This past June 21st, herald one year since my departure for Haiti as a Peacekeeper. I have chosen to reflect on my experience as well as my motivations for joining the Canadian Forces and being part of a U.N mandated peacekeeping mission. An urge to “Know thyself” manifested itself from deep within as I sought to understand how oneself and the world relate. Throughout this past year, I found that the more I began to understand the interactions between my various personal beliefs and experiences, the closer I got to “Knowing thyself” and what that meant for my community, my country and my place in the world.
My curiosity immediately brought me to consider my childhood parish which was founded by missionaries that transcended conventional territorial boundaries, in addition to those of race, culture, language and religion. It is in this place that I learned and inculcated a particular teaching of Jesus Christ: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called the children of God”.
The parish played host to the Scouting Movement where I learned the three broad principles which represented its fundamental beliefs: Duty to Self, Duty to Country, and Duty to Others.Duty to Self means to live one’s life with Integrity, to be pure in one’s speech and actions, and to be a person of strong character.Duty to Country relates to our formation of being a model citizen and working towards Excellence for the good of Canada and obeying its laws.Duty to Others was understood through a commitment to Service as, “Doing unto others as you as you would have them do unto you”.As the three stars of Orion’s Belt were used as a navigational aid for explorers on their journeys across the seas; integrity, excellence and service served as my moral compasses.
These values guided me into my post-secondary education where I entrenched myself in questions of politics, economics and numerous liberating ideas. My subjects of scholarship from Vanier College to McGill University might have been Political Science, Finance & Economics respectively, however my true focus of research and discipline were ideas, concepts, and truths that liberated and strengthened my mind and cultivated my capacity for critical thinking. It was through my personal study of Buddhism that I discovered the concept of the “spiritual warrior”, a person who bravely battles with the universal enemy: self-ignorance. The quintessential duty of the spiritual warrior is to “Know thyself”.
To aid in this effort, upon graduation I physically, emotionally and spiritually delved into the history of Europe’s great cities, questions concerning the Middle East; the cultural interconnectedness of the Americas and the present political realities of South Asia. I did not know it at the time but, those journeys allowed me to discover new cultures and lands, along with, who I was and my place in my community and my country.
Dag Hammarskjöld, the United Nations Secretary General who executed Lester B. Pearson’s proposal for the creation of a peacekeeping force, said the following about service:
“The explanation of how man should live life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics for whom ‘self-surrender’ had been the way to self-realization, and who in ‘singleness of mind’ and ‘inwardness’ had found strength to say yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbours made them face, and to say yes also to every fate life had in store for them when they followed the call of duty as they understood it.”
Since its inception, peacekeepers had to quickly learn the complex relationship between peacekeeping and peacemaking; for as long as it is possible for violence to be committed, an organized form of prevention and defense is necessary. Furthermore, an ability to defend oneself must always be complimented with an active and vigorous pursuit of self-awareness in order to pre-emptively address the origins of violence. In the end, Dag Hammarskjöld acknowledged that, “Peacekeeping is not the job of a soldier but only a soldier can do it.”
During my stay in Haiti, I ensured that the values of integrity, excellence and service were incorporated in all that I did. The foundation of my experience was an indefatigable application of an ethical and professional integrity in all projects I undertook like the installation of solar-powered street lamps to energy solar and community-based water filters to the people of Cité Soleil, the poorest neighborhood in the Americas. The planning, coordination, implementation of such projects prompted for perseverance in excellence; grounded in empirical knowledge that more street lighting during the night as well as local water filters to counter cholera greatly reduces violence in Cité Soleil. Moreover, my leisure hours were dedicated to service by locating funds in order to properly equip educational institutions. The greater than $20,000 in monetary donations and school supplies raised helped keep children off the streets and away from criminal activities and proved to be of paramount importance for fostering security in this violence-prone area.
By delving deep into my person, the world of ideas and through extensive travel, I discovered what had led me to enlist in the Canadian Forces and be deployed as a peacekeeper. My experience in peacekeeping was a mise en action driven by the core elements of my person that were developed and refined through my education and self-acquaintance. Integrity, Excellence and Service embodied and manifest has been my guiding objective and raison d’être ever since I understood who I was and appreciated my potential for positive change. That is why I chose to serve myself and my community as a U.N mandated peacekeep