MUMBAI | Seeds of Peace’s nine-month Young Leaders Peace Fellowship has introduced 27 Indian teens to the next level of peace education.
Once a month, the fellows—a mix of Indian Seeds from recent years of Camp and new members of the Seeds of Peace community—met for eight-hour sessions deepening their understanding of conflict. Topics ranged from mindfulness and active listening, to honing mediation and negotiation skills, to exploring how different forms of identity can cause conflict.
“One of the main goals of the Fellowship is to create, in the long run, a stream of young influencers who will facilitate peace and conflict resolution in any walk of life they choose,” said Director of Indian Programs Sagar Gangurde. Another goal is to foster essential skills such as communication, critical thinking, empathy, negotiation, leadership, and teamwork.
Sagar believes these are skills that India’s education system does not equip students with. And he’s far from alone in thinking so: The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry conducted a survey which found that the vast majority of Indian graduates lacked adequate soft skills to be employable.
Rishi, an Indian Seed and GATHER Fellow, agreed.
“The Indian education system, as well as its curriculum—largely based on rote learning methods—was designed to prepare learners for now-outdated job roles,” he said.
Rishi is currently developing X Billion Skills Lab, a learning platform that teaches Indian youth these important skills.
Dev, a participant in the Young Leaders Peace Fellowship, saw the program as an entry point to Seeds of Peace.
“I was afraid of opening up to people I had never met before,” she said. “I feared they might judge me for who I am, or my opinions. But everyone was so open-minded … I could share things from my personal life which I haven’t shared with anyone else, not even my childhood friends. This space is so safe and non-judgmental.”
One lesson she learned from the program was how to view conflicts from multiple sides in order to form opinions impartially. “Whether it’s petty fights with my sister, or something much larger,” she said, “two groups will never be able to reach a consensus if they don’t understand and acknowledge the perspective and need of the other group.”
Rhea, a participant who had never been in dialogue before, was surprised by the experience.
“Today was easily one of my best days to date, as it was spent with people who accept me for who I am and don’t question why I do what I do.”
Another participant, Ishaan, said, “The skills I learned gave me the voice and the courage to speak my mind and be unafraid of laying down my cards, unafraid of conflicts, and unafraid of change.”
Sagar shared an experience he felt encapsulated the entire Fellowship. During one exercise, students created “vision boards” articulating how they wanted to lead change and what peace looked like to each of them. In some ways, it was the culmination of everything they had processed so far.
Initially, Sagar said he had been worried that the students might not be able to fully articulate their thoughts and wondered if what they had learned had truly resonated. The Fellowship was, after all, a new experience for them—one that required untangling the way schools have conditioned them to approach tasks.
But this tension gave way to genuine inspiration as he saw the students vision boards come to life. “I was personally thrilled by the effort the participants had put in … presenting their vision with so much passion,” he said. “It was wonderful to see them engaged.”
Now that the Fellowship has come to a close, these young leaders are paying what they’ve learned forward. Dev, for example, is leading sessions on conflict transformation with students at her school.
In the meantime, a new cohort of 2019 Young Leaders Peace Fellows has just begun, and we’re so excited to see them in action! We look forward to rounding back with Sagar and watching these teens come into their own as changemakers.