Sowing the seeds for Peace between India & Pakistan

The Exchange for Change program aims to change attitudes in India and Pakistan at the grass roots level

Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
Visitors to the Citizen’s Archive Pakistan Exchange for Change exhibition at Frere Hall

Peace between India and Pakistan occasionally appears within reach but more often seems nothing more than a fool’s pipe dream. There is so much ugly history and distrust between our two nations that it’s difficult to imagine the situation changing. It’s easy to bemoan the situation but some bright souls are actually spearheading initiatives like Exchange for Change to make peace more likely.

Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
Sowing the seeds for Peace

Exchange for Change is a ground-breaking exchange program between Indian and Pakistani schoolchildren organized jointly by The Citizens Archive for Pakistan (CAP) and Routes2Roots, an Indian NGO. Exchange for Change is innovative in that it uses audio-visual exchanges as well as traditional letter swapping to build bridges and create understanding between the participants.

Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
Postcards exchanged by Indian and Pakistani students

Swaleha Alam Shahzada is delighted with the results, “Change happens overnight. It’s amazing to see the transformation in attitudes that happens almost immediately. What we see is a grass roots shift in perception and a move towards greater understanding. Using a variety of media engages the children’s interest and communicates much more than simple letters ever could. Entire communities are involved, not just the children because the interactive nature of the program encourages the children to consult with their families. Programs like Exchange for Change are vital because they dispel political jingoism, misinformation and the general atmosphere of distrust.”

Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
The exhibition was a multi-sensory affair

Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi ExhibitionFrere Hall in Karachi recently hosted an exhibition that marked the end of the second Exchange for Change project. 3500 children participated in the 14-month program from 6 cities in India and Pakistan. The exhibition documents the project and by sharing the children’s experience brings the message of compatability to the community at large. In the first phase of the program children from schools in Delhi, Lahore, Chandighar, Rawalpindi, Mumbai and Karachi exchange letters. They tell each other something about their own lives and are encouraged to talk about a variety of topics including their favourite pastimes and the places they live. The exchanges can be illuminating, surprising and often hilarious.

Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
The children soon realise they have similar tastes
Shahzada reveals,
“We see children bonding over School Life, Gulab Jamuns and Justin Bieber. They discuss their home towns, cricket and Shahrukh Khan. Perceptions change overnight as participants realize how much common ground they share.”
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
The students’ artwork displays a positive attitude to Peace
The next phase is a visual exchange, with participants exchanging photographs and postcards. These images range from pictures of their city to photos of weddings and festivals. Children explain to each other why they chose to send the picture they sent and as classes share the pictures they receive, children start to get a feel for the city their new friends live in.
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
A poster from the poster exchange
This is followed by a poster exchange. Students prepare posters on various themes including likes & dislikes, festivals, places of interest and pop culture. This activity engages the participants and the illustrative medium helps them to quickly exchange ideas.
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
Visitors could listen to the audio interviews exchanged by the children
Certain students are then selected to prepare audio interviews, which are the next phase of the exchange. They interview parents and grandparents about the history of their cities and how life has changed in their cities over the years. These historical narratives are fascinating in themselves but they also contribute to a crucial supplementary dimension to the project. Parents and grandparents are engaged in the process and thus entire communities are touched by the project, not merely the 3500 participants. Recordings of these interviews were available for visitors to the exhibition to listen to, thus bringing the material to an even wider audience.
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
An exhibition visitor
The penultimate exchange is a video exchange, where groups of students make videos to send across the border. The videos displayed at the exhibition ranged from merely informative to inventive and quirky. The exercise had plainly inspired some youngsters to express themselves creatively.
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Pakistani students visit India
The Pakistani delegation of students and teachers
The final part of the program is an actual physical exchange where a select number of students, along with their teachers, visit each other’s countries. Students from Pakistan visit Delhi and Agra while students from India visit Lahore and Islamabad.
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Indian students visit
Indian students visit Pakistan
Naveeda Salim of AMI School was one of the teachers who visited India with her students. She was full of praise for the project,
“The program was a fantastic learning experience. Before Exchange for Change, the students rarely had anything good to say about India. The program was an image breaker and totally changed the children’s attitudes.”
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, CAP CEO plus teacher
CAP CEO Swaleha Alam Shahzada with teacher Ume Salma Parekh
She explained how, even after all the audio-visual exchanges, some parents were reluctant to send their children to India. In fact the parents of a couple of students backed out after the visas had arrived. However, the trip went so well and the returning students described such an amazing experience that the students and parents who had backed out felt that they had made a huge mistake.
“The trip was simply amazing. We had warned the children not to disclose that we were Pakistani to avoid any problems but somehow it came out soon after crossing the Wagah border. We were on the Shatabdi Express from Amritsar to New Delhi when a Sikh gentleman asked if we were from Pakistan. He was so happy to meet us and spoke to the children about how we have common roots. Everyone on the train was warm and welcoming. They peppered us with questions and gave lots of suggestions about places to visit. It was a lovely, positive experience and one that was repeated throughout our trip.”
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Indian students visit Pakistan
Indian students sightseeing in Pakistan on their Exchange for Change visit
The children got the chance to do a little sightseeing as well as visiting the schools they had been corresponding with. All the students felt the visit was too short and that they would have loved to explore more of India.
Ume Salma Parekh of BVS Parsi High School was another of the teachers who visited India with her students.
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Tagore International School Delhi
Students of Tagore International School Delhi had prepared various programs for visiting students from Pakistan
“The school we visited had prepared a lot to share with our students. We felt very welcome wherever we went and the children forged some strong connections with their Indian counterparts. Seeing historical monuments in Delhi was one of the highlights of the trip especially as I have never visited India before.  The trip was great exposure for the children and it was wonderful to come back and share our experiences with the rest of the school. The whole project was one that really caught the student’s imagination. They were really excited by sharing details about food, festivals, history and culture and learned a lot about India.”
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Tagore International School Delhi
Pakistani students visiting Tagore International School, Delhi
Persis Solan’s son goes to BVS Parsi High School and was one of the students who got the chance to visit India. She was not apprehensive about sending her son to India, as she was Indian herself before she got married. Sending him alone with the school was more of an issue than the fact he was going to India. She’s very glad he got the opportunity to go.
“My son is very interested in history and so really enjoyed seeing the monuments. He loved trying all the different food and bonded well with the children at Tagore International School.”
Exchange for Change, Citizens Archive Pakistan, Karachi Exhibition
CAP board members
Exchange for Change started in 2010 with 2400 participants. It has become the largest exchange programs in the world. The third round of the program, which will involve 5000 students, was launched this month. The organisers would love to see other NGOs follow suit. The political situation looks rosy at present with talk of economic co-operation and friendship but politics can change in the blink of an eyelid. Exchange for change is creating people to people contact so that children from the two countries can interact without bias. It is changing the attitudes of tomorrow’s citizens and sowing the seeds for peace.
 

 

Copyright 2015 Karachista. All rights reserved
Salima Feerasta
Salima Feerastahttps://karachista.com
Salima Feerasta is chief editor of Karachista.com and one of Pakistan's top fashion and lifestyle journalists.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Don’t think this will really do much. I was on a trip last year to Athens and found it discomforting when the local Greeks would think we (delegation) were Indians. A few of the ladies were insulted at this and made sure to tell our hosts the difference.

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