Sayed Khalid Sadaat is a young Afghan student who is pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication at M S University. He studied cinema and theatre in Kabul University and has acted in Afghan TV serials and advertisements and has also worked as a production assistant. In Kabul, Khalid worked with one of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) through his years in college. He supervised projects on women’s empowerment and girls’ education. Working with internally displaced people and students, he realised that he could become an instrument of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Good afternoon dear all respected guests.
First, I welcome Mr. Robert McNulty the founder of Pax Populi to Vadodara, and I thank Eisha ma’am for inviting me to this program.
I was a child of war but now I am youth of peace.
I was born in 1989. That was the time, the Soviet Union left Afghanistan and Afghan Civil War began.
I was five years old when I enrolled in school. I remember another date from my childhood: 27, September, 1996. The Taliban executed Dr. Najibullah, the president of Afghanistan. As an Afghan child, I remembered all the dark days of Afghanistan during the war. Like many others, I never left my country.
As a school student, I was not aware of the world. Under the Taliban rule, the schools only taught us the religious books and explained about Jihad (holy war). They were impressing our minds and encouraging us to join the jihad. The pages of our books were torn. There were no new books. My older brother wrote his notes on pages torn from my friends books and gave them to me. My mother made notebooks from paper bags for us. She encouraged us to study hard.
In 2001, after the Taliban, all the dark days I kept in my memories as bad dreams and started a new life with new dreams. I got the opportunity to become a youth of peace. A new government was established and the international community had come to Afghanistan to help in rebuilding our country. I am gateful to them. Afghanistan had to start from scratch to get to the state it is in now after 15 years.
Education is the backbone of a country. Many Afghans are still deprived of that. I am one of the hundred Afghan’s youth who complete their Primary education and find the chance to go for higher education. There are so many youths who still suffer. They don’t have access to education, especially girls. Boys and girls are not allowed to continue their education where religious leaders dominate. Some cannot continue their education due to poverty. They have to work and support their families. You find many children working on the streets to support their families. Many children beg for alms.
The lack of educational centers, qualified trainers, useful teaching materials, public libraries, access to internet are the main challenges we face in gaining access to education not only in the remote areas but also in the main cities.
We still need the support of the international community especially in the field of education. Only through education can we bring peace and reconciliation among our people. As an Afghan youth, I am hopeful for the future of my country and will try my best to save my people from misery.
In 2014 I invited for the peace and reconciliation seminar which was conducted by Jesuit Refugee Service in Delhi, India. I learned a lot about peace and reconciliation here. I returned to Afghanistan and started peace and reconciliation classes for school students there. They, in turn, shared their messages about peace and reconciliation massage with three members in their family or friends. Their interest has made me more hopeful about the future of Afghanistan.
After the completing of my master’s degree in journalism and mass communication in India I will go back to Afghanistan with the massage of peace and help those people who don’t have access to education.
I invite all the institutions which work for education and peace around the world to come to Afghanistan and support us for the bright future.
Young Indians (Yi) Vadodara, the youth wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), hosted The Business of Peace interactive session about the necessity of developing means of inter-cultural communication and education to bring about peace in the world on Saturday, October 22 at iPlex from 4 pm to 6 pm, which was changed on that day to 5 pm to 7 pm because of the Prime Minister’s visit to the city and restrictions on traffic movement. In spite of such setbacks, the event received a good attendance and enthusiastic participants engaged in discussions even after the session.
The speakers were Prof Robert McNulty who is member of the Steering Committee of the UN Global Compact Business For Peace initiative and founder of the people-to-people peacebuilding initiative called Pax Populi; Waleed Hussain, News Editor of MidDay newspaper in Mumbai and Sayed Khalid Sadaat, an Afghan student who is currently pursuing his Master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication (FJC) of M S University, Vadodara. Before coming to India, Sadaat worked at one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan called the Jesuit Refugee Service where he supervised projects on women’s empowerment and girls’ education. Kirthi Jayakumar, the founder of the Chennai-based Red Elephant Foundation and winner of the US Presidential Services Medal in 2011, also participated through a virtual presentation.
Dr McNulty spoke about how Pax Populi has helped in peace education in war-torn Afghanistan and then focussed on how businesses could help improve the bilateral relations between India-Pakistan. Mr Hussain, whose story was a part of the Bollywood film, Airlift, talked about the difficulties he faced as a 12-year-old Kuwaiti refugee and how the media shapes perceptions and opinions. He insisted that we should be responsible when sharing or forwarding something on social media because the consequences of an irresponsible forward can be very harmful. Mr Sadaat spoke about the system of education in Afghanistan and how the international community can help rebuild a nation. Ms Jayakumar discussed the Gender Based Violence (GBV) world map she has made to ensure that women in 197 countries get access to help if they are in situations where they face violence.
Participating students in the audience engaged with the speakers before and after with the event. The Business of Peace session provided ideas about how technology, education and corporate partnerships across borders can actually help make the world a more peaceful place.
In November 2015, Dr. Robert McNulty, the founder and executive director of Applied Ethics and its people-to-people peacebuilding program, Pax Populi, traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to visit the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies (KIMS), which is a partner school of Pax Populi Academy. KIMS and its leader, staff, and students are a testimony to courage and dedication to education for peace. This talk describes the trip and comments on its significance.
Do check out the video here.
I am from the village of Parra in Goa, hence we are called Parrikars. My village is famous for its watermelons. When I was a child, the farmers would organise a watermelon-eating contest at the end of the harvest season in May. All the kids would be invited to eat as many watermelons as they wanted. Years later, I went to IIT Mumbai to study engineering. I went back to my village after 6.5 years. I went to the market looking for watermelons. They were all gone. The ones that were there were so small. I went to see the farmer who hosted the watermelon-eating contest. His son had taken over. He would host the contest but there was a difference. When the older farmer gave us watermelons to eat he would ask us to spit out the seeds into a bowl. We were told not to bite into the seeds. He was collecting the seeds for his next crop. We were unpaid child labourers, actually. He kept his best watermelons for the contest and he got the best seeds which would yield even bigger watermelons the next year. His son, when he took over, realised that the larger watermelons would fetch more money in the market so he sold the larger ones and kept the smaller ones for the contest. The next year, the watermelons were smaller, the year later even small. In watermelons the generation is one year. In seven years, Parra’s best watermelons were finished. In humans, generations change after 25 years. It will take us 200 years to figure what we were doing wrong while educating our children.
(Excerpt from a speech by India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar at an event hosted by the Federation of Gujarat Industries in Vadodara, India on 11 September, 2016. Transcription by Eisha Sarkar)
To dream of travelling the world, on a not-so-empowering Indian passport, remained a dream for long. Starting 2012, as life took me to USA and Europe and got me to touch and be touched by South Africa, the long distance to Latin America was a distant dream.
I had the chance of meeting Salvadorans Jose and Tula when I was in Rochester, NY, in May 2016. That’s when I knew it was a sign that I ought to be applying to the reporting fellowship by IWMF to El Salvador, and not to Colombia, as I had originally planned. Jose translated the conversation between Tula and I in Spanish and English, I found an editor willing to write me a reference letter because of the uncanny alignment of factors (I wanted to do a story on the under-reported Canadian gold mining in El Salvador, and Rana is my editor at a Canadian Left-wing e-zine who was more than willing to write the letter). The application was sent, I returned to India, and as I tried to shake off the jetlag in June, I was announced one of the six journalists selected to head to El Salvador in August. Happy dance in my head….
I remembered that the amazing Marion had spent time in El Salvador, and it was time for a Skype chat. She generously shared her contacts, friends list, her perspective and her dose of “It’s not that dangerous as the international media screams” that was so assuring.
After a 30-hour travel (including a long layover) to Mexico City, I was soon soaking in the mist of the mountains in the outskirts of the city. That’s where we journalists would congregate, that included 6 other journalists who would be headed to Colombia. Divine journalistic feminine juices overflowing…. a time for mirth, great food with avocado daily, engrossing conversations about how we’d prefer to dance before we die, sharing clothes with those whose bag hadn’t arrived, discussing ways to keep marriages alive when our hearts and jobs lay in places where people were being killed, the perks of being visibly pregnant when reporting from outside the house of the world’s most famous terrorist: it was a great time, only further accentuated by our shared acknowledgement of some degree of trauma or even PTSD touching us all. I was also able to fulfill my dream of wanting to tend to emergency medical situations, learning survival tactics in a conflict zone, how to stop catastrophic bleeding and tend to an exposed intestine in a blast… I confided in the trainer that I wish there were more “gory” images for us to learn from. We had a simulated kidnapping situation, which still has a deep impact on me.
We headed to San Salvador, and the long ride from the Monsenor Oscar Romero airport to our home base (=hotel) was very emotional: everything seemed like India! The canopy of banyan trees, the sunlight trickling through the thick bounty, the hills and their exposed barrenness in places the rocks had been carved out… so much like Assam! Before long, we hit the city and the colourful houses made me smile. I read signboards in Spanish, and I pinched myself: “I am in Latin America. I am in El Salvador. I am a foreign correspondent. I am here, living my dream.” It was a deep realisation; it was heavy to realise that this dream came with much responsibility.
As someone emerging from depression and a definitive reckoning that journalism is what my purpose in life is — at least for until I am in gut-wrenching prolonged discomfort and soul searching — this trip was like a second chance to redeem myself. Hence the pressure felt greater, to do my best. So in the next 8 days of the official fellowship period, I exhausted myself. I was impatient when our local colleagues were not so forthcoming in arranging our interviews; I was disappointed that we were not going out dancing even though I was exhausted; I was extremely moved to see Romero painted on walls almost everywhere. I dealt with my confusion in the midst of the Indian-like summer by becoming a recluse during dinners, as I tried to make sense of my place there. All the other journalists were native of the US; the parts of the city that I was most intrigued by from the tinted windows of our cars were parts that they felt to be poor. I hated that I did not speak Spanish to truly connect with the old women who were making delicious pupusaon the street; I hated that my gracias could possibly be perceived as being dishonest. Because I felt so deeply connected to the place, I saw my family every night in my dreams. Not just blood relations, but long-lost friends from India and other places. The morning coffee minutes were spent in planning the day’s interviews and navigating the flashes from my dreams. I struggled between performance and gratitude.
And yet, the view from the window and into my notebook provided respite. Perhaps it is the people who have lived through wars who are the most compassionate. I had seen the same in Sarajevo last year. People smiled more, and yet the bent backs of older people stopped me grooving to thereggaeton in my car seat. Young boys and girls were walking and waiting for the bus, and I kept on thinking of the stereotypes we hold so dearly because they seem so comfortable. Indeed, amid wars and gang violence and punishments for abortion, people still smile and laugh and discuss love and play football and wear lipstick and breastfeed babies and cherish pupusa. The trees of El Salvador, so much like the ones in India, reflected the real non-duality of the world. I went in that country, full of conflict. Yet each day, I found new angles of hope and resilience.
Perhaps cynicism is a privilege of the privileged.
Perhaps hope is the ambrosia of those oppressed.
A 26-year-old single mother, who had been raised by a single mother, is among the many women leading the fight against the mines. I felt a special kinship with her. She gave me a pair of blue earrings. I was so poor in my privilege that a hug is only what I could afford to give her.
A wonderful woman living in the wonderfully named region called Guacotecti had lost her activist son. She continues to be an activist, trying to find new ways to fight the shortage of groundwater, which had begun to disappear when mining exploration had begun. “I water my plants with the rain of my tears,” she said, translated by my local colleague. What makes you so popular in your village, I asked her. She said, “Only the wife of the pastor listens to him as he only speaks of god. I follow god’s path by representing my parched village in its fight for water.”
So many dogs lay dead on the highways: again, a scene that is all too common. I introduced myself to everyone I met as being from India and yet feeling so emotional because everything in El Salvador felt just like in India. And in saying so repeatedly, I realised how the identity of being an Indian (whatever that might mean) is so intrinsic to me, in spite of being a jajabor because of feeling at once at home and homeless in different places.
“If you came to India, people would assume you to be from India because we look so similar,” I would say, and have my local colleague translate. Language, indeed, was a mere tool. English, like Spanish, was the language of oppression, and yet, of privilege. The people of El Salvador have since long lost touch with their native Nahuat.
Donde es la esperanza – where is the hope: that was what I asked everywhere I went. And through their tales of oppression and resilience, people smiled and told me where esperanza was. And there is enough of it indeed, only if we care to and strive to notice it.
On Aug 25, the fellowship officially ended, and I stayed back for another 5 days, as it was already planned. I was physically, emotionally, intellectually exhausted and was tempted to return “home”, to Bombay. But I am glad I realised that this was the adrenaline balloon compressing. I was indeed nervous about the next 5 days: in the last one year, I had realised that I wanted to travel only with a purpose, and that the purpose alone would be means enough for travel as a means to expand my vision. So I was nervous of feeling lost, of spending money on my exhaustion, of not finding ways to complete my reporting because I could not quite afford to pay the local colleagues to make contacts and translate, of having to make strenuous efforts to travel economically. I spoke to Papa and told him to just take note of my apprehension.
I think the dead loved ones hear better.
Within hours, I was on my way to Chalatenango, with Claudia, who spoke English. We would be staying the night in a village there. Visited the former home of a woman whose was burnt to death with 4 other kids by the army during the war; the house is now a memorial place. People with us were taking photographs; I could hardly take any. I don’t know the old mother and I hugged for long minutes, and she held my palm, none of us saying a word as we didn’t know each other’s language.
We stayed the night in a house that could have been anywhere in rural India, except for thetortilla and frijole for dinner (but that too could be best translated into roti and rajma). I had a very strange dream that night as I slept in that house, amid the crowing of cocks and hens in that village: I dreamt that I was waking up on that bed, with Claudia also in that room, and I’m thinking to myself (in the dream): I am in Jharkhand (in India) and I don’t speak the language. I don’t remember the Jharkhandi words from last night. How shall I speak to them?
Then I woke up, and saw Claudia, and the confusion continued in my head of not knowing where I was and the language of the place. Suddenly she said groggily, “Buenos dias!” I then realised that this was Spanish and that I was not in Jharkhand but in El Salvador.
Never had I felt to be so far away and yet so close to that feeling of home.
I also realised how much I had loved to travel through rural India, and that was a part of my becoming and being.
It wasn’t happenstance that I had the brief chance to meet one of the Jesuit priests Fr Tojeira; or navigating through the city and rural El Salvador comfortably (because I no more want to fight my body); a college student try her best to translate, amid rains, the narrative about a political movement in universities; or stealthily enjoy the terrace view of an anthropology museum; or walk at night in the streets of “dangerous” San Salvador ruminating over love and visas; or manage to please my hosts with yummy chicken curry 2 hours later than the promised dinner hour. The purpose in every moment was right there, in entirety.
The following days were in a blissful and shocking haze of the intent sent out being fulfilled: help came by in the most extraordinary ways, meeting women with whom I bonded over our conversations for politics needing to be an evolution of our spiritual aspirations, and soaking in the games of the youth in a fascinating event. Those teenagers playing drums and football, flirting with each other and talking about violence, were the hope of this country ravaged in the aftermath of a war and the broken efforts as rebuilding the country thereafter. The packed car with teenagers chattering non-stop from 4am until we reached the hills of Morasan at 8am reflected that hope. The packed pickup truck that we all stood holding the rails, as the vehicle went up and down the hill, giving us a magnificent view of WOWness around us, even as we yelled because of the roller-coaster ride, was that hope.
I was surprised how emotional I was about leaving El Salvador. It opened my heart to my own possibility as a journalist again; it opened my heart to the desperate need to look for hope, everywhere, always; it opened my heart in a way that at several moments, I felt empty and whole at the same moment. Nothing beats that feeling of gratitude.
I end my tale of sojourn here. Until the next flight or train ride or window seat…. write to me!
Gracias y amor,
Yusuf Omar’s first forays in mobile journalism began in 2010, when he hitchhiked from South Africa to Syria with nothing but his smartphone and a small handheld camera to tell his story. Since then, he’s used mobile technology to report from the frontlines of the Syrian war to the#ZumaMustFall protests in Johannesburg. He’s trained mobile journalists from South Africa to India to the U.K.
Read more here