a postcard from Ellis Brooks
With Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK, I have had the opportunity to practise peace education in Afghanistan for a few days. We are delivering workshops in conflict resolution and mediation with street children, and some ‘train the trainer’ sessions with Afghan Peace Volunteers. The APV have a team of nine young men and women who are coordinating work on conflict resolution.
The great thing about doing peace education with children and young people is that it comes naturally, no matter where you are. Young people get the need for fairness, the need to be heard, the need for justice.
That said, there are lots of challenges to doing this work compared with Britain. Translating not just the words but the ideas is not easy. A metaphor I often use is the “conflict escalator”, carrying you up out of control; as far as I can tell there’s only one escalator in Kabul (donated by a penitent of Bin Laden’s family), and the city’s street children are not so familiar with it. Gender norms, family, school and the balance between the individual and the group: all these are different. Moreover, violence is present in homes and the streets. Most if not all of the children we’ve spoken to have witnessed violence, making the idea that conflict and violence are not synonymous, hard to grant.
As a teacher, there are concepts and tools I want to convey, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers are teaching me about the conflict resolution they already do. Other Afghans have been surprised at how APV bring together Hazari, Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbeks under one roof. Afghanistan of course has an ancient tradition of conflict resolution, but I suspect Kabul’s young people have innovations of their own. So really, I’m the student.
Peace education is already happening here as well. Besides APV, we’ve been in contact with Sanayee Development Centre, the US Institute and Jesuit Relief Services, all of which are reaching young people with different elements of peace education.
Ultimately, I will be happy if we have fun together. Solidarity is a big motivation for being here. Whatever the intent, many of the interventions by my country and others have made Afghans less safe and less free. But I want to picture Afghanistan as more than the home of drone strikes, illicit poppy cultivation and the marginalization of women. The Afghan Peace Volunteers have taken me beyond these headlines, showing that nonviolence can flourish even when there seems to be no space for it.
Conflict is experienced by everyone everywhere, so educating everyone in peaceful conflict resolution is not a “special” intervention that Afghans need more than others; it is a universal right. The work of Afghan Peace Volunteers says to the world that they are not giving up on this or any other rights for their young people, and I hope I can stand with them in that.