I’ve been a writer all my life. Since as long as I could remember, I’ve always turned to putting pen to paper when I want to make sense of things, or to capture a memory.
It wasn’t a surprise, then, when I found myself on the staff for our school magazine. I was assigned covering politics, and very early on in my research, would already form opinions. These were important ideas that I was putting forward, and I took on the role of the vigilante, seemingly educating my classmates on issues I had only just begun to comprehend. It was at Seeds of Peace where it dawned on me that the true essence of journalism is to tell a story, one in which there are always two sides. For years what I’d been writing was merely an opinion, but it wasn’t up to me to control the narrative. It was simply to show both sides for what they truly are.
I know we’re more inclined to believe what we see, than what we read or hear about. I wish you could have seen what I saw—an Israeli and a Palestinian compromise to split the last brownie, Pakistanis carry an American on their shoulders after he won his soccer game, an entire tricontinental army of girls band together to help me figure out how to wear a sari.
I witnessed dialogues get out of hand, with raw anger, bitterness and exasperation bubbling to the surface daily. Accusations were hurled from teenagers who demanded answerability for losses and deaths they should never have had to face; from the teenagers sitting across from them also posing the same questions.
But amidst the pain and confusion, I also witnessed something miraculous: understanding dawned in the place of ignorance, belief systems shattered and rebuilt anew, redefinitions of national pride.
It was a change perceivable in the smallest of instances—in the awe of Indians and Pakistanis realizing they could flawlessly converse in two separate national languages, in an American’s love for Bollywood, and a Palestinian’s passion for football.
There is a moment at Camp where every Seed realizes that the issues we face are not so black and white. There is no right and wrong side in this messy equation, and there are more factors and elements at play than either side could ever fathom.
It’s just about the same time when they discover that at the crux of the situation, there lies a humanity to which we all relate. They find a piece of themselves in the “enemy,” a reflection of their own deepest fears, anger, and sadness, looking back at them from the “other side.”
They realize the echoes of generations past which rang through their mind should be honored, but also challenged. Change begins with a change in mindset, not a change in policy. At Seeds of Peace we say, “Governments negotiate treaties; people negotiate peace.”
There are some out there still resistant to this message. They haven’t seen what I’ve seen, and haven’t had the privilege of glimpsing the utopia in which I lived for one month, all those 8 years ago. I had one particularly persistent friend who insisted that he knew “the truth.” He threw statistics and history my way, backing up his claims that I’d fraternized with the enemy, and that what I’d seen was merely an illusion of peace. He tried to convince me that what I witnessed was merely a group of teenagers playing pretend, disregarding and manipulating the reality of the matter.
He couldn’t change my mind, and I couldn’t change his. But I did make him question the narrative that was ingrained in us both growing up in India. I instilled a seed of doubt, and I watched it grow within him. He still doesn’t believe that peace between our two countries is ever a possibility, but he understands that distinction between the citizens and their government. He no longer propagates the agenda that all Pakistanis are extremists or terrorists. He feels empathy for Pakistanis, for the poverty and plights that third world countries face, just like the ones he sees on our streets every day.
Seeds of Peace is more than a community. It’s a family that discovered The Way Life Could Be. Seeds are strangers turned brothers and sisters, generations of people who broke the cycle of blind hatred, learned to distinguish stereotypes from truths, and forged relationships with the unlikeliest of peers. To be a Seed is to be a changemaker, and none of us can do that alone. Every time I faltered in my belief, or felt the shadow of hesitation creep in, it has always been met with a roaring enthusiasm from Seeds around the world, both who had come to Camp with me, and from the generations before and after, that brought me back home.
At Seeds of Peace, we have the Field—which exists “beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing”—where people from all across the world, who’ve lived vastly different lives and known different truths, come together. It was on this field where I walked with my Pakistani best friend, our arms linked, as we said goodbye on our last night at Camp. I haven’t seen her since then, all those years ago, but I still know who she is. I’ve known the “enemy,” understood and loved her in what was both the best and worst of times, and that changed my life.