Monday, January 31, 2011
Local project reaches war zones: Stories, puppets, art tell Pakistani children about peaceful times
Jahan Zeb wants the younger generations of Pashtun people in Pakistan to know happiness once existed in their regions.
“When we were growing up, there was peace. There was happiness in those villages … towns and cities,” Zeb said. “Now our children, our (second, third) generations, they don’t know. Was there happiness? Was there some hope? They don’t believe. They don’t know what is hope.”
Zeb, who was born and raised in Peshawar, could see the violence and militancy from Afghanistan cross the border over to the Pakhtunkhwa province and Tribal Areas of Pakistan when he immigrated to Hamilton in 2002.
He didn’t have the means to do something about it then. On Sunday, the local community leader said he believes change is coming.
When the Taliban took over the Pakistani region of Swat where his wife’s family lived, causing millions of people to migrate in 2009, Zeb had a “personal motivation” to approach peace studies experts and leaders in Hamilton.
Zeb partnered with the authors of a Hamilton-based project called Journey of Peace, and created the Art and Peace Education Exchange, or APEX, to bring the stories of healing to the border regions of Pakistan.
On Sunday, APEX held its first event at the Pearl Company to raise funds to print books in Pashto, culturally adapt the stories and train teachers in Pakistan.
Journey of Peace is a 16-part series of stories told with puppets about an Afghan family struggling with war trauma and displacement. Available in English, Pashto and Dari, they have been included in school curricula in Kandahar, Kabul and Samangan provinces in Afghanistan since 2007.
The Journey of Peace project was inspired by the childhood experiences of Dr. Seddiq Weera of McMaster University’s Centre for Peace Studies, and was written by four authors.
Since its creation more than seven years ago, the project has been adapted for earthquake victims in China and used in the Congo as well, said coauthor and psychotherapist Mary-Jo Land.
“We sort of hear that Pakistan has to get on board with the peace process, but we’re not really hearing about how much terrorism is going on for the Pashtun people in Pakistan,” Land said Sunday.
The stories have already been translated, but need to be adjusted for schools in Pakistan, replacing the concern of landmines prevalent in Afghanistan with the issues of terrorism and suicide bombing, Land said.
The Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, which runs 15 schools in the border regions, has already told APEX it wants the stories of peace in its curricula.
Land said she would like to see the stories implemented in schools as early as this summer.
The plan is to have a dialogue between students in Hamilton and Pashtun children in Pakistan through social networking sites such as Facebook, Zeb said, adding he eventually wants to see student and teacher exchanges between the two countries.
But militant violence is not exclusive to Pashtun children, Zeb said, adding that London, New York, Boston and Toronto have also been affected.
“It’s not just the children (in Pakistan). We are providing hope for children in Canada,” he said.
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