Voices of Peace
U.S. State Department’s Voice of PEACE program highlighted the importance of peace building and the role that the youth can play in it, through workshops across six cities in India.
In an age of increasing cultural transitions across the globe, there is a growing need for the youth to take a lead in promoting peace and harmony in their communities. To highlight the connections between youth and peace building, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsored Voice of PEACE, an initiative by YES alumni from India, in collaboration with AFS partner schools, Youth for Peace International and World Youth Council. The Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, funded by the U.S. State Department, provides scholarships to secondary school students to spend one academic year in the United States. The Voice of PEACE workshops, conducted in August 2019, focused on Indian youth, aged 14 to 16, with the aim to sensitize them about the importance of peace as a building block of cultural integrity and diversity. Through workshops that foster a sense of how small, local changes can have a big, systemic impact, the program emphasizes that harvesting youthful energy is fundamental to India’s success moving forward.
The workshops were organized across six cities in India: Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, New Delhi, Indore, Kolkata and Gandhinagar. These half-day workshops welcomed about 1,000 students and focused on interactive approaches to foundational, peacebuilding concepts. The workshops highlighted that individuals must work on themselves before larger societal change can be affected. Empathy, respect, conflict transformation, youth as peace advocates, community engagement and global citizenship were the order of the day, seeking to establish the concept of good citizenship at the individual level, so that the participants could carry these insights forward to their communities and groups.
“The Voice of Peace workshops helped me understand the root concepts, the causes of conflicts and how to resolve them,” says Akhilesh Jhawar, 2018 YES participant from Kolkata. The workshops allowed the students to interact with each other as well as the facilitators. “The alumni, I and two others, spoke about our YES exchange experiences and why we need more such programs to happen across the globe in order to create a more peaceful world. I got the opportunity to speak with the audience and educate them about the joy of volunteering and community service, and why they are needed for a more peaceful world,” says Jhawar. “It gives me great pleasure to know that I have been able to motivate at least some of the students to take part in social service activities.”
The work isn’t all theoretical, as there is a great emphasis on the immediate, hands-on application of the concepts taught in the various interactive workshops. For instance, following the workshops, the alumni and participants took aim at specific community service activities like street clean-up and tree-planting. In this way, participants applied their conceptual learning to the specific activities of volunteerism and community engagement, thereby solidifying their work into verifiable actions that left a positive impression on the community.
“To be a part of the Voice of Peace workshop was an amazing opportunity, which was all about learning and reflecting, be it about peace or conflicts or violence,” says Alvira Nishat, a 2019 YES participant. “The activities that were conducted taught not only the students but also the alumni that communicating and understanding the other person creates friendships and resolves misunderstandings and conflicts.
Work of this sort is the hallmark of AFS Intercultural Programs, which focus on international, voluntary, nongovernmental, nonprofit endeavors aimed at providing intercultural learning opportunities. Ultimately, work of this sort is invaluable in the cultural impact it can have. Also, it can spur and foster positive growth of its own kind.
It is expected that many of the young people who were participants in this iteration of the Voice of PEACE program will, one day, become alumni mentors themselves and carry forward the positive experience to the next generations across India and beyond.
Trevor Laurence Jockims teaches writing, literature and contemporary culture at New York University.