On a mid-May evening, young peacebuilders sat in a circle to debrief the past couple of days in the cafeteria at Blue Quills University near Edmonton. Sherri, one of the instructors at the university, joined to hear the group’s reflections from their visit to the oil sands and Fort McMurray. They introduced themselves and shared some thoughts. At the end, Sherri said, “Wow, that was a like a trip around the world!” The circle included participants from Bolivia, Honduras, Colombia, Syria, Lebanon, India, Laos, Zimbabwe, and Canada. In some ways, it really was a trip around the world!
"The circle included participants from Bolivia, Honduras, Colombia, Syria, Lebanon, India, Laos, Zimbabwe, and Canada. In some ways, it really was a trip around the world"
Coordinated from MCC Alberta, Planting Peace is a two-week peacebuilding program for young adults from Canada and abroad to travel and learn together in Alberta. From May 6-19, the group participated in sessions on inter-faith dialogue, social change through art and movement, homelessness in Canada, advocacy and peacebuilding. They visited First Nations communities and the Fort McMurray oil sands. They experienced the wonders of the Rocky Mountains. They served at a homeless shelter in Calgary. Throughout the two-week journey, each participant shared stories, songs, dances, poetry, and prayers amongst the group and publicly at multiple churches.
The group heard from one another as they talked about their homes, their countries, with all of the beauty and challenges mixed together (these sessions were called “Country Sharing”). When asked to describe the most meaningful part of Planting Peace, one participant answered, “Country Sharing and visiting places that help us to understand each other and culture, tradition, and problems.” The intention behind Country Sharing is part of the beauty of Planting Peace: participants devote time to listening to understand their fellow-participants. During Planting Peace, they experience news ways of learning, of seeing the world, and of working for peace.
The Planting Peace group was wonderfully diverse, with different country- and faith-backgrounds represented. In the midst of the diversity was the common desire for a more peaceful world: to learn from one another, to hear and understand differences, to seek and find the common threads of humanity.
During the early days of Planting Peace, one participant from Syria (and living in Syria) met another participating Syrian now living in Regina. Through conversation, they quickly realized that their opinions of the conflict in Syria differed. They did not fully agree with each another’s perspective. But, the participant currently living in Syria said, “Our differences did not matter. After everything we have been through in Syria, our differences are less important.” For these two, friendship claimed priority. At the end of Planting Peace, another participant, from India, said that now she knows how to be friends with people of different religions. Sometimes friendship is a matter of choosing to spend time together with the hope of unity, not uniformity.
"Our differences did not matter. After everything we have been through in Syria, our differences are less important."
- participant from Syria
What would the world be like if people chose to come together instead of pulling apart? It might look something like Planting Peace: people of different faiths, backgrounds, and, in some cases, vastly different lives, moving together in community instead of remaining separate, skeptical, and divided.
On the final day, participants were asked, “What is Planting Peace to you?” One person described the two weeks as “an opportunity to learn more about topics that help you grow as a person” and another explained that Planting Peace “unites young people from different parts of the world to share their experiences and cultures.” To others, Planting Peace was mostly a safe place to learn and grow. Another participant wrote, “… it is an eye to view the world differently, it is the ear of what the world needs. It is the world coming together to learn and experience and share the stories that make us who we are. It is a melting pot of hope.” And still to others, Planting Peace was “a trip around the world.”
"… it is an eye to view the world differently, it is the ear of what the world needs. It is the world coming together to learn and experience and share the stories that make us who we are. It is a melting pot of hope."
- planting peace participant
Around the world, there are billions of unique individuals with hopes, dreams, and current realities. During Planting Peace, about 15 of those billions lived together, spoke together, worked together, and grew together with the goal of learning to build a more peaceful world. The final word from one participant was: “Peace is not just for one, it is for all of us. I cannot do it by myself but we can plant it.” Let the goal of peace be sown in families and neighbourhoods across the globe.