Students from India and Pakistan join hands to bring in peace and nurture friendship between the neighbours

Friendship doesn't know borders, and it can literally grow out of nothing. Students numbering 2,400 from two countries with a history of conflict can become friends, and this is what ‘Exchange for Change' seeks to prove.

Routes 2 Roots, an Indian NGO and The Citizen Archive, its NGO partner in Pakistan, have come together to bridge the gap between both nations with the help of future citizens.

Bridging the gap

The main objective of the programme is to enhance companionship and understanding between the children of these two countries. Rakesh Gupta, the Director of Routes 2 Roots, says that this is just a small step in a very long journey. “We are looking to join hands with all SAARC countries and then maybe the rest of the world, but we have begun with Pakistan because we feel that it is highly important to end prejudices and stereotypes in the minds of people of both nations, and what better way to do it than through children and friendship?”

The road to friendship has taken a long 63 years, despite many attempts. The Exchange programme is another attempt to bridge the gap. Students from 10 schools, five each from both countries, are to participate in the programme. The participating schools from Delhi are Sanskriti School, St. Pauls School and B.R. Mehta Vidya Bhavan. Those from Mumbai are Shishuvan School and Gandhi Memorial School. From Pakistan, City School, Links, ILM School, SMB Fatimah Jinnah, and the Saving Group Schools are participating.

Every one in the age group of 10-14 from these ten schools is welcome to participate. “The programme is of course not a compulsory one, but I'm glad to say that there is not a single student who hasn't shown keen willingness and enthusiasm,” says Gupta.

Sharing and bonding

The early stages of the programme will have students from both countries exchanging letters and initiating friendship as ‘pen-pals'.

The students will also be given scrapbooks which they will fill with drawings, notes and pictures that speak of their lives at their home, city and of course, country. These scrapbooks will be exchanged between the students, becoming a sort of window into the worlds their friends live in. Finally, the students will be given cameras to take pictures of their family, friends and surroundings which they will send to their friends in the other country.

The second step of the programme is a unique one, and concerns itself with oral histories.

The students will be asked to approach their parents and grandparents, and ask them to share stories and memories of the past. Grandparents who migrated during the partition will be asked to share their fond memories of their country they had migrated from.

“The idea behind the oral traditions exercise is to show the children, and hopefully their families, that their stories aren't so different after all. Once they exchange these stories and memories, we hope that they will realise that the two countries are essentially the same.”

This 16-month project, which began on January 1, 2011, will ultimately culminate with a group of selected students from both countries being sent to a camp in a third SAARC country. This would place these students in a completely new cultural context and give them a neutral ground to bond in, while also going through a new cultural experience altogether. Mr. Rakesh Gupta says, “Peace does not happen overnight. It needs to be nurtured like friendship. The correct values have to be instilled right from the formative years and this is the vision behind Exchange for Change programme between India and Pakistan.”