LAHORE | Indian children belonging to the Seeds of Peace family returned home on Saturday by Dosti Bus with tons of warmth, hospitality and sweet memories. There were 21 boys and girls aged between 15-17 with two delegation leaders, Monica Wahi and Feruzun Mehta from India.
The US representative of Seeds of Peace organisation, Marieke van Woerkom, accompanied Indian children along with two Harvard University students, Anila (Pakistani) and Meenakshi (Indian). All the children hailed from Mumbai’s middle and upper society. They travelled by air to New Delhi from where they came to Lahore by Dosti Bus.
Seeds of Peace (SOP) is an American NGO which facilitates friendships among children of conflicting nations of the world. The idea of SOP was envisioned by John Wallach, a journalist who was moved by Mideast violence. The great luminary of world peace died of cancer in July 2002 among his worldwide family of Seeds of Peace children. He founded Seeds of Peace in 1993 and kept organising their get-together sessions in the idyllic haunts of Otisfield, Maine. In each session, he invited about 360 children in batches from rival nations including Pakistan and India.
Seeds of Peace is now being run by Aaron Miller, a friend of John Wallach, who shared his vision also.
The event of Indian children visiting Lahore was a low-key, off-media affair mainly because of security reasons and fear of ticklish questions of newsmen. All Indian children lived here with families of host children, the first ever free-will interaction between Indian Hindu families and Pakistani Muslim families after Partition. In that respect, it meant much more than sheer lip service to the cause of peace.
Asked what they enjoyed most in Pakistan, Indian children just had one word, “Hospitality” on their lips.
In the absence of any government level efforts, the children became true harbingers of peace, love and fraternity. The Indian children brought dainty gifts of choice and letters from their parents for host families. Indian parents used “Asalam-o-Alaikum” and “Insha Allah” in their letters for the first peace harvest after more than half a century.
Enthusiastic host children also pooled in funds for making organised visits to some of the best places of the city. In a chartered bus, they were taken to Government College University, Gurdawara adjacent to Badshahi Mosque, Gymkhana Club, Lahore Fort and Minar-e-Pakistan. They were feted at Village Restaurant, Cafe Zouk and Cocoo’s Cafe. Host families also served special dinners for the guests, keeping in view that many were pure vegetarians or half vegetarians.
Apart from hospitality, they said foods of Lahore were the most enjoyable part of their trip. Host boys took care of boy guests and host girls looked after Indian girls. They played together, ate together and lived together despite limited availability of time as a first experience of its kind.
The children had already been together in the SOP camps in the US, knew each other well and had been keeping their friendship alive on Internet. In their casual chats, India and Pakistan children discussed many of the big issues including Kashmir without getting embroiled, sending a silent message to their national leaders to emulate them.
Seeds of Peace had requested both Governor, Punjab Lt. Gen. Khalid Maqbool and Chief Minister, Punjab Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, for a photo session with SOP children. Ironically, however, both of them failed to respond.
Indian children were interesting observers as well. On August 14 they went round the town. They noted that Pakistanis celebrate Independence Day with a greater joy and spirit.