This afternoon my partner Patrick and I took a walk on the beach. We noticed a few people looking at us and smiling as they moved past. Searching for the source of their amusement, I saw that Patrick was wearing a t-shirt with the large words: 'Namaste New Nepal'! I remembered that I was given the t- shirt a few years ago when I visited Nepal with Search for Common Ground. Memories flooded back to me.
I remembered the incredible feeling one day when, after a long climb through woods and hills, we reached a summit to be greeted by a circle of about 30 youth from several neighboring villages. The youth lived in Salyan district, which was held by Maoist rebels during the 10 year Nepalese Civil War that killed over 13,000 people. When a peace accord was finally reached in 2006, Search for Common Ground trained the youth to be leaders in reconciling their wounded communities. Some of the young people had walked for miles to meet us. These youngsters were helping transform conflict and mistrust in their communities into shared goals for a better future for all. They wanted to share their stories and the powerful effect of their learnings.
I'll never forget the story of two girls in particular, no more than 15 years old. Pushpa was a Dalit, an untouchable, and Susheela was a Brahmin, the priest and artisan caste. In their communities, this meant absolutely no mixing together. No speaking. No touching. It was taboo. But, through their work with Search for Common Ground, they had grown to know each other and become close. Their friendship challenged long-held traditions and changed attitudes in their families and communities. Their courage overcame barriers. They hugged. We cried.
These girls not only conquered stereotypes of caste but taught their communities how to move forward after war. During their Search for Common Ground training, Susheela's brother was on his death bed, having been badly wounded by Maoists. But she knew that peace required accepting the rebels back into society. She explained,
"If you focus only on the bad that someone has done, you will never see the good they could do."
These girls' example may seem like such a small act in a big world. But it is as well to remember that it is often small acts and tiny changes that eventually develop into transformation. Over the years that I have supported Search for Common Ground's peacebuilding efforts, I've seen countless examples of how such initiatives, targeted at changing the daily interactions between individuals, initiate huge shifts to resolve differences between groups and across nations.
Engaging youth, the future of our planet, in making these shifts is a forward looking and highly leveraged approach. These young Nepalis were leading their communities to achieve peaceful solutions together after a decade of war. The enthusiasm and courage in their eyes gave me hope for the future of humanity.
Though now away from Nepal, I am reminded in my daily life how important it is to understand one another. I'm not talking about agreeing with one another, but about being willing to make the effort to hear another's story and understand another's point of view. Though difficult, we must learn to acknowledge the varying circumstances that underlie and lead to another's different to our own behaviour and way of life.
Conflict is with us everyday and in every walk of life. Seeing conflict as an opportunity to understand deeper, to grow further, and to arrive at peaceful and mutually acceptable solutions is what makes for richer lives. In this way, we can change the wide world one "small" act of understanding at a time.