08 February 2016: Kirthi Jayakumar shares her experience teaching English with Pax Populi, an initiative that pairs tutors from all over the world with students in Afghanistan.

I help tutor students from schools in Afghanistan
There is often so much attention attached to literacy in education that people think of education itself as being about making more and more people literate. While that does serve an overarching purpose of economically empowering people to take on better jobs and augment the productivity of the economy, it is not enough in the greater interests of peace. A social climate of peace can thrive only if there is a communal approach to it through education, but not just literacy-driven education – rather, peace education.

The thirst to create change through sensitised education led me to join Pax Populi, an initiative that pairs tutors from all over the world with tutees in Afghanistan for classes in English. Pax Populi is a Latin phrase that translates to “the peace of the people”. True to its name, the initiative is a people-to-people peacemaking programme of Applied Ethics, Inc. Working with the mission of putting the tools of peacemaking in the hands of ordinary people, Pax Populi seeks to support initiatives that advance peace through education and economic development within a framework of human rights. The focus of the organisation’s work is Afghanistan.

I volunteer with Pax Populi as a tutor and as a coordinator. My work involves tutoring a student from a school / university in Afghanistan, and also putting tutors and tutees together. Being able to participate in the programme as a tutor gave me a sense of awe at how similar we all are. No matter where we are – in India or in the USA, Afghanistan or Pakistan, Nigeria or Colombia, Spain or Australia – we really are all just the same.

When you want to share love, peace, faith, hope and courage, you don’t need a language. You need a meeting of minds
Since April last year, I have had the privilege and honour of working with Shabnam Manati, a young lady from Kandahar, Afghanistan. I meet Shabnam twice a week, and we spend about an hour to an hour and a half, learning English and exchanging beautiful notes on life lessons, together. We do this through Pax Populi’s English Teaching Program.

Shabnam is all of seventeen, and dreams of doing a degree in Computer Engineering. She sees her future couched in a world of peace, and dreams of working with software in a way that her society, country, and later the world, will be benefited. When Shabnam and I first spoke, I didn’t realise at the time that she would soon grow to become a sibling to me – as I would enjoy indulging her as an older sister gladly would, her younger sister.

In my lessons with Shabnam, we never had moments where I was a teacher and she was a student – we were just two friends, cutting across borders and the one-hour time difference that separated us. We were just two girls, having a good time learning English, and speaking the language to communicate ideas of peace, hope, love, dreams for a sustainable future – while all the while, finding the appropriate words to do that.

In teaching Shabnam, I learned something powerful. That in teaching language, we are only doing our best to equip the other with words and sentences that can help them convey their thoughts and ideas. In that movement, I realised a powerful handicap that language has – and yet, this handicap (note that I called it powerful) is its strength. When you want to share love, peace, faith, hope and courage, you don’t need a language. You need a meeting of minds. And for that meeting of minds, you need language. Isn’t it a powerfully cyclical truth?

There is so much to say when you build bonds of love and peace. But no language is enough. My bond with Shabnam is that bond of love and peace. I know, whenever I speak to her, I don’t need to tell her how much she means to me for her to know. By the end of each lesson, we say a silent goodbye with a hope in our hearts for the next session to come soon.

For me, Shabnam is not just a name and a voice behind my laptop’s screen and speakers. Shabnam is, for me, my sister. Just like Afghanistan is, for India, a sister-land.

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