Since prehistoric times, humans have been impacting the environment. Whether it’s hunting for natural resources of food and water, shelter, exploring new territories, exploiting, displacing, and replacing other life forms (humans, animals, and plants). Contemporaneous advancement has seen humans creating boundaries and destroying nature through urbanization and industrialization.
The growth and expansion of the human population and the demand for essential lifesaving sustenance, modern amenities, and other human activities have placed an additional burden on the environment—a shift in temperature and weather patterns. Climate change has generated extreme temperatures, drought, fires, rising sea levels, and floods leading to habitat destruction. In some cases, complete extinction, pollution, deforestation, and displacement have resulted in a compromised and shrunken ecosystem.
The events of land degradation and drought produced by the change in climate, increased industrialization, the exploitation of humans by humans, depleting natural resources, and violent conflicts all impact infrastructure and livelihood, both directly and indirectly. When these changes happen, there is an increase in the movement and or displacement of the human population. Countries and communities continued grievance and conflict over resources, without peaceful resolution, also have a devastating effect on the people and the movement of people.
Forced migration and displacement are environmental, social, and political problems, whether the migration results from extreme weather conditions, people fleeing armed conflicts, suffering from the loss of livelihood, or urbanization.
Naturally, unplanned massive migrations don’t have the resources, proper infrastructure planning, the management, strategies, or a clear guideline to mitigate the far-reaching effect of further environmental damage. There may also be weak, divisive community political systems and a policy breakdown to manage immediate or sudden changes.
Caring for the community and the environment is of equal importance. As peace fellows, we are now aware of the interconnectedness of the environment, natural resources, and forced migration. We are also aware that all life forms are essential and need to be sustained for the continuity and well-being of planet earth.
We cannot deny knowledge of the complexity and fragility of the social, political, or environmental influences and processes that shape each community. However, we now have the tools and opportunity to reshape decision-making through our new understanding of environmental security and sustaining peace. We can now harmonize the relationship with the local community and government to build resilience, resulting from and or preventing the impact of armed conflict and or abuse of the natural environment and the deliberating challenges posed to the community. We have the opportunity to improve the well-being of humankind on the whole.
Oberlene Smith-Whyte – Jamaica
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 32Read More
In Ethiopia, many agriculture dependent families have a long history of facing the effects of extreme weather events and unpredictable rainfall variations. Disasters disproportionately affect family members including children in the crisis period and afterwards. Regular intervention of humanitarian food aid has offset various crisis levels in assisting vulnerable families with provision of basic survival in-kinds. While this saved lives, it often failed to protect livelihoods, and this became a growing concern. The impact of climate change has attracted a growing number of studies and policy debates to shape the emergency food aid model towards more productive approach of providing conditional and predictable assistance through food security program.
Care givers are still active participants in studies related to impacts of climate change and periodic assessments to inform the safety net provisions. Engaging a diverse web of stakeholders and implementers is important to align programs with its intended purpose. However, Ethiopian children are not often part of consultation regarding climate change or crisis response, at family or community level. While children are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, they are not passive victims.
Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) grants a child who is capable of forming a view the right to express that view freely in all matters affecting him or her; and these views should be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. Children growing in CFI families have collective knowledge about many things like what capacities and vulnerabilities exist in their family and the community they live in. I would like to argue that identifying children’s feelings and reactions is not straightforward because caretakers’ decisions often play a key role in informing program designs. The perspectives of children within the field of climate change or its effect on food security have remained unexplored and is vital to better inform how we advance our programming. It is therefore important to work with children (who belong to vulnerable families) to understand children’s experiences and feelings about their own insecurities. Article 12 applies at all times, for example around family decisions and/or as related to a child’s food insecure life.
I would also like to highlight the intersection of children’s other rights, like the right to access information (Article 13), parental responsibilities (Article 18) and the right to life, survival and development (Article 6). Importantly, vital consideration of effective communication among children, parents, communities or local government officials can inform research with inclusive evidence while enabling children (as knowledge holders) to share information and engage them in program designs, implementation, and follow-up. Participation enables children with the opportunity to express their views, engage and influence research processes, in any matter concerning them directly or indirectly. For example, in the aftermath of the tsunami response in Asia[M1] , evidence was provided that demonstrated that children’s engagement in the design and delivery of related disaster-risk-response activities enabled them to play an active role in their communities and managed to minimize the negative impact of the disaster for themselves, within their families and communities. Therefore, the development of feasible models that mainstream children’s engagement—from listening and understanding their perspectives and experiences to supporting their engagement—is important to address the changing needs of children impacted by a change climate. This will also promote a reduction of inequalities among children and promote their future resilience to climate change and other disasters.
Beza Teferra – Ethiopia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 32
Insightful analysis is essential to any conflict transformation process, from prevention to mediation to reconciliation. A one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applied given, for some examples, root-causes and the interests of stakeholders differ in each conflict context. Effective conflict transformation approaches must be based on the comprehensive use and understanding of peace, conflict and development analysis. Therefore, understanding the tools of peace, conflict and development analysis are essential when designing, implementing, and assessing all peacebuilding projects and programs.
During the 11-year Syrian war to date, thousands of social action programs/projects, and even organizations have emerged to respond to communities’ needs, to prevent, transform and respond to violence across the country. Many approaches were designed without an analysis of the evolving conflict dynamics resulting in potentially impactful social actions diminishing for many reasons, including the exacerbation of conflict, the intervention of other parties, and the imbalance of powers. As in any conflict, peace is not a static condition defined by the absence of war but is instead a dynamic and nuanced structural process required to advance toward more positive peace. The sustainability of any peace intervention is based on how practitioners are able to analyze, understand and maintain transparent and subjective perspectives regarding evolving conflict and development dynamics. And, how practitioners integrate this nuanced approach into their methods to ensure that continuous analysis is conducted to support the innovative and creative orientation for future peace action.
During our week exploring analyses methods, we engaged with our instructor Dr. Bernardo Venturi (Director/Co-Founder, Agency for Peacebuilding (AP); Associate Fellow, International Affairs Institute (IAI), based in Rome) in dynamic discussions on conflict and development analysis and how they could be applied to our SCIs and overall peace and development interventions. Conflict analysis is the systematic study of the context, causes, actors, and dynamics of conflict from a variety of perspectives that helps development, humanitarian and peacebuilding organizations to gain a better understanding of the context within which they are working. Dr. Venturi noted the importance of distinguishing between conflict and development analysis and context analysis where context analysis refers to the broader situation in conflict-affected areas. Dr. Venturi also emphasized the necessity to consider conflict and development analysis as an integrated, ongoing and frequently up-dated process that gathers information from a full range of stakeholders to nurture practitioners, activists, and peacebuilders work. We had the opportunity to analyze our different conflict and development dynamics through different essential analysis tools refined to our SCIs. Moreover, we had the chance to familiarize ourselves with other tools and methods utilized by international agencies and organizations, such as the World Bank, USAID, Swiss Peace, etc. We reflected on the theoretical and practical skills related to the analysis of global conflict, peace and development dynamics while mainstreaming youth and gender inclusion in peace, security, conflict and development.
Lama Drebati – Syria
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 32Read More
We are in the 13th week of the Rotary Peace Fellowship (Class 32) and just had a brilliant session lead by Dr. Jessica Senehi on Storytelling: Coexistence, Social Cohesion, Reconciliation and Healing. The professor helped us step back and think about storytelling in various contexts but starting with us.
Stories. There are so many of them around us. Every day. Every interaction is either a story or a plot for a bigger one and several small ones. We reflected and shared one such personal story that made us think about why we do what we do. Too often, in our hyper busy lives in the peace, development and social work sector, we may not be reflecting on the powerful, inspirational and yet immensely human stories we come across, most of which help us keep going.
With the group of fellows, I shared one story project: People’s Archive of Rural India, called PARI in short. Interestingly, PARI also means “Angel” or “Fairy” in the Hindi language. This archive is an ongoing attempt to record and share the everyday lives of rural Indians in photos, videos, audio clips and text. In their own words “PARI is a living, breathing journal and an archive aimed at recording people’s lives. Many worlds, one website. More voices and distinct languages. It means an undertaking unprecedented in scale and scope, utilising a myriad of forms of media in audio, visual and text platforms. One where the stories, the work, the activity, the histories are narrated, as far as possible, as far as we can manage, by rural Indians themselves. By tea-pickers amidst the fields. By fishermen out at sea. By women paddy transplanters singing at work, or by traditional storytellers. By Khalasi men using centuries-old methods to launch heavy ships to sea without forklifts and cranes. In short, by everyday people talking about themselves, their labour and their lives – talking to us about a world we mostly fail to see.”
I am talking about rural India, specifically in the context of non-violent movements and storytelling, because of the rich history of India’s struggle for independence from the colonial rulers. Growing up in India, we are told so many stories of the movement for Indian independence, steered by the non-violent principle of Mahatma Gandhi, called Satyagraha. Even in modern India, Satyagraha is a powerful tool against oppression and tyranny. Over the last few years, India has experienced inspiring, peaceful, non-violent protests, such as the Farmers’ protests and Shaheen Bag women’s protests against the Citizenship Act (CAA-NRC) in the national capital region.
Similarly, there has been a rich history of non-violent movements in India that have fought for human rights, environmental rights and the mitigation of climate change through the power of storytelling, puppets and theatre. The origins of green activism in India goes back to Gandhian ethics and social philosophy. For example, the Chipko Aandolan is one of India’s oldest non-violent, environmental and social movements that initially started to save trees and grew to be much more than that in the years to come. The country is home to several green movements, started by ordinary Indians, many of whom didn’t or don’t have access to social media and the other tools of technology we enjoy now.
For an important example, The Barefoot College in the Tilonia village of India has used giant handmade puppets to spread awareness about various causes in the villages and tribal hamlets for several decades. Even in this digital age where mobile internet is easily available, storytelling in various forms is fundamental to bring social change. And that will remain so, irrespective of technological advances and changes
Srini Swaminathan – India
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 32Read More
Thinking and working in the peacebuilding field has become more nuanced and complex while every day is full of richness. After ten-weeks engaged in the Rotary Peace Center Fellowship Program with Chulalongkorn University, I have learned there is an important inter-relationship between different areas of thematic work and also sometimes confrontations between them. Based on this growing knowledge, I have several questions I would like to share with all of you.
When speaking about innovations in the peacebuilding field, a great deal of focus seems to be placed on the “technical project” where the focus is placed on efficiency. Therefore, my first question is: Does such a technical approach lose the people centered vision and intended impact? Yes, “peacebuilding must have results,” as detailed by Professor Kai Brand-Jacobsen. From my perspective, with too much of a predominate results oriented focus as driven by requirements from many donors, the “before and after” for me misses the longer-term social process that is required for a people-center vision and nuanced impact.
As a person with a business background, it is easy to understand that peacebuilding projects need to be efficient, with an important focus on innovation and resulting impact. Impact, from my point of view, should always be considered when we talk about peacebuilding projects regardless of the intersectionalities: peace and environment; peace and security; inclusive peacemaking; etc. Further advancing my thinking, when we explored “community peacebuilding”, Professor Zahra Langhi emphasized not looking at peacebuilding as a series of “projects”, because we are working with people. People who are living and suffering from stressful situations, and this goes beyond a “project”. Peacebuilding work is about people foremost, and must always be advanced with a “people-centered” vision, must be inclusive, participatory, and representative, taking into account local contexts, self-organization, etc. Furthermore, from this perspective, any peace engagements will interact with the conflict and such interactions may also have positive and negative impacts.
As a Rotary Peace Fellow with Class 32, I want to highlight our focus on these methods and the challenges we will face as we continue to advance the design and implementation of our Social Change Initiatives (SCIs), any and all peace work that we do now and into the future. From my perspective, a “people-centered” approach is vital to ensuring a vision and impact that is nuanced, respectful and impactful – and ensuring more durable peace. This is even more important now as human relations appears to be becoming more dehumanized, social media environment contributing to further divisions.
Peacebuilding as a field of study and engagement remains young, and growing; we must assume ourselves as part of its development in the near future.
Alba Purroy – Venezuela
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 32Read More
Pakistani society is comprised of diverse ethnicities, cultures, languages, faiths, interpretations of faiths, and so on. Pakistani society is more diverse than it looks on TV channels or as portrayed in the textbooks of our education system. Usually, we read that there are four provinces and four languages i.e. Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, and Balochi in Punjab, Sindh, KPK, and Baluchistan respectively. But the reality is different; there are several prominent and famous cultures and areas like Kashmir, South Punjab, Saraiki Belt, Gilgit & Baltistan Thar Desert, Kohistan, Chitral, and Tribal districts of Pakistan. All of these areas are have changing cultures, languages, castes, faith, etc. There are different religions and faiths including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Atheists, Bahá, Muslims and so many other faiths and sects of all these faiths.
Ignoring or suppressing such realities and dynamics sometimes creates unrest and violence. The citizens of my country, Pakistan, must learn how to accept, tolerate and celebrate the differences rather than reject each other. Therefore, we need a comprehensive plan to educate our children and citizens to support and promote harmony and peaceful coexistence.
It is therefore imperative to first realize and recognize the diverse cultures, languages, ethnicities, religions, faith, and/or different interpretations of our society. Then, we need to take steps at multiple levels for the transformation of these diversities into a strength by owning and respecting the differences within and among our communities. Multidimensional measures are required to transform the practices in religious, social & cultural festivals, education, and politics at multiple levels such as policy, strategy, planning and implementation, and so on.
Islamabad – The Capital of Pakistan
|Pakistani cultures of all provinces, Kashmir and Gilgit|
Diversity, on the one hand, can be challenging. And, on the other hand, diversity is very beneficial for a progressive society and development. As the world is now a global village and almost all major and big cities of the world are comprised of varied colors, castes, creeds, religions, and languages. As there are few employment opportunities in rural areas, these communities and groups usually migrate to the big cities like Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and Islamabad for better jobs and enterprises. In an urban area, it’s very difficult for people to understand the different opinions, languages, and psychology of diversified people. In such circumstances, conflict may arise around different matters which sometimes leads to violence.
Khyber Pukhtun Khawa- Pakistan Afghanistan border
Kalash- Indo-Aryan – Estimated 2000 years old civilization
Shangrila Hotel Baltistan, near China border (same place two different angles/views)
Other Tourist Areas:
Lake Saif ul Malook Mansehra
- For a society like ours in Pakistan, there is a greater need for peace and dialogue centers in different parts of the country to guide people. There is always a need for an open debate, discussion and dialogue—at the local, regional and national level—on conflicting issues related to the rights and obligations of different segments of our society. Dialogue and negotiations always lead to accommodation and compromise.
- Diversity is the beauty of our society. It can be utilized in the best interest of the country and its people. If we create awareness and educate our citizens about our different cultures, languages, ethnic groups, and minorities, we’ll create social cohesion and peace.
- Besides this, the role and responsibilities of minorities and majority groups in the overall development of the country must be elaborated and encouraged.
- Moreover, the contribution of all must be acknowledged and highlighted. Only then a peaceful co-existence and harmony can be created among all of our diverse groups.
- Developing and underdeveloped countries like ours are always in need of more education and awareness to strengthen our system.
- Peace is important for development and diversity is also needed for progress. A multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary team is always important for a progressive society.
- At least 3.5 million Pakistanis are working in foreign countries. They are a member of the international community, promoting our country while also earning an important income that also contributes to Pakistan. Similarly, millions of other nationality holders are working in Pakistan and living happily here. Sadly, diversity sometimes leads to violent conflict as in the case of religious extremism in some parts of the country.
Diversity is beautiful and we must eat the fruits of diversity and celebrate the opportunity to development of all segments of society together in Pakistan and beyond. Supporting positive peace among our diverse groups, castes and faiths will support progress for the entire society and country. We all can initiate social changes and develop leadership in all fields of life for a peaceful and progressive society. What I learned from the Rotary Peace Fellowship is to include peace studies in all kinds of training and education as a compulsory subject. Peace is important for development and development is important for peace.
Habib Ahmad – Pakistan
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
I was born and brought up in a lower-class family in Mumbai, India. Surviving by receiving assistance from our community institutions, this life experience engrained in me the importance of helping others around me while supporting the capacities of organizations in need. Currently, government agencies, corporate and foundation donors are trying to create equal opportunities for the less fortunate. My only persistent question is: “Is this enough? Can we build peace and security by providing trainings, knowledge and skills, through offering rotating loans while providing equal opportunities and employment options?”
As we all know, major issues which impact peace and security are illiteracy and poverty. However, there are many issues apart from creating equal opportunities such as conflicts that arise from gender, age, culture, religion, ego, etc. Some of these issues remain and are carried forward with vengeance from generation to generation. As such, peace projects should be holistic; covering literacy, employment to broader conflict resolution. For one important example, there is sometimes minimal say of women around household decision making in families plagued with illiteracy and poverty. In these situations, transforming the mindset of senior men is sometimes difficult considering they have been engrained with this view of gender engagement since their childhood and onwards.
Children are our future. We have seen umpteen examples of children from humble backgrounds rising to the pinnacle of success and who have become role models. However, in the majority of underdeveloped and developing countries, education delivery is still based on a learning approach in which there is mindless memorization which doesn’t promote any analysis and creativity. This results in weak self-images among children, while not being fully ready to take on the world when out lower schools and universities. I feel mentoring and guiding children at the right age should give them the confidence to take control and be successful in life, irrespective of whether they are coming from within the country, among minorities or otherwise.
For my Social Change Initiative (SCI), I plan to work with 9th grade school children from minority communities. I will design and support young people for at least 1-2 hours in a month by engaging them in topics pertaining to confidence building, goal setting, stress and time management, ethics, identifying and engaging with their particular interests/passions, relationship and collaboration building, along with book reading exercises. My SCI will integrate interesting assignments on a weekly basis during the month, so that they remain on track and come enthusiastically well prepared for the next months’ session. This project is intended to run for one year and we will monitor the same students for one more year to ensure that they are working towards achieving their dreams and goals. The Rotary Peace Fellowship Program at Chulalongkorn University is an excellent opportunity for me to understand and design this project as per the specific needs of all stakeholders, use various tools such as videos, entertainment modules, etc. and keep a long-term goal of writing a curriculum depending upon the learnings and success of this pilot project.
I intend to work with one class of students at a school first. The goal of my SCI is to make a difference in one child’s life at a time. I feel this is similar to that of the small boy who, upon seeing thousands of starfish on the shore after a storm, was committed to throwing one starfish back at time back into the ocean. Thereby, he made a difference in the life of that particular one starfish!!
Azia Fidai – India
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
Rotary Peace Fellowship week 14 focused on storytelling with Rebekah Hatfield. Rebekah, a Bundjalung-Yugumbeh-Darumbal & Wiradjuri storytelling practitioner from Northern-New South Wales, Australia, began the session by asking, “Why do we tell stories?” The group 1 cohort brainstormed answers:
“We tell stories to pass on information.”
“To express our experiences and feelings.”
“We share stories to understand ourselves better.”
“Stories are a tool to make sense of the world.”
Rebekah led us through an exercise to identify our own stories. She prompted us to write down an experience that has impacted our lives. The experience that came to mind for me was not any of the foundational experiences I had as a child, but the more recent experience of living through COVID-19.
In Tucson, Arizona in the United States, COVID-19 highlighted existing inequalities and the need for us to pull together as a community to address a common threat. This experience directly inspired my Rotary Social Change Initiative: to develop an escape room game at the largest research facility in the world, Biosphere 2, to teach youth about climate change in an experiential way. Just as the COVID virus wasn’t restricted by borders, backgrounds, or belief systems, climate change will impact all of us. As Rebekah talked to us about using story to understand the world around us, I thought of ways for the climate change game to be an experiential story where participants address our most serious issues through play.
The instructors for the Peace Fellowship have brought perspectives and experience from every corner of the world. Reflecting on how the experiences as a Rotary Peace Fellow have impacted my life, it is the stories of other Peace Fellows I will remember most: Belayneh Zelelew Negash showing us the Ethiopian countryside during one of our Zoom calls, Theodora Syriou describing the smoke in the air during the fires in Greece, and discussing Afghanistan with Essan Dileri (hyperlink to his blog post here: https://www.rotarychula.org/raised-in-conflict/) who brings personal experience and insight having grown up in the country. It is the lived experience of the fellows and our instructors that has made peacebuilding practical and concrete instead of theoretical. I am thankful for the program’s ongoing exchange of experiences and stories. Not just the stories of what we’ve experienced in our respective countries, but the stories that we will create to establish positive peace around the world.
Torran Anderson – USA
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring:
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after the night and spring after the winter.”
The devastation created by Covid-19 is just a reminder of our vulnerability as humans while highlighting the importance of prevention and mitigation strategies. It also provides some insight regarding the possible economic shock the whole world will face if nations fail to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As Vandana Shiva says:
“In nature’s economy the currency is not money, it is life.”
The shock expressed as ‘economic’ is, in fact, a “life and death” shock that cuts people’s bond with nature.
Humans have lived as social beings for ages and have been in communication and interaction not only with their society surrounding him/her, but also with ‘nature’ he/she lives in. Communication channels and interaction styles have changed over the years from civilization to civilization and from culture to culture, but humans have never lost their connection with the environment. As Jennifer Nini says:
“You can’t force people to care about the natural environment, but if you encourage them to connect with it, they just might.”
This connection starts from birth and continues throughout childhood and later periods, first in the immediate environment within the family and then among larger society which all humans belong. Throughout this process, which is intense during the development phase, people get to know ‘nature’ and all the living beings in their natural surroundings. Thus, humans begin to realize their own responsibilities towards their environment and society for an equal, just, sustainable and happy world.
A green environment could make important contributions to our life not only by providing clear advantages both to nature itself as well as for all of society. Living and working near green spaces improves our mental health, wellbeing and productivity. These benefits equate to a happier and healthier lifestyle for all of us. Greenery offers us (humans, animals and plants) clean water to drink, air to breathe, shade to sit in, and food to eat. Besides habitats for numerous species of fauna and flora, greenery provide places of spiritual, cultural and recreational importance.
Looking around us, what do we see?
What are we aware of?
What are we ignorant of?
What are the deficiencies?
What works regularly?
What goes perfectly?
What are the potentials?
And what can I do for the nature environment I live in?
People should constantly ask themselves these questions which help them go through an awareness stage and reach a sensitivity level. An individual should always start by exploring her/his environment with which she/he is in constant interaction. Next, they should observe their interactions between other people around them and their environment, while continuing discover society within the whole natural world around them. Thanks to these steps, she/he could begin to realize the differences among individuals, communities, and larger societies and gain a broader understanding of their human responsibilities. The concept of sensitivity underlies all these processes and all that remains is to take action.
Sensitivity is an important concept for a more livable world and could take different forms or meanings such as ecological sensitivity, environmental sensitivity, social sensitivity, cultural sensitivity, intercultural sensitivity, and so on. It is not easy to acquire sensitivity. People should be open to encountering related concepts and gaining related qualities at a young age. So, how will this take place? In fact, the process starts with the family and will continue throughout school life. For instance, parents being sensitive to environmental issues will encourage their children to participate in activities that support their sensitivity during their children’s development process. The important next comes with sensitive teachers whose responsiveness to environmental issues will be a significant indicator and support to children and youth. At this point, the degree to which teachers’ in-class or out-of-class activities along with their interactions with learners place an emphasis on such issues will determine the level of learners’ sensitivity to the environment and nature around them. The most appropriate activity is participation in social responsibility projects. Learners will both notice differences and strive to fulfill their responsibilities towards their society which includes a very important focus on their environment. Although it is not easy to understand, internalize and apply sensitivity, the earlier this process starts, the easier it will be. Thanks to each individual’s fulfillment of their responsibilities, steps will be taken for a more livable and happy world.
Developed and implemented social responsibility projects will be instrumental in this regard. There are five basic elements of engaging in such projects and all of them enable individuals to serve the society in a selfless way:
Mustafa Mustafa Öztürk – Turkey
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More
Thursday night was my favourite night of the week because my parents came home from work mid-afternoon and Mum would prepare a special meal of Afghan delicacies that I would eat after I finished a neighbourhood soccer match. I would go to school in the afternoon and finish at five. One particular Thursday I could not wait to finish school because there was soccer against a team from Kocha-e-Dash the street behind from our house.
We were excited. They had challenged us by saying ‘We are going to win.’ And as everyone knows, saying this to boys anywhere across the world in relation to soccer will always merit a competitive game!
Saqeb, my best friend and the captain of our team was in good form. Everyone listened as he prepared us for this important street match.
We all played hard and when the ball fell into the street gutter filled with grey water it was called out. That day I retrieved the ball from the gutter at least a dozen times without worrying about hygiene. I knew I had to focus fully on my play. To me, this match was the most important match of my life.
For the neighbours however, they were not happy about the match because we were very noisy. The match would stop as a car passed through. Yet, due to the lack of playgrounds and parks in our City, the street was the only place we could hold our matches.
During the first half, we played hard and scored a goal. The second half was dramatic because the other team equalised. This meant we needed to work harder.
Saqeb kept hollering out the strategy as our noble coach and we focused. Khalil saved us in the last five minutes by scoring another goal. Ecstatic about our win, we rushed to the mosque and gulped down water from the only available tap in our street and washed our hands and sweaty faces. We kept bragging about our win. Saqeb took us all to a milk shop where we enjoyed hot milk and roat – Afghan sweet soft bread.
Thursday was the only night that there were movies on the television and we all discussed what would be on that night. We rushed to the electrical junction and asked if it was our turn to get power. We were in luck. The operator said this Thursday was our allocation for electricity so I rushed home.
As I got closer to my home, I could smell the Bolani my mother was cooking, which was my all-time favourite dish. Mum was the best cook. We ate it with yogurt mixed with cucumber and dried mint.
As I walked in the door, dad said ‘Bismillah let’s eat’. This is an important saying to us because everything starts with the holy name of Allah, to show our grace and humility that for all He provides us.’ While we ate, I spoke to my three sisters about the soccer match and our exciting win against those who had teased and challenged us. My oldest sister was not so interested and said we were too noisy during the game. My younger sister congratulated me as she continued eating. We ate in the dark but the feeling on family and good food supported us to feel safe.
I couldn’t wait for the power to come on at eight thirty and everyone cheered as the lights came up. I was so excited that we would see the movie tonight!
My family knew that we would have to sit through the boring government reports before the movie began so we kept washing our faces with cold water to help us stay awake. Finally, at nine thirty, Murch Masala started.
This movie was a grave disappointment because there were none of the action and fighting that excited me. The film was long and tedious and the film did not have even one action scene. Tired from the day’s exploits and excitement from winning soccer, I fell asleep before the movie ended.
I was in a deep sleep when a loud bang woke me. I looked around and soon saw Mum and Dad at the west window. My sister woke in shock.
The explosions got louder and closer. Dad took the ladder and climbed onto the roof to see what was going on and I followed. Red, green, orange and yellow explosions lit the western sky. The noise got closer and intensified. The smell of smoke filled the air. I could taste sulphur and the ground shook. I looked around to see neighbours on each roof. All faced west.
Children cried and whimpered and the adults shrieked and yelled ‘God help us!’
I became more and more afraid. It felt like the bombs were exploding on our street.
Dad climbed down and called us all inside. The windows trembled with each explosion. My heart raced and my mouth was dry. My little sister cried and Mum soothed her but also cried out, ‘Khair Khudaya – God bless us’
The fire trucks shrieked as they rushed towards Qargha and my aunt and uncle rushed in to our house. Their faces were filled with fear. Their house was right next to the ammunition dump and they had run for their lives as their windows shattered and the roof began to fall on them.
The explosions continued and the noise raged for many hours but the night grew darker with only an occasional burst of light to the west. At four thirty we were still aware because of the noise. By five thirty am it had become quiet except for the occasional siren of ambulance or fire truck in the distance.
Our house was full and there was nowhere to sleep, which was fine by me. My heart was still pounding and I was too afraid to sleep. As the sun rose on Friday, our day of rest, we huddled together and talked about what had happened.
Later, we went to my uncle’s house to find all the windows shattered. Everything was covered in dust and it smelled of sulphur. It was still and deserted. People all looked on from a distance to survey the damage.
On Saturday morning, before dawn, I was woken from the sweetest sleep by the squeak of Russian tanks and trucks carrying ammo back to Qargha depot.
I was eight years old and will never forget either the intensity of joy at winning at soccer, the delicious food Mum made that night or the extreme fear of the night that followed. The extreme emotions I felt that day as a young boy have stayed with me for almost four decades.
I was born in Kabul in the mid-1970s. The Soviets invaded in 1979. I was raised in war and conflict; I don’t remember a time in my life when my country was not at war. As a kid, I developed resilience and the strategy to enjoy my life in the middle of a conflict, so we did things like other kids. We played soccer in the streets, we had friends, we had fun. I was a known as a very cheeky child and adolescent to my neighbours. I was a bit of a troublemaker. However, once the Mujahedin came, things really changed. From the day they arrived, every night we experienced aerial shots. Every night thousands and thousands of bullets were shot in the air.
Society changed. Schools never opened because of the security situation. Street fights started because of the stress to our people due to the civil war. I remember we would be playing and honestly, we could hear bullets in the air but we continued to play. We just never thought that the bullet could hit me or could hit my friend. Of course, they did.
When I was growing up. Kabul was a modern and open society. My teachers wore skirts. It was so normal for us. In the villages, people were conservative because of the influence of Mujahedin outside major cities. But in 1992 when Mujahedin came, all women had to cover their heads and skirts were not allowed. That was the time when we moved to Pakistan. My dad said, “For now I don’t think this is a place for us.” I was 15 years old.
We thought it would only be for two months, so we left most of our belongings behind, locked in our house. We drove. We went to Jalalabad, the border city, for one night and then took the bus. There was a lot of roadside mines so we were lucky we made it. We went to Peshawar and stayed in a hotel. From there we rented a place and stayed until 2003 – 11 years. We thought it was temporary, that things would change and we could come back but it never changed, it became worse.
In 2003, I returned to Kabul after the collapse of brutal Taliban regime. I started working with local communities in the areas of peace building and conflict transformation. I worked for eight years in Afghanistan and Pakistan in community peace building and education. I led a team responsible for designing programs addressing issues of local conflicts through asset-based community peace building initiatives in partnership with other local organizations. The program provided capacity building initiatives targeting key community leaders and members to become peace ambassadors and establish local peace councils to act as mediators in a situation where local conflict existed. The program was implemented across 16 provinces of Afghanistan. I loved my job. It was empowering to be a part of rebuilding peace and a stable country. It gave me a great opportunity to work with communities where I could apply strength-based approaches to building peace at local level in different areas of Afghanistan. I was always amazed at the strength of local communities to get to the bottom of complex situations and transform these situations into opportunities for collaboration.
In 2009, I came to Australia. A fresh chapter of my life started in a new society – different from the one I had to leave. I have been so lucky that my life has never stopped teaching me new and beautiful lessons.
Once in Australia, my career as a peace builder and community development worker entered a new phase. I started working with people seeking asylum. I was privileged to be witnessing amazing stories shared by people who escaped from persecution and eminent danger. Their stories were of hope, courage, resilience, optimism, separation and bravery. I was honoured to mentor and support them to develop and share their story as a powerful tool for change in their communities. I also mentored traumatised young people seeking asylum and their families to navigate the Australia and United Nations systems comfortably and with dignity. In line with this, I have provided voluntary translation and interpreting support for those in need, knowing the veil of language can be a limiting factor in driving and promoting peace in our communities.
Unfortunately, on 15 August 2021 Afghanistan fell to Taliban which put an end to 20 years of hard work for millions of people from all walks of life including the civil society sector. Afghanistan still faces an uncertain future after 4 decades of war and conflict.
Essan Dileri – Afghan/ Australia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 31Read More