Our Kashmir Local Correspondent Ashima Kaul this week attended a Peace Exchange in Nairobi, Kenya, organised by Peace Direct. Here she offers a personal reflection on the experience.

“What is your position on Kashmir?” Gulali Ismail asked me hesitantly at the Doha airport on our way back from Peace Direct’s peace retreat in Nairobi. Hailing from Peshawar in Pakistan the young 23 year old peacebuilder added, “Do you think it should go to Pakistan or India or get independence?” I smiled and said, “I have no predetermined position on Kashmir. The various solutions that are being floated around every other day will not lead to the resolution. It is the peacebuilding work that people like you and I do will carve a path for a final resolution”. With a thoughtful expression, Gulali nodded her head up and down, as we Asians do in agreement.

Later as we sat uploading the Nairobi pictures and waiting for our respective flights to Pakistan and India, I knew that while our physical journeys had different paths, the ‘powerful blend of personal peacebuilding stories’ that we shared with other peace builders from different parts of the world in Nairobi had touched us in a way that allowed us to envision a future full of possibilities even in the midst of severe adversities.

My thoughts raced back to the scores of untold stories that peacebuilders hold within their hearts; stories of courage and determination. Some of these stories unfolded in the sunlit room at the far end of Lukenya Getaway Hotel off the Mombasa highway almost an hours drive from Nairobi city.

As our conversations deepened over the three days, each one of us brought to life the people of our communities - from young people, women, tribal leaders, and religious clergy, to ex-combatants or even dreadful militia. “I befriended them (ex-combatants) and built trust as it was very hard to include them in peacebuilding initially”, said Henri Bura Ladyi, a cheerful Congolese peacebuilder. Dishani Jayaweera from Sri Lanka narrated stories of her befriending the Buddhist monks and Ramzi-Al Absi from Yemen shared about winning the trust of tribal leaders for a truce. Each person reflected on how ‘people in communities have the sharp edge’ in the restructuring and decentralizing processes that are integral to peacebuilding. Nairobi-peace-exchange

These stories of personal transformations, strategies, best practices and methodologies for peacebuilding have to be told and retold to the world, which sometimes seems only to listen to stories of horror, extremism and violence. We frequently hear news about motivated Sudanese, Afghan, Pakistani and Yemni Islamists fighting for Jihad in Kashmir, but we remain ignorant about equally motivated people like George Ngoha in Sudan, Ramzi Al -Absi in Yemen, Gulalai in Pakistan and Mirwais Wardak in Afghanistan who put their lives at stake to build peace in local communities, across borders and regions, dispelling stereotypes about identities and cultures.

I choose to as always hold their hands so that we can challenge extremism together, building relationships rather than destroying them!