s an Israeli mum and I’ve lost my son to the conflict, the pain we feel is the same. We have both lost a child; our tears are the same,” Robbie explains. Robbie in Israel with her classmates. “So, this is this incredible organisation that focuses on those shared experiences as a way of peace building and moving forward and sharing those experiences with others. At the time she was handing in her thesis, Robbie was pulled aside by well-known disability advocate and then-head of the university’s Disability Information and Support Service, the late Donna-Rose McKay. “They actually came and spoke to my class, a gentleman who’d lost his mum and a woman who had lost her husband. When I thought about it, that was probably my sole reason for continuing with peace building, because that must be one of the most extreme circumstances – and, if they can move past that and become brothers and sisters in that environment, then why not us?” Donna-Rose posed a stark question. Had Robbie ever thought about what happened to people like them, people with disabilities, during war? Homeward bound Re-invigorated, Robbie returned to New Zealand, signing up at Otago University’s renowned National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. Embarking on her Master’s thesis, Robbie’s theme focused on exploring her new-found insight into the importance of resilience, using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a backdrop. “I looked particularly at forgiveness – not in the way we think about it, but in the way of giving up your just right to revenge. “How can we stop tit-for-tat violence? How can we get a wedge in there and just have a breather? “So, I looked at some of the stories of the Parents’ Circle Families Forum group in Israel – that was the inspiration with it.” As well as watching documentaries, she conducted interviews with people from the region, to, after a year’s research, draw her conclusions. “With an eye-for-an-eye, I might have a right to respond violently, but, instead, I’m going to choose not to, thus breaking that cycle of revenge, and is that an effective method of peace building? And, it turns out, it is.” “She was a disability rights activist from way back. ‘I, at that stage, was not engaging in anything disability- related, because, having always studied peace and conflict, I had never seen myself as part of the disability community. And, I think that was just because of how I was raised. I never saw myself as disabled – and, now, I proudly call myself disabled, because it’s a really cool title to have,” she laughs. “It’s a badge of honour.” The more she pondered Donna-Rose’s question, the more uncomfortable Robbie became. “I now had to wake up to this. See, I have this mantra in my life, and it comes from a Brooke Fraser song (Albertine) that says: ‘Now that I have seen, I am responsible …’ “Once Donna-Rose had put this idea in my mind, I couldn’t shake it. “I did a quick search and found there was, actually, very little that addresses what happens to people with disabilities in war.” That was four years ago, and the escalating conflict – and use of chemical weapons – in Syria was very much starting to hit the headlines. “I guess I made the decision: I actually can’t turn away from this now. I’m getting further and further along with my academic career and I need to be able to focus on something, and this is a really important issue,” Robbie says. Page 14 | In Gear - Rotary in southern New Zealand - District 9980 | www.rotarydistrict9980.org