'The first time ever that I feel free'. These words, of a participant in Afghanistan, capture the joy and anguish of women trapped by years of war, poverty and social constraint. Shabnam Hamrah in Afghanistan and Iman Al Ghafari in Syria filed these reports.
'The will to Change must come from within, it has to be organic'. In today's Afghanistan, women are playing an ever greater role in the task of Peace building in the country, this is part of the new Afghanistan. On 5th Oct 2017, a Creators of Peace Circle facilitated by Shabnam Hamrah and Hajer Waris, took place in Kabul. Thirteen women had gathered to discuss what is peace. What builds and destroys peace, inner peace, inner listening, the power of forgiveness and peace in practice. Participants addressed the issues and joined in discussion on the well-being of one’s self, one's family and community members.
Through the Circle, individuals shared their stories and the trauma they have experienced in the past and are still dealing with in their current lives. They began to understand the root causes of the problems and how they can overcome their circumstances. Through conversations and collaboration during the 5 day program, participants began to learn the power of love, forgiveness, inner peace and inner listening. They began to develop forgiveness towards the individuals, groups or circumstances inflicting trauma in their life, and also learn to forgive themselves.
Decades of war and anarchy have not only destroyed the country, they have also caused people mental and emotional harm. In addition to the Peace Circle process, stress management and parenting were also discussed. Two university teachers, Zainab Abulfazil and Nargis Akhlaqi, talked about techniques to minimize the emotional and physical effects of stress and create a more peaceful approach to current challenges. We also looked at how to manage stress through inner listening.
Zahra, one of the individuals of this Circle shared her story of how war, poverty and instability in the country affected her life. She lost her husband during the Taliban regime, and had to take responsibility for the whole family at a very young age. While trying to take care of the family she went through very hard times, distress and inconvenience. She said; 'This is the first time that I am opening my heart and sharing my story with a group of women and it's probably the first time I ever feel free, completely, of societal constraints.'
As a facilitator of the Creators of Peace Circle, I understand that we have a long journey to reach peace and mountain of work to do. We can motivate action externally for a moment, but the sustained action needed to create real, lasting outcomes can’t come from the outside in, it must come from within, and has to be organic. The Creators of Peace Circle program can be a great opportunity for us to work towards the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behavior, starting with our own.
Men and women, Christian and Muslim together in Syrian Peace Circle
From Damascus Iman writes:
Last year Zouhair had asked me if there was a Creators of Peace program for men. 'If you women seek equality with men don't you think it is important for us men to be in the peace sessions?' he asked.
The Circle was held at Damascus Independent Academy where 3 men and 6 women from different faiths gathered to go on a journey of finding peace in the midst of war.
Sabah Nahas, the school principle said, 'I want my school to be dedicated to building a better humanity, in order to do that we have to find inner peace and spread good teachings.'
The Circle was a gateway to new friendships. We had honest Christian /Muslim conversation which was filled with respect and debate. As facilitator, I was watching carefully, but I learned that it's important to raise deep and honest questions as long as our intentions are to learn and not to criticize, and that our tone and way of asking are based on mutual respect.
Running a Peace Circle with a multi faith group was a dream and it came true!
Rahaf commented, 'through our earlier meetings in Beirut with our Lebanese Christian and Muslim friends and just by sharing stories and ideas, huge barriers broke down. The Creators of Peace Circles taught me that if each one gets aware of what's happening around him/ her and makes a small effort to bring peace between two conflicted parties, we will achieve God's purpose on earth which is to build this earth and spread peace.'
After the Peace Circle Zouhair concluded, 'I have learned many things from joining this Peace Circle.I have learned the importance of inner peace in order to have a good relationship with others from different religions and backgrounds, also to have unconditional love for them. Listening to my inner voice is the way to deal with my daily life pressure. Being aware of my intentions, feelings, fear and motivations is a cleansing of my whole self in order to have pure intentions and to be able to serve the world well. By understanding my concerns and fear, I will be able to face the obstacles of building peace whether on a personal or global level and by doing that I will be able to be a peacemaker and forgiver. Being able to forgive others makes us powerful.'
We ended the Peace Circle by watching the film The Imam and Pastor at Dar Alnour hotel, an old Arab style house where we watched the film and shared what we had learned from Creators of Peace and the film. Thanaa, commenting on the film said, 'We need to have Imams and Pastors like these in Syria. We need this kind of initiative to build our country with harmony and peace.' Our Peace Circle group will continue to meet through some cooperative social work.
I wish to express deep gratitude to Mrs. Sabah Nahas, CoP participant and the principle, for allowing us to run the Peace Circle in the school. Also to IofC Canada and other friends for the funding that allows us to get out of our box and widen our experience of peace and humanity that has helped us break the barriers that conflicts create. Thanks to our neighbour, IofC Lebanon, for always being hospitable and supportive of us, and thank you to the international Creators of Peace family.