Cross-border Aamney-Samney initiative tackles India, Pakistan stereotypes
BY JEHAN (INDIAN SEED, 2008) | MUMBAI Before Indian Seeds arrive at the Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine, many of them wonder, “What does a Pakistani look like? What does a Pakistani sound like? What does a Pakistani think?” Not knowing the answer to little questions such as these allow stereotypes to form based on what we hear from the media and politicians.
The main goal of this Seed Ventures project was to change that—to get as many people as possible from both sides of the India-Pakistan border to have reality-based answers to these questions. We wanted them to have a face to project in their minds when they read, spoke, or heard about the “other side.” I therefore developed the Aamney-Samney (“Face-to-Face” in Hindi and Urdu) project.
The vision for Aamney-Samney was to connect students from both Pakistan and India across the border using the current technology available to the students: Skype, blogs, and phones.
The Bombay International School and Lahore Grammar School formed a partnership in which four students from each school, led by Seeds and a teacher from each school, met regularly over the course of several Skype and blog sessions to both share commonalities and differences between the two nation’s cultures.
The first step in the cross-border communication involved setting up a private blog, allowing the two groups of students to tell each other about themselves, their beliefs, and their life goals.
Like what takes place at the Seeds of Peace Camp when we begin talking to “the other side,” their similarities surfaced, and the students were able to use those to build friendships and then even celebrate their differences. Some bonded over food, some over photography, some over motor racing accidents and some over the Twilight novel and film series. It was as if the first week of Camp was unfolding before us on our computer screens!
From there, the students began connecting over Skype. They first held an ice-breaker session which allowed them to learn more about the students from across their respective border.
Follow-up Skype sessions were more task-oriented as we formed four cross-border teams, each consisting of one Indian and one Pakistani student. Based on the theory that “the differences between India and Pakistan are blown out of proportion,” each group covered a specific piece of the cultures in order to compare and contrast the two cultures. The topics included food, language, clothing, and beliefs.
Each team corresponded with each other over the course of a month as they researched and shared about their topic as they worked toward the project’s end, a group presentation.
After a month of sharing research and information, the students met to present their findings to others through a video Skype call held at their respective schools. Over 50 guests were in attendance to hear their presentations.
The first group came up front and gave a little introduction of their topic, what people generally think of “the other side,” before presenting their video in which they interviewed family and friends about the misconceptions about the other:
The second group presented on the topic of language and showed a video they created which challenged others to decipher the differences between Hindi and Urdu. In one part of the video, the group leaders told a joke in Hindi/Urdu and asked the interviewees which language they believed the joke to be in. As expected, everyone in Pakistan said Urdu and everyone in India said Hindi. This showed that the spoken languages are extremely similar, so if an Indian speaks in Hindi a Pakistani who speaks Urdu would understand and vice versa.
The third group created a slideshow about the cuisines of the two cultures. They ended their presentation by sharing a popular dish from the other’s country to those guests in attendance. Those in India enjoyed some homemade biryani, while those in Pakistan enjoyed some vada-pav.
The fourth group covered the topic of clothing by presenting a series of images and interviews with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds.
The audience at the presentation went home with more information about the country across the border and enjoyed all of the presentations. The project participants also gained much from the experience:
“I enjoyed making new friends, learning about the similarities between India and Pakistan and how these similarities can bring us together.”
— Miraj, Pakistani student
“It was amazing to see how well an Indian and a Pakistani could just talk to each other and co-operate without any hesitation, almost like they had known each other for years.”
— Karan, 2011 Indian Seed
“Brilliantly organized! More initiatives like this must be taken at a larger scale to make the world know what Seeds of Peace is all about. Glad to be a part of it. A step towards world peace!”
— Imran Ismailjee, Teacher, Bombay International School
“A family like us yearns for the fruits of this project. We have our own family on the other side of the border. The protocol of the two nations makes the distance longer. At Karachi, unknown shopkeepers, doctors and new friends received us with the warmest hospitality—eager to know about our country and wishing to be here! My sincere invitation to all those students who would strengthen ties between the two nations, through this project. This project seems to be making our inner wish a reality!”
— Laila, parent of participant
“I think it was an amazing experience. Everyone I got to know is amazing in his or her own way. This project helped me overcome the anti-Indian sentiments I had previously had.”
— Mahnoor, Pakistani student
If just by realizing similarities and valuing differences through a small project, a strong bond could be formed, then why can’t our governments do the same?
This project instilled a sense of peace and mutual respect for each other.
Having a friend from across the border is not very common, but when one is made, thoughts, hobbies, ideas, and dreams, can converge and meet at a point where everything goes beyond our conflict, our nationality, who we are, and what we are made to believe. After all, the “enemy” does have a face.