The International Day of Peace takes place on September 21. The United Nations General Assembly declared this a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace through observing 24 hours of non-violence and ceasefire.
It is not enough, as people of action, to simply avoid war. If we are to Create Hope in the World, we must aggressively wage peace.
Where can we begin? There are countless armed conflicts around the world, and the global population of displaced people is higher than ever. The opportunities are nearly limitless, but the cycles of violence and hardship seem endless.
My advice is to start small but think big. I look to Rotary members in Pakistan and India for inspiration.
In March 2020, about 50 Rotary members from Pakistan met with around 50 Rotary members from India at Kartarpur Sahib, a shrine in Pakistan. The sanctuary honours Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, a religion practised in both countries. Tensions between the two countries barred many religious pilgrims from India from visiting the shrine. That is, until Pakistan opened a visa-free pathway to them in 2019.
Earlier this year, Rotary members from opposite sides of the border again met at the shrine, this time with about twice as many participants.
Any work toward building peace needs to be brave and bold. What these Rotary members have done is just that. The Pakistani government took an important step toward peace when it admitted Indian pilgrims to the Kartarpur Sahib shrine, but Pakistani Rotary members took the next step when they welcomed Rotary members from India as friends and family. That is Positive Peace at work.
These peacebuilders did not stop there. Club representatives at this year’s meeting signed twin club agreements to recognise their long-term commitment to continue to learn from each other and to work together on more peacebuilding efforts, and they have held joint meetings via video chat.
The importance of communicating with and learning from another culture cannot be overstated, and Rotary is making it even easier to do so. One way of engaging in cross-cultural dialogue and building relationships across borders is through virtual international exchanges that build on our current programmes and make them more accessible.
A virtual exchange uses online platforms to connect people from different parts of the world so that they can share their traditions, priorities, values, and more. Virtual exchanges can serve as a window to another part of the world through activities such as cooking class, learning a new language, or even designing service projects with a global impact.
These online chats have the potential to inspire new connections and more respect between societies. Taking that knowledge and using it to better the lives of our fellow human beings is the next step.
Let’s see where it takes us.
R Gordon R Mcinally
President, Rotary International