Our societies can become dysfunctional or break for so many reasons, and on so many levels. In this collection of essays, we start with the most brutal: civil war, and one inspirational project helping to heal the rifts between communities.
“Almost all that strangers know about the Balkans are wars. … All countries have turbulent past here. Their people show hatred, anger and sorrow and it makes the world think that here is still no chance for a real peace. The truth is that even if twenty-three years of the last war have past, there is still a hard situation in my country.”
“ As a well-known young artist here, I decided to do something new in my community, so I could improve the bad relation between the Balkan nations. It was hard, because they’re from different cultures, have different points of view towards life and the most important thing – different side of the war. For some of them, one participant of the war was a hero, for others - a killer. But I realized, they all have the same thing – a big heart. Actually, I knew that only artists could make the change I wanted to see in this region. … It was a big decision, but I founded the first online poetry contest on the Balkans, called "Sweet Duels". Instead of comments of hatred on social networks, I started a competition, which prolongs words of peace in verses. Six years later, we have grown to a group with over one thousand Balkan poets. It becomes very popular here and every year, I proudly organize it, because there are more and more poets, who want to join us.”
- Nermin Delić, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Wars, today, can be abstract, hard to discern, targeting some communities, but not others, that live side by side.
“… I lost a dear friend in a suicide-bombing incident involving young children. He was holding hands with his younger brother, about to enter a church in Surabaya for a Holy Mass on a bright Sunday. … In this moment of silence and grief, I realize that the modern world is at war, between good and evil, between humanity and cruelty. The world is in dire need of compassion, peace and kind acts. … Unity in diversity is a concept that encourages us to have tolerance towards different cultures, religious beliefs and appearances. Unity in diversity brings us together without uniformity. We are stronger together despite our differences on faith, background and culture.”
- Ines Indira Rei, Indonesia
In order to succeed, reconciliation and rebuilding must come from within those individuals and communities affected.
“The world needs us, young people like you and I, to participate, take action and lead the changes in our communities. We should have the courage and confidence to make a positive difference in building a better and peaceful world.”
- Ines Indira Rei, Indonesia
“When the barrel of guns stopped, peace came in, resettlement started and afterwards, a deadly disease, a life threatening monster called 'dependency syndrome' hopped in. An attitude and a belief that an individual or group cannot solve its own problem without help. The disease which has blind folded the young and the old. It's a disease I would like to prevent and eliminate because it kills creativity, innovation and the spirit of self-reliance, making young people vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation.”
“I with my team formed a drama group. Drama is helping us in creating awareness on a number of issues which affects the community such as; Sexual and Gender Based Violence, drug and substance abuse, conflict resolution, corruption to mention but a few. These are achieved through organizing community and school outreaches.”
- Otim Nicholas Ojara, Uganda
“…as a global community, we must move forward with empathy and the humility to allow the individuals whose lives we are trying to improve to be involved in changes which will impact their communities. In doing so, we can ensure the long-lasting change that we have envisioned”.
“… young people, who have awareness of the most prevalent issues their communities face, are best equipped to identify and address them. … students have emerged from the Youth Innovation Lab program with game-changing ideas to effect change in their communities. Their projects are all informed by their own empathetic connections to their fellow community members and motivated by a drive to tackle issues that are close to home.”
- Mahika Halepete, U.S.A.
These innovative programmes build confidence in young people, to trust their knowledge and intuition. It is important to foster self-worth and capability right from childhood, as Fortunate Prosper Tillya found when she spent time with children at an orphanage:
“They began to speak out their dreams boldly. They were very happy to hear that I was interested to know about their talents. I took time to see what each of them had to present and we also went outside for sports. … these kids were longing to have good relationships. They need people who can visit them regularly and not just on a one-time occasion. … they don’t need people to give donations and leave. They need people who can stay. … Let us engage with them and help them grow. They need love just like you and me”.
- Fortunate Prosper Tillya, Tanzania (Living in Australia)
If we are not treated with respect, we can loose belief in our self-worth, accepting less than we deserve.
“I have come to realize that most of our challenges are as a result of: Absence of Self-Value. We have no value, nor attach any importance to ourselves hence, we accept and settle for anything. … When people begin to see themselves in a positive light, they will demand for excellence. They would not downplay the importance of integrity. They would demand justice and good governance. They would pursue their dreams with all their might and know that their value is way more than a piece of paper gotten from school or their account balance. Value will be placed on a person’s personality and attributes. … If Nigeria is filled with people of great quality, the government, service providers, manufacturers and everyone would sit up and provide quality leadership, goods and services to the people.”
- Victoria Onyinye Onyeacholem, Nigeria
We must be mindful, in times of peace and prosperity, of the day-to-day slips in humanity - the lack of communication and contact that can lead to a feeling of ‘otherness’. Otherness leads to divisions and can lead back into conflict.
“The initial step is to be connected with our surroundings. In this digital era, we tend to be less conscious of our environment, spending most of our time on our gadgets. We need to change this and start building better relationships with our family and friends. We are stronger together with love and care”.
- Ines Indira Rei, Indonesia
“The rise of technology was able to transform the life of the society and it has brought us in numerous benefits, yet the misuse of it has made us lose extremely important things. The Internet, which should be used to improve and intensify the communication, ended up superseding the face-to -face conversation in the life of many people, leaving back factors as spontaneity, emotion and truly. The people forgot how to live the real life and this made them be more selfish and careless.”
- Fabrina Tayane Guedes Farias, Brazil
On a commuter train, packed with people, mostly communicating only out of necessity, Keonhee Lee witnessed a conversation:
“An older woman and a middle-aged man – to whom I must apologise for eavesdropping – had entered conversation, and discovered that both were immigrants. The woman had moved to Vancouver in the 1990s, and the man had just arrived from Hong Kong with his young children. As he described his worries and hopes for himself and his family, I watched the woman nod, sharing her own stories, radiating with sympathy. I watched as the two created a meaningful connection, the rare kind based upon authentic understanding of one another. They had met on a random train car, and would likely never see each other again, but for a fleeting moment, they shared a human bond that could only result from true compassion. They shared that instant of empathy that we all seek so much, and I almost felt lonely in contrast to them.”
“ We had become a lonely group of people who had neglected our links to the rest of the world; to the people we passed by on the street, stood in line with at the grocery, and held a door open for when they walked in behind us. Our interactions were limited to mere vestiges of human contact”.
- Keonhee Lee, Canada
Many essayists have acknowledged their dependence, or preference for technology in their lives. But all have seen the need to compromise their use, if this will achieve a better state of being. And our youth are their future, and so the last words go to Ines India Rei (Age 12):
“We should not leave the urgency for having a peaceful world in the hands of adults. … We should make use of our talents, knowledge and interests to establish the chain of kind acts in the community”.
May Peace Prevail on Earth
We wish to thank all the contributors for the positive power of their thoughts and actions.
This is one of five journal entries summarising and highlighting the ideas in the International Essay Contest for Young People 2018. To see these essays in full and all sixty-six finalists, go to the Goi Peace Foundation website.
We wish to apologise to those essayists, whose work was not translated into English, for not being able to include their words.
The thumbnail picture is by Jan Cachia, Malta, for the Peace Pals International Art Exhibition and Awards 2018. See more on their website.