Creating a vision
by Ragni Kidvai and Rabia Mir
September 3, 2002
We'll be completely honest here: before going to the 'Initiative For Peace' (IFP) conference in Singapore, both of us were unsure about what to expect from the experience. We had no idea what we were stepping into, but despite that, we were enthusiastic and excited.
Both of us were extremely concerned about the situation. Our reasons for this were simple: Kashmir has been at the heart of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan since the two nations gained their independence in 1947. It was one of those issues that simply begged to be solved, lasting for years, and depriving the Kashmiri people of their basic human rights of freedom and peace. As one of our friends very aptly put it, "Kashmir is a word so overused, a name so listlessly prosaic, that after almost 55 years of prevarication, it seems to have lost all its meaning."
Both of us had met before the conference but it wasn't until we actually got there that we got to know each other. Apart from strengthening the bond between the two of us, the conference was able to create a bond between 60 people. This group of 60 included students from India and Pakistan, and 20 facilitators from 15 other nationalities.
From the moment we landed in Singapore we were made to feel extremely welcome. Two facilitators, Michael Vardi and Michael Shank, picked us up from the airport, and took us to the (very beautiful) UWC campus. It only took a couple of hours for these people to become more than just facilitators … they became our friends.
Each of us was assigned a room, which we shared with a facilitator and two other participants, but this was where we spent the least time. On our bus ride to the college, we remember being told that if you join a United World College you have to choose between any two of the three options: working, socializing and sleeping. We chose (unanimously) to work and socialize, and thus every possible moment was spent doing just that.
Breakfast, which took place at 8:00 am, was usually followed by 'Trust-building activities' that were an integral part of each day. They were generally crazy games, which, very successfully, managed to energize us for the long day ahead. Every day was filled with workshops and speeches, which much to our surprise, were both interesting and inspiring.
Soon after the conference started, each of us was given paint and a small square-shaped piece of card to work on. Aptly titled 'Creating a Vision', it was something that brought us all together, allowing us to create a common image of the world we see or want to see in the future. Though each individual's work was wonderful, we think that alone, each piece of work didn't portray the ideals we all had. It was when the whole mural was constructed that we realized we had a common dream, a vision for which we were ready to work. It was inspiring just to stand in front of that wall and search for emotions, similar to the ones each of us was feeling, in images created by others.
|"Thank you all for making this the best week of our lives. For being with us when we laughed or cried. For showing us the path to peace and love. For being our family."
Other workshops we worked on included, 'Construction of History' and 'Media in the Kashmir Conflict', both of which aimed at eliminating biases created by the media, be it through books, newspapers or television. These workshops, according to most of us, were the most important, simply because they allowed us to decide for ourselves, what was truth and what wasn't. The best part was that we used this ability to distinguish throughout the conference. When two of the speakers gave extremely biased opinions of the Kashmir issue, instead of creating conflict, it allowed us to unite. These workshops were not meant for us to debate who was right or wrong, but rather, they were meant to make us realize that what we considered facts were not really facts at all. Most importantly, they encouraged us to step away from the past to work for a better future.
Once each of us made these realizations, it was easy for us to participate in other, more challenging workshops, like the one held by Keith Fitzgerald on Conflict Management. By asking us to list the fears and concerns of the other country, regarding the Kashmir issue, we were able to step into their shoes, and acknowledge their perspective - something we had never really done before.
Those are just examples of some of the workshops held. However, it wasn't just the workshops that were a source of inspiration and learning, a lot of the credit goes to the people we met and interacted with.
One of the first speakers was a Colombian boy, named Gerson Andrés Flórez Peréz, who is a 17-year old Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Gerson's speech was a wonderful start, and motivated us to do as much as we possibly could. He managed to remove our skepticism and worry about not being taken seriously due to the age group we belonged to. Gerson became a friend and a brother, someone we could all relate as well as look up to, and his humbleness was a virtue we all felt the need to adopt.
Next came the Ramdases. A lovely couple with convictions and morals so strong it was hard to find fault with anything they did or said. Lalita Ramdas, (who preferred being called Lolly or Didi), and Admiral Ramdas were like parents for the week they were there. Oozing with warmth and love, they were the first people who managed to convince us that Indians were humans too. They were joined later by Brigadier Rao, who works at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. He was appreciative of the fact that we, the youth, are trying to bridge the gap created by adults, giving us renewed hope and enthusiasm. Most importantly, Brigadier Rao made us feel proud to be Pakistani.
We also feel the need to thank Dario, Tannaz, Melissa and all the facilitators for not only putting endless amounts of effort and time, but also for showing us that it wasn't necessary to be Pakistani, Indian, or Kashmiri to care about the issue, but just human.
Last, but definitely not least, was Michael Shank. From the moment he came to pick us up at the airport, till the time we said goodbye, Michael was the biggest source of inspiration. There was no limit to his contagious enthusiasm and it was this energy that allowed us to go on. To break barriers. To unite. He taught us to be truthful and honest, to communicate, to try and understand others, and respect everyone's opinions and desires. He showed us how to care.
Thank you all for making this the best week of our lives. For being with us when we laughed or cried. For showing us the path to peace and love. For being our family.
As our Mission Statement states 'We are a youth movement united in our efforts to build mutual trust and understanding for sustainable peace', and as the song, that Michael taught us to sing, goes: 'We who believe in freedom shall not rest until it comes.'