Bedari is a national level non-governmental, voluntary, development organization in Pakistan working with women and children for the promotion and protection of their rights. Seeing the escalation in violence and terrorism in past decade, Bedari has included promotion of peace as one of its objectives in 2009.
Bedari started off with a 'Peace Camapaign' in 2009. It was running a project on violence against women and children in district Chakwal (Punjab, Pakistan) at that time. A suicide blast took place in a mosque that belonged to a specific sect of Islam. The situation became very tense between the followers of the two sects. Later, it took ethnic twist and people from two ethnic groups came face to face. Bedari started a Peace Campaign which included multiple activities including public rallies, discussion forums, street theater, and culminated in a seminar. It engaged all the stakeholders - district administration, police department, local politicians, leaders of various ethnic groups, and religious leaders of the two sects. The situation came under control within two months, and major disaster was averted.
Later, Bedari designed a project focusing on youth and intersectarian harmony - Youth for Peace and Harmony in Chakwal. It was excuted in 2010 and 2011. It was funded by United States Institute for Peace. It established youth groups from all the major Muslim sects, provided them training on conflict resolution, and peace building. They were then brought together to interact and work together.
From this project, Bedari learnt that religion is a very sensitive issue, and talking to youth about inter-sectarian or interfaith harmony was a daunting task. It was decided that Bedari would design projects which do not discuss religion directly, but approach peace in an indirect manner. Bedari desgined another project 'Peace through Arts\'. It was also funded by United States Institute for Peace, and was piloted in district Muzaffargarh (Punjab, Pakistan).
Bedari gathered youth on the basis of their interest in various art forms - Poetry, Painting, Music, and Theater. It provided them with mentors, and conducted training on peace and tolerance towards diversity - thus religion was discussed, but as a secondary issue when diversity was discussed.
Young men and women from various ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds came together, and worked together. They attended mentoring sessions, training sessions, and organized various events together - Peotry Recitation Sessions, Art Exhibitions, Music Concerts, and Theater Performances. While working together, they learnt a lot about 'the others' - the other sect, the other religion, the other ethnic group, the other social/economic group. This helped raise their understanding of the other people, which resulted in tolerance for diversity, and decreased the chances of conflict.
The project was very successful. Bedari found another donor 'Umeed Jawan', and upscaled the same project with some modifications, renamed it as Peace through Arts and Sports and expanded it to 4 districts - Muzaffargarh, Lodhran, Multan, and Bahawalpur (Punjab, Paksitan). The number of beneficiaries increased from 100 to 1367. It included sports groups and added 'Self Growth Sessions' - a hall mark self realization program Bedari has been running for past 20 years.
The above mentioned projects have had immense impact on youth. There were young men who were actively participating in activities organized by extremist groups. As they became part of Bedari Youth groups, they slowly learnt about tolerance towards diversity, and decided to pursue arts instead of extremist ideologies.
There were others who were not actively involved with any extremist group, but had the tendency to be violent, or look down upon 'the other' - people from other sects/religions, people from other ethnic groups, or people from different social status. They actively participated in sessions on Peace and Diversity, and changed a lot. They made friends with 'the others' during the course of the project. These friendships are still going on though the projects have closed.
Future Course of Action
Bedari would like to continue with its 'Peace through Arts' approach. Though the funding has dwindled for the time being, we are continuing with similar activities with youth in all the districts where Bedari has any presence. Your support in this regard can help take this program to another district.