Afghanistan Youth Empowerment and Peace-building Organization (AYEPO) organized a "Peace & Harmony Gathering" from the 5th to 7th February 2020, on the eve of the World Interfaith Harmony Week, to enhance mutual understanding, peace and harmony among Afghan youth. The program was facilitated by AYEPO director, Ahmad Shah Karimi in Kabul, Afghanistan.
In the program, youth from different ethnic groups came together to celebrate diversity and learn how to promote peace and harmony in their lives, families and communities. They shared stories with each other, speaking about where they live, how they celebrate different occasions in their communities, and their lives in general.
Participants talked about the common ground they shared with each other and how such commonalities could unite them. They also discussed the role of youth in peace-building and social changes, and in creating unity. They discussed how young people from diverse backgrounds could collectively bridge cultural gaps and other differences, thus working with one another for the future they all share.
Talking about these issues was not all we did. The spirit of these discussions was embodied and experienced in a powerful process where the youth cooked meals together, ate with one another, drew pictures and sang together with open hearts. The experience emphasized that overall, and despite their differences, they were united and could peacefully coexist in their diversity.
Why is such a gathering important in Afghanistan?
Most Afghan youth have lived a life shaped and influenced by conflict and violence. Not many of us have experienced life in a peaceful and united environment, far from psychological and physical harm as well as with a lack of discrimination and division. Although a lot of progress has happened in the past 19 years in the areas of education, women’s rights, and human rights, no particular attention has been given to youth, especially in bringing youth of different backgrounds together so that they can learn about each other and bridge social and cultural gaps. There are not many opportunities for young people to see how they can relate and work for the future they all share. A lack of attention in this regard often contributes to a lack of common vision among youth. As a result, they have a different outlook towards those who come from different ethnic groups – meaning that there are misconceptions and divisions among the younger generations.
Hence, our Peace and Harmony Gathering was an effort to reduce the current divisions among young people. We accomplished this by bringing a group of youth from different ethnicities together to meet face-to-face, share meals, share stories, listen to each other’s perspectives, and discuss topics of peace and reconciliation together. They meditated and learned how to calm and relax their minds through breathing techniques. They drew pictures and made music together. They united around ideas for change within their communities and ideas for transferring the lessons learned - for sharing a message of peace, social harmony, love and brotherhood with their families, communities and society at large.
"For me personally, it was heart-warming as I worked with the participants, whose discussions, ideas, open hearts, listening, respecting each other's views, and exploring possibilities of how they can take the initiative and do similar things in their communities, gave me the inspiration that conditions and mindsets are changing," said AYEPO Founder-Director Ahmad Shah Karimi. "We can't change what we are unaware of, but once we are aware, we cannot help but to change."
The gathering was organized by AYEPO and welcomed by the larger community. It showed us how such events can help young people to really get to know each other, which may open a new chapter of friendship, unity and harmony among them. It was very exciting and a proud moment for the AYEPO team, as well as an opportunity to bring youth of different backgrounds together to witness the transformation that happened through the program. The participants, who had not met each other at all, grew so close in just three days that one could sense that they were now like members of a family.