To mark Commonwealth Day, today’s guest blog is from Michael Aregbesola, 2020 Commonwealth Shared Scholar at the University of Bristol. The Commonwealth is made up of 54 countries, including the UK, from across the world.
As we celebrate Commonwealth Day with the theme “Delivering a Common Future: Connecting, Innovating and Transforming”, I am poised to say that the pathway to connecting is open communication through peaceful relationship and acceptance of the diversity that defines our daily existence. When peaceful relationships are established, innovating becomes an easy adventure and social transformation an unavoidable outgrowth of peaceful relationships. I strongly believe that the way to innovation and transformation is mastering the art of peace in our diversity.
In 2020, I won the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship to study Development and Security (MSc) at the University of Bristol. This was gladly accepted as I see it as another push in my career trajectory to be a Peace, Conflict and Development Specialist. In my development impact statement for the scholarship, my proposed study relates to strengthening global peace, security, and governance. So, I entered the University of Bristol with the mindset of acquiring knowledge and skills on how to promote peace across societies and achieve sustainable development.
However, as I began to explore the City of Bristol reputed as the 2015 European Green Capital, I began to practically understand how peace can be built and sustained overtime having experienced some symbols of peace in my exploration of the historical dynamics of the City. The Brandon Hill Park (giving people of different nationalities the serene environment to meet and share values), Bristol’s Food Connections (like 91ways, and International Peace Café giving people of different backgrounds to meet and share their stories), and the Hodgkin House housing postgraduate international students from more than 50 nationalities are all good examples of Bristol’s reputation as a City of Peace. Among these symbols of peace however, the Hodgkin House has demonstrated the power of building collaboration and mutual understanding through peaceful inter-racial and inter-ethnic relationships.
The Hodgkin House, located in Clifton, is an accommodation for International Postgraduate students of all faiths and none. It has its history traced back to 1961 when discrimination was still rampant and as a result, 5, 6 and 7 Meridian Place were set apart for male students from abroad as a hostel. So, the hostel was created to challenge racism in the housing sector premised on the belief that people of diverse background can benefit from the interplay of their tradition in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual trust.
While in Nigeria, I was able to secure a room at the Hodgkin House through a recommendation from Janet , the Chair of the ‘Friends of Hodgkin House’ and a trustee of the Bristol Commonwealth Society. My experience at the Hodgkin House was laced with enthusiasm, open-mindedness towards other cultures and traditions and an evergreen memory of personal friendships with Joseph from Italy, Wahid from Iran, Ogun from Turkey, Shivangi from India, and other warm communication with other residents with mind blowing expositions of realities of life across cultures. Interestingly, Jacquiline, the Manager of the Hodgkin House shared a story of two students who met at the residence and eventually got married. Jacquiline told me she travelled to India to attend the wedding ceremony. This soothing story and my personal experience while living in the accommodation made me realize that to build and sustain peace across societies, we must be willing to accept other cultures with open-mindedness, shunning biases, engaging positive communication for better relationship, and trusting and respecting people to grow the spirit of love so that peace can become the normal currency for societies without necessarily having to take harder options to make peace.