Recently a URI Regional Coordinator said, “Friendship in URI means everything.” In the current busyness and speedy pace of life, people feel pressured and they often overlook requests to reply to emails, RSVP to invitations, and or even to call back on the phone. Since URI is about connecting with people, it can be a challenge just to do that - connect. When people know you and like you, it’s different.
Last week, I was in Kerala, participating in the Traveling Peace Academy (TPA), an innovative peacebuilding training program for URI staff and Cooperation Circle members. The last day fell on the International Day of Peace. TPA participants were invited to celebrate with students at the Karickam International Public School. Subhi Dhupar (the new Regional Coordinator for North India) and I were asked to greet students, teachers, and parents. We climbed on stage, entwined our arms, and I said to the audience, “Do you know what? We are friends, but just five days ago we didn’t know each other.”
Subhi is from Delhi. I’m from San Francisco. Subhi is a young adult, new staff; I am a senior and have been with URI for 20 years. Subhi explained that she had been scared when she learned we were to be roommates. What had happened to change us from strangers to friends?
I looked into the audience and saw our co-participants in TPA. I saw a sea of smiles. Peacebuilders from Bangladesh, Australia, Sri Lanka, all zones of India, the UK and US. We were mostly strangers at the start of the week. Now, a relaxed radiance of happy friendships beamed from each face. All week, friendships had blossomed. The peacebuilding sessions invited us to share our stories, our peace work, our songs, our jokes, our poetry, laughter. We learned tools for analyzing conflict and we embarked on traveling adventures. We went places as a community. We jostled along in a bumpy school bus, got pelted with rain, dressed up to attend formal local events, visited mosques, churches, temples, we climbed a big rock to see the full moon rise, and we got soaked in a huge waterfall. We formed co-mentoring peer groups, listened with care to each other’s projects, and helped one another apply practical peacebuilding tools in our work back home.
Friendships had burst naturally like a garden in springtime. Our friendships felt true. Friendships comforted and energized us, released joy, and revived vitality. To close the greeting at the school, I told the audience that to do peacebuilding; we need good friends – lots of them.
A take-away learning from this TPA training is to acknowledge the centrality of sincere friendships for people who work for peace. Skills and competencies are important, but peacebuilding is enduring, daily brave work, and it is sustained by good friends.