THE BUSINESS OF PEACEMAKING–BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS
I commend the U.S. Institute of Peace for organizing a two-day Peace Conclave in Dharamshala to give encouragement to 27 youth peace activists by directly meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I warmly congratulate these young participants for their efforts to promote Peace, Harmony, and Tranquility in the communities where they live.
Dalai Lama’s pep talk for young peacekeepers
The 14th Dalai Lama, a Tibetan spiritual leader, was self-deprecating and even playful to put his guests at ease, but peacemaking is serious business.
The Dalai Lama meets with young people in Dharamsala, India, in October 2018. (Photo: Rohini Das/U.S. Institute of Peace)
DHARAMSALA, India — For a few days this fall, more than two dozen educated and articulate young peacekeepers from some of the most dangerous countries in the world gathered at the feet of the Dalai Lama eager for solace, guidance and comfort.
They described experiences alien to anything that young Americans could understand: working to quell misery in places where governments are repressive, ethnic or tribal conflict is rife, or religious extremist groups such as the Islamic State or Boko Haram are savage.
One of them was Sulaiman Qauymi, 28, a journalist and co-founder of a conflict-resolution group in Afghanistan. “I’m living in a country where the people start the day talking about war, battle, conflict, suicide attack, terror and killing,” he told the Dalai Lama. “It’s a major topic of my life and my people each day until we go to bed.”
Su Su, 26, is a peace activist from strife-torn Myanmar. (She and a few others asked that their full names be withheld because of safety concerns.) “I want inspiration from you,” she told the 83-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama.
The U.S. Institute of Peace helped arrange the conclave in this nearly mile-high city in the foothills of the Himalayas. The theory was simple. The world-renowned spiritual leader who had led his Tibetan government into exile at age 24 six decades before, fleeing brutal Chinese communist aggression, could galvanize 27 youth leaders whose age averages 25.
I was one of a handful of older professionals invited to accompany the pilgrimage. The event lasted two days in a wood-paneled hall of the Dalai Lama’s residence as the young adults, against a backdrop of orchids and Buddha tapestries, implored the holy man for guidance.
He was attentive and generous with his time, at moments self-deprecating and even playful to put his guests at ease. He thrilled feminists in the room one morning with the revelation that a female Dalai Lama could certainly be a reality one day.
But as the hours passed and the youth leaders unburdened themselves, the Dalai Lama would almost sag under the weight of their frustrations and doubts about resolve.
Kode Kenaime, 27, a peace activist with twin graduate degrees from the Central African Republic, where Muslim-Christian violence has left thousands dead, talked of slain family members and “darkness in my mind, my heart (and) full feelings of revenge. It’s not easy for me, but I keep working as a peace-builder.”
Meron Kocho, 28, an activist and ethnic Yazidi from northern Iraq, said Islamic State fighters made refugees of his family, turned girls into sex slaves and conscripted boys as soldiers. “We saw so much hate that we started to hate,” he told the Dalai Lama.
An end to empathy
Wadi Ben-Hirki, who at 21 has earned awards for her work educating children, seeking to empower women, and pushing to end child marriage and genital mutilation in her native Nigeria, talked of becoming inured to the depredations of the notorious Boko Haram terror group. “I’m scared of not being able to empathize anymore because I’m used to the pain,” she said.
Others — Mohamed Ahmed, 22, co-founder of a peace group in Somalia; Dalia Anez, 26, a Venezuelan lawyer who trains human rights leaders; and Hayder Ghanimi, 28, who leads a peace workshop in Baghdad — questioned the feasibility of success.
“Have you ever lost hope?” Hayder asked.
The Dalai Lama steered them back to basics. The paths they have chosen to educate, to promote dialogue, to build peaceful coexistence is long and difficult. “I don’t expect some overnight change is possible,” the Dalai Lama told them, hearkening back to his many decades of struggle. “A peaceful world within my lifetime will not be achieved.”
They must be patient, he told them. And the antidote to feelings of anger or despair is the compassion and optimism that gave seed to their commitment to peace. “Optimism is the source of success,” he said. “Pessimism is the source of defeat.”
Is change possible? “Yes, 100 percent.”
It was a pep talk one could only pray would succeed. Harsh realities awaited the youth leaders back in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Tunisia; in Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic; in Myanmar and Afghanistan; and in Venezuela and Colombia.
They seemed happy, fulfilled and inspired as they left Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama.
They were, without question, inspiring.
Gregg Zoroya is a USA TODAY editorial writer and author of “The Chosen Few: A Company of Paratroopers and Its Heroic Struggle to Survive in the Mountains of Afghanistan.” Follow him on Twitter: @greggzoroya