This project aimed at creating a forum for Pakistani youth where they could interact with one another, discuss various issues pertaining to their everyday lives, and express their desire for peace and prosperity through different art forms. Conducted in the Muzaffargarh district of Punjab, Peace through Arts was a youth-led project, with Bedari staff there to facilitate them. Bedari is a national-level non-governmental, voluntary, development organisation in Pakistan working with women and children for the promotion and protection of their human rights. Its goal in creating this project was to convene a diverse group of youth to come together to raise awareness about peace and its significance for prosperity and well-being of the communities.
Peace through Arts is premised on the belief that artistic and cultural activities can be a way to promote harmony, peace, and tolerance. "When a theater performance, a paintings exhibition or music concert is held, it is for everyone. No one asks about the religion or sectarian association of the performers/organizers/participants. People come together, and learn that people from other religions, sects, or ethnic groups are human beings just like us. Religion is a very sensitive issue, and talking directly about the right to belief/religion can be dangerous. Arts can create a good buffer, and we can address the sensitive issue indirectly."
The project started with youth mobilisation: Project staff held meetings with youth at various places they gather, such as schools and colleges, sports centres, and villages. With an eye toward ensuring participation of young girls and youth from religious and ethnic minorities as well as from different social/economic classes, Bedari selected 125 youth interested in 5 art forms: theatre, art/photography, music, poetry, and social media. (A baseline survey was conducted to get to know their existing level of tolerance for diversity and their views of various issues that affect the peace of the community). Youth (both male and female) from various sects of Islam and from other religions learned to work together. This approach stems from Bedari's work on peace promotion and conflict migration, which began after a suicide blast in a Shia mosque that resulted in the loss of 26 lives. Through that experience, Bedari learned that young men and women from different sectarian/religious backgrounds can experience a reduction in hatred/misconceptions about others if given the chance to socialise with them. In Peace through Art, a committee of 3 senior members who were elected by consensus was created to resolve any conflicts among the participants of the project.
Each group was provided with a mentor, who was responsible for reviewing the artwork already produced by the participants and for helping them polish their art. Each group had 30 sessions in total, spread over a 2-month period. Each group was provided with training on peace and conflict mitigation. The sessions were organised with the larger aim of helping youth understand the deep-rooted concepts and ideas leading to violent extremism. They were taught multiple approaches for initiating healthy dialogues with people having different identities, for instance. They were also provided with training on institution building so that they could get themselves registered if they wished to continue working together in a more organised form after the project's completion.
In the second phase of the project, the messages of peace and tolerance were taken to the public domain. Bedari provided participants with opportunities to showcase their art:
- The poets organised 3 mushairas (poetry recitation sessions). After no women attended the first one, the group decided to organise a female-exclusive mushaira, which successfully drew more than 60 women.
- The music group prepared 5 peace songs, which they performed during various events and ceremonies. Videos of the songs were also prepared in partnership with the theatre group. The videos have been played on the local cable TV channel.
- The art group prepared over 30 paintings, which they shared with the general public through exhibitions in rented halls of private schools/colleges. Some paintings/photographs were displayed in public transport vehicles.
- The actors developed a street play called "Aman Di Khed" and performed it in various communities. Over 80 performances were held; according to Bedari, the actors became household names. Female group members did not participate in the street performances, so Bedari organised some indoor performances so that women could also participate. The play was also video-recorded and aired on the local cable TV channel. The actors received invitations to perform the play at a peace festival, a women's conference, and events held by the district government's Peace Committee.
- The social media group were there to disseminate the other groups' products, especially on Facebook.
The project as carried out in Muzaffargarh has been scaled up and is being implemented also in Multan, Bahawalpur, and Lodhran. Sports have also been added to the project activities. Furthermore, self-growth trainings have been organised for the 1,367 participants in the scaled-up version of the project.
Support from the United States Institute for Peace.
Peace through Arts booklet [PDF], February 13 2017.