By Philip M Hellmich
In March, I attended a conference in Jaipur, on Making Way for the Feminine: For the Benefit of the World Community. At the event, HH Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (‘Amma’), HH Dadi Janki and several other spiritual dignitaries spoke elegantly about the need to bring forth feminine qualities of love, compassion, and nurturing.
|Sushita and Pushpa: embodiments of feminine wisdom|
The conference ended with many questions, including: how to bring spiritual feminine qualities to life around the world, particularly in deadly conflict situations, and among youth?
Three weeks following the conference I found myself sitting under a tree with a group of Nepali youth near a remote village in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains in Nepal. After an 11-year civil war, Nepal was on the brink of historic democratic elections. I had travelled to the site with people from the United States and England who were supporting the work of Search For Common Ground (SFCG) (www.sfcg.org), an international organisation committed to transforming how the world deals with conflict. We were meeting with representatives of the Salyan District Youth Peace Network to learn about their efforts in promoting peace in Nepal.
After brief introductions, I asked if any of the youth listened to the radio soap opera Naaya Baato, Naaya Paila (new path, new footprints). The radio programme, written by Nepali youth and produced by SFCG and partner organisation Antenna Foundation Nepal (www.afn.org.np), is about youth in a fictional village in Nepal’s hills who come together from across dividing lines to find positive ways of contributing to the peace process.
Among the replies, one voice emerged from the rest, that of a 15-year-old girl named Pushpa, the Vice President of the youth network. Pushpa said she listened to the programme regularly and that her favourite character was Kamala, a high caste girl with a disability. Even though Kamala sometimes made mistakes, she always kept looking for ways to bridge divides in her community.
Leaning close to Pushpa was another girl, Sushila, treasurer of the network. There was clearly a deep friendship between the two, as they were affectionate with one another. Sushila jumped in by adding that the soap opera had shown how girls could play a positive role in their communities.
One example Pushpa and Sushila gave was that their club took the initiative to repair a three-kilometre section of road leading to the village school. When the adults saw the youth take t he lead, they joined in to help too. Thus, Pushpa said, “Youth and adults can work together, just like a tree – the youth are the branches and the adults the roots,” the first of many tree metaphors she would use in the conversation.
When asked what it was like to have boys and girls working together, Pushpa, without pausing simply referred to the wheels of a cart. “If they do not move together, they will not achieve.” She then smiled and giggled, reminding us she was a young girl.
Even though Pushpa was lighthearted with us, I later learned that she, like many youth in Nepal, had overcome tremendous adversity during the war. Her younger brother had found a pipe bomb, which exploded, leaving him seriously wounded. When Pushpa participated in an SFCG workshop in 2007, she and other youth had an opportunity to talk openly about their hardships. One exercise they did was to give voice to peace, truth, justice, and mercy. When asked to speak on behalf of mercy, Pushpa put aside her personal anger and pain by saying, “There must be mercy for all sides; otherwise the peace will not last. We have to see the light in everyone, to give space for their light to shine.”
It was clear at the workshop and in our conversation under the tree that Pushpa was embodying and giving expression to profound feminine spiritual wisdom. I was awestruck, as many of Pushpa’s words echoed those of the spiritual leaders at Jaipur, yet delivered with such joy and celebration, free of any religious overtone.
Search for Common Ground, which has programmes in 17 countries, recognises that youth like Pushpa and Sushila are not only the future leaders of tomorrow but also vital partners in peace building initiatives today. SFCG seeks to engage youth as equal partners by providing positive outlets for their enthusiasm, energy, and wisdom.
A key cornerstone of SFCG’s work is to help people, youth and adults alike, to transform conflict by seeing their common humanity with “the other,” their perceived enemies. When in conflict, whether at home or on national levels, it is easy to dehumanise and demonise the other person, making it possible to strike out. By re-humanising the other, innate human spiritual qualities of love, tolerance and forgiveness can rise up, making it easier to go from attacking one another to facing issues together.
Media is one of the main tools SFCG uses for reaching vast audiences. The first radio soap opera was produced in Burundi following the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. Our Neighbours, Ourselves was a radio programme produced by Hutu and Tutsi professionals about Hutu and Tutsi families living peacefully together.
In Nepal, Naaya Baato, Naaya Paila has a 27 per cent national listenership rate after two years of broadcasts, according to a BBC survey. SFCG reinforces the messages in the soap opera through public service announcements on radio and through an extensive Youth Leadership Programme.
One of the challenges facing Nepal is the reintegration of children back into their communities after they have participated in violent conflict. One activity SFCG specifically designed to address the issue of reintegration was the use of ‘dohiris,’ traditional live drama performances where an improvised dialogue takes place through singing. SFCG conducted a dohiri workshop for youth and adults to explore the issues around reintegrating youth. The participants created and performed dohiris in their communities that were intergenerational conversations between fictional parents and their children returning from service in armed forces. Performed in villages across Nepal, these dohiris attracted audiences anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 people and were broadcast live on the radio.
Pushpa and Sushila said the dohiris used the conversational singing style to give voice to real concerns of people in the villages. When a dohiri they participated in resulted in the reunion of the family members, Pushpa said the village erupted into applause. Michael Shipler, director of programmes for SFCG in Nepal, said, “When people come together across dividing lines and find profound commonalities, they also find elation.” There is something about the human spirit that responds to reconciliation from a place deep in the heart.
SFCG profoundly believes in the human potential for transformation even in the most difficult conflicts. Through conflict resolution methodologies that emerged from over 26 years of practical experience, and that are free of any religious or spiritual traditions, SFCG has found it is possible to help people access their positive human qualities of love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness; and, that a natural result of reconciliation is joy and warm heartedness.
A clear example of this human potential is Pushpa and Sushila. One of the major issues confronting youth in Nepal is overcoming the effects of the caste system. When asked about this issue, Pushpa reached out and put her arm around Sushila. She said, “I am from the Brahmin (high) caste and my friend, Sushila, is a Dalit. We are not to associate with one another. This is a tradition that is no longer useful. Traditions, like old trees, must decompose and give space to new trees.”
As Pushpa and Sushila spoke, I thought back to Jaipur and realised there are creative ways to bridge the spiritual wisdom of Amma, and Dadi Janki, and youth in deadly conflict situations. Pushpa and Sushila, along with thousands of other youths, are making way for the feminine in Nepal.
Philip M. Hellmich works for Search for Common Ground and is a speaker, trainer and author. His passion is spirituality, consciousness and conflict transformation.
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