Global Sites: Afghanistan

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Penciling out a Call to Peace

Full-Circle Learning visited Afghanistan in 2006, conducting a wisdom exchange, brief teacher and parent trainings and a global service project. We met a few adults in remote areas who struggled to understand the concept of conflict resolution and others who had lived through so many tragedies they had mastered forgiveness through a lifetime of practice. As always, the children inspired hope for the future.

Children in eight countries had responded to the question, What do you find precious in your environment, and what are you willing to do to protect it? A collaborating arts organization would house their resulting artwork in San Francisco’s Zeum Museum, to teach the public about the global scope of environmental sensitivity. The project provided simple paper and colored pencils for students to illustrate their inspirations.

In one section of Kabul, the students described themselves as “cowboys” because they herded animals near their hillside tents, earning income for their families as parents went about in search of food or jobs. NGO workers had opened up a nearby school building and encouraged the parents to let street children and herders attend school at least half a day. Thus, girls finally allowed in school and herder boys as old as 16 gratefully arrived in their first-grade classrooms each afternoon.

Students shared what they found precious in their environment and, most important, what they were willing to do to protect it.

Students in one such class heard the question and immediately put pencils to paper. After a few quiet minutes, the teacher asked them to show their work. They had drawn the lovely snow-covered hillsides of their mile-high city. Some drew pictures of the sheep or cows they tended. Others drew flowers trying to poke up through the snow, with a cypress tree here and there that the landmines had missed.

They dreamed of a time when the plants would grow uninterrupted by war, although this had not occurred throughout their lives or their parents’ lifetimes.  Although their families did not support the Taliban, the planes constantly circled overhead in search of terrorists.

One boy drew a plane with a bomb dropping over the head of his sheepdog. He drew a circle and a diagonal line around the bomb just before it hit the animal. He raised his hand when the teacher asked for volunteers to talk about their pictures.

The small boy with pale skin and dark hair stood among first graders twice his size, speaking with conviction as he gazed around the classroom.

“War has destroyed the hillside,” he said.” We cannot protect our environment until we have peace. We must become the first generation to create peace.”

The students looked at their pictures and solemnly nodded.

The little boy’s drawing later hung in the American museum, along with profound art pieces from India, China and Africa. His conveyed a creative impulse infused with the conviction to dissolve conflict and inspire a new generation of change agents.

We have witnessed this same impulse in classrooms around the world. When given a purpose, young leaders turn even the deepest of hardships into altruistic vision. God willing, this time they will turn bullet-proof ideals into reality.