As I flew from Sacramento to Austin, I recall looking out the window at the landscape below me. The mountains, deserts, and plains that rolled by seemed to accurately represent how far away I was getting from everything I had known before.
When I arrived at the Global Youth Peace Summit, I was greeted by people who made me feel like we were old friends.
I was immediately surprised by the warmth, gentleness and generosity that everyone seemed to emanate at this place. At first it was disorienting—the kindness, the honest sentiments of goodwill and the authenticity that people demonstrated toward each other. However, I quickly got used to it and came to treasure this aspect of the Summit.
Although my memory does not permit me to recall every detail and every occurrence in that profound week, I will do what I can to describe the highlights of the experience.
As I mentioned above, the overall sense of goodwill and openness that everyone willingly expressed was simply incredible. In a day and age where people purposely avoid eye contact with each other in public places, this was an amazing shift. Within only a few hours of being at the Summit, I had already been befriended by several people.
The contrast between what I had come to know as standard practice in society and the way that people at the Global Youth Peace Summit interacted was confusing at first, but most certainly a welcomed change.
The easiest way to describe what Amala Foundation did to promote this safe and friendly environment can be summarized by the mantra we often proclaimed: Love, Respect, Honesty, Community, One Village.
This simple but effective call was instrumental in creating an atmosphere where peace could be cultivated. In this way, Amala Foundation did not create new societal values or institute any new ideology; it merely took existing principles and ways of being and reduced them to fundamental and comprehensible terms that people from around the world could recognize as social norms. This practice was ingenious because it did not take away from other cultures or seek to benefit any in particular, but only iterated the essence of peaceful human interaction.
A large part of the Global Youth Peace Summit consisted of the entire group being together. With over 70 youth from 28 countries assembled together as one community for meals, discussions and activities, it was easy to tell how this truly was one village.
However, this village was more than just a collective of individuals with a common purpose; it was a cross-section of the world. In an ordinary village, the individual is valued, there is a common purpose, but the population is generally homogenous and rooted in the memory of yesterday. This village was different. Though it shared the values that all communities must have to survive and support their people, the village that Amala engendered was a new sort of community. It was one that thrived on the diversity of its members, grew stronger through the differences in its histories, and looked to the future.
Over the course of the week, I noticed that a beautiful transformation was happening before me. Every day I made new friendships or deepened the ones I had developed. Through this process, I came to have a greater connection to the world.
Looking back on the Summit, I now recognize that this has had a massive impact on my perception of the world. I am sure I speak for everyone that participated in the Global Youth Peace Summit when I say that the world is not countries, but people. When I look at a map, I do not see borders and boundary lines, but faces and smiles. This change in perception has motivated me to look beyond the headlines and the stereotypes that I see about other nations, and look for people.
When I hear about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, I am torn because I have friends on both sides. When I read about Iraq, I cannot help but remember the stories that I have heard of pain, pride, and sacrifice. Congo, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan, and many other countries mean so much more to me now. The issues that people have faced and still continue to face are not limited to an article in a newspaper or a sound bite on television, they are real.
As the Summit progressed and each day I learned more and more about my friends, this became all the more apparent. I soon realized that in America, most people have the privilege of turning the page, or changing the channel, but for many around the world, that is not an option.
Hearing the stories of incredible suffering and tragedy was often hard to bear. It was not just international youth, but Americans as well. The extent to which many people have suffered was beyond anything I had ever known.
Nevertheless, it was not the suffering and the pain that was quite as incredible as the sense of forgiveness that my friends demonstrated. How could someone who had been a child soldier and shot in the jungles of the Congo feel compassion and forgiveness toward their attacker? There is a part of me that wonders if I could ever be so courageous as to share such feelings.
On the final day of the Global Youth Peace Summit, all the lessons, stories and experiences of the week coagulated into a greater message for me.
As I said goodbye to the friends I had made and the people who had touched my heart, I became aware of how truly special the Summit had been. Through the course of a week, over 70 youth from 28 different countries were able to come together peacefully and live as one village, defying the precepts of racial, religious, and social barriers that have divided the world for so long. This was no small feat. Essentially, the Summit proved to me that world peace is not a concept, but an ideal that can be attained.
To this day, whenever I doubt the potential of cooperation, trust, and brotherhood to change the world, I remember the Global Youth Peace Summit.
The Amala Foundation is a humanitarian service organization that inspires the diverse youth of the world to live in unity, serve compassionately and lead peacefully. The Amala Foundation is involved in a number of local, national, and international humanitarian service projects including the Global Youth Peace Summit.
Each year, the Global Youth Peace Summit unites 70 youth from over 25 different countries for a week-long experience devoted to healing, cultural exchange, leadership development and community building. The Summit offers young people, including refugee, immigrant and at-risk youth, a direct experience of what it means to live in unity and peace, free from fear and violence.
For more information on the Global Youth Peace Summit, please visit www.amalafoundation.org or take a moment to view this video:
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- Assist: Sara Crolick
- Ed: Brianna Bemel