Sixteen-year-old Kabul resident Mortaza would have loved to wear his traditional Afghani kurtas to school, but the institute’s rules, created by its American administration, compel him to wear only jeans or pants.
In Mumbai this week, the Class 10 student had the opportunity to express his views through a multi-media project on ‘Western apathy to Asian culture’, a topic that his team members – one Pakistani and one Indian student – feel for equally.
Mortaza is part of a group of 31 teenagers from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who are in the city for a tri-nation conference organised by non-profit organisation Seeds of Peace (SOP).
Launched in 1993 by American journalist John Wallach, SOP holds dialogue and interaction camps for school students from conflict zones around the world, to empower them with skills for peace and reconciliation.
“Through our documentary on western apathy to eastern cultures, we want to depict the self respect and pride that our countries have in themselves,” said Mortaza, who goes by just one name and loves watching Bollywood films.
Groups of young ‘Seeds’ have been working on documentaries, write-ups and photographs at Peddar Road’s Sophia Polytechnic since Monday. Their projects will eventually be posted on their upcoming online magazine, Voices of the People, which will express the common concerns of the youth in conflicting countries.
“Our countries are not inherent enemies and I believe if we interact with each other, we will find that we can co-operate and be friends,” said Noorzadeh Raja, 17, an A-level student from Lahore whose group chose to study the disparities in Mumbai’s education system.
“In my city, non-profit organisations run their own schools separate from government schools, but it was interesting to see that Mumbai has NGOs that work with municipal schools to improve them,” she said.
Ira Chadha-Sridhar, who is hosting an Afghani friend at her Colaba home, has enjoyed both her project on religious pluralism in Mumbai and the larger project of showing the city to her guest.
“My Pakistani and Afghani friends have been fascinated by the way religious communities co-exist in Mumbai,” said Sridhar, 16, who believes SOP is a great opportunity for the youth to rid themselves of prejudices.