Youngsters from India and Pakistan use technology to understand each other in a bid to foster dialogue and peace between the nations.
Two World Wars and numerous other wars that have carried on for decades have rendered the world in a constant state of unrest. Especially in India, the skirmishes with Pakistan have taken a heavy toll on the relationships and opportunities that young people could potentially find.
This lack of knowledge about a culture and a people so similar to us bothered Kirti Jayakumar, founder of the Red Elephant Foundation, an initiative for story-telling, civilian peace-building and activism for gender equality. “Not knowing about them and with no way to find out, we turn towards films and literature that need not be authentic, and in turn leads us to stereotyping people around us.
It happens doubly so in the case of those countries which have a history of differences, where there is not only stereotyping, but also a sense of demonisation, mistrust and fear,” she says.
That’s how she struck on the idea to bring one Indian in contact with one Pakistani. She rounded in on the youth because they have the energy, the zest and the curiosity to learn. And thus, the Building Peace Project was born.
There are nine pairs of peace-builders, ranging from 19 to 29 in age. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire as their application form, along with a 250-word note on why they see themselves as peace-builders. This was used to shortlist applicants. Kirti says, “Following that, we paired the participants according to age, interests and experience. We wanted to ensure that they will have enough in common to begin a dialogue, and at the same times, have differences so that they can discover and learn respect hands on.”
So what do they talk about? “We have a curriculum in place - which involves talking about everything from themselves, their lives and dreams, to the bigger issues of religion, Kashmir, politics and extremism. No topic will be taboo,” says Kirti.
Every pair of participants is required to speak for 60 minutes a month (minimum) using a video conferencing tool of their choice. Over and above this, they are free to communicate via email, WhatsApp and even Facebook.
After a year, these pairs will be brought together for a Peace Summit, where each pair will be presenting their strategy for peace between both countries, and the best ideas will be combined in a "Peace Manifesto" of sorts, which will in turn be sent in to the governments of both countries. Kirti says, “If your own people are telling you they want peace, there's no better way to present it to the governments than through the voice of the youth.”
The Red Elephant Foundation is an initiative founded by Kirthi Jayakumar, that works using storytelling and civilian peacebuilding, focusing on exploding misconceptions that lead to discrimination on any and all accounts. We're live online as www.redelephantfoundation.org.