Why There Will Be No Peace Without Silence.
My Love Letters to Pearl Diving. Part 3.
I just spent a week in Colombia. What a fierce, yet beautiful country. Though peace talks are on the way, it is a country deeply marred by violent armed conflict and crime. Six million people, twelve percent of the population, have been internally displaced by the centuries old violence waged by left-wing guerilla, right-wing paramilitaries and thriving drug cartels. Despite the country´s natural resources and its nature`s biodiversity, fifty percent of the population live below the poverty line. The conflict has taken a poll on families, livelihoods and mental health.
And in the midst of all this, Social Entrepreneurs are building peace and citizenship and surprisingly silence is an essential ingredient.
Nathalia Mesa set up a chain of high-quality kindergartens all around Colombia that currently serves over 13.000 children between three months and five years that come from the poorest and most violent communities. Yet, Nathalia is obsessed with quality. Her kindergartens are run on state-of-the-art principles of free play, discovery and empowerment; they are beautifully designed spaces full of stimulation and kindness. The children in her centers frequently suffer from malnutrition, their dysfunctional families live in dangerous neighborhoods affected by armed conflict, often without electricity and running water. Alcoholism and drug abuse, domestic and criminal violence are part of their lives, yet – through her meal programs and cognitive development focus, she manages to close the cognitive gap and get her children from disadvantaged backgrounds to the same levels as those from better-off families. In her centers conflict resolution, curiosity and creativity are cultivated. Children in her care are encouraged to explore, to understand their environment and to give back to their community. She builds peace by nurturing the next generation of Colombian citizens.
One of her centers, built in a community affected by one of the most gruesome massacres in Colombia´s violent history, has become the nucleus of healing and reconciliation in this community. Parents, some former Guerrilleros and Paramilitary soldiers, first meet at the kindergarten to drop off their children, later they clean the beach side by side together with their children. Natalia´s intervention and the natural aspiration of parents for their children´s wellbeing and personal growth allow them to see beyond the violent conflict and build new common grounds.
Nathalia talks a lot about the necessity of creating structure and routine in these children´s lives and the importance of a feeling of safety. The children come to the centers in the very early morning and stay until late, they play, they eat well, they develop and in between they take naps. And when Nathalia described the beauty of nap time, the peaceful quiet of one thousand happily, safely sleeping children, I suddenly understood the power of silence, rest and stillness in the turbulent, violent lives of these children.
Briefly, after meeting Nathalia, I discovered a similar pattern in the work of another Colombian Social Entrepreneur, Rodrigo Parada.
Rodrigo works with young people on a journey of self-reflection to empower them to become multipliers of nonviolence in their communities. Many of the young people he works with live with the deep scars of domestic violence, collective trauma and lack of opportunities. He guides them to a deeper understanding of themselves and to uncover their dreams for their community and family beyond their violent normality. He guides them in becoming active and move from their role of victim and –sometimes perpetrator– to violence-stopper. First, by committing to small changes in daily life and later, as local activists that create public anti-violence actions. These actions – dancing in a city park normally known as a hotbed for crime and prostitution, publicly commemorating and condemning the violent death of a youngster – create windows of hope. They allow everyone to experience and feel what their world and community could look like without violence – even if it is only for one day.
In the first stage of his work with teenagers, which is focused on self-reflection, Rodrigo – himself a very spiritual person who in his youth was educated to become a Catholic priest – utilizes meditation techniques. He talks about these moments of stillness, of calm as prerequisites to personal change.
Like the kindergarten age children in Nathalia’s centers, these teenagers come from broken families, crammed homes in dangerous areas, where you can never be alone, where they never experience a safe enough environment to pause and reflect. Rodrigo opens up an opportunity to do just that. To understand themselves and their environment through the lens of violence and start the painful process of change.
Before these encounters, I always thought of peace as a function of equal opportunities, education, access to jobs and diplomatic negotiations. It was only through the work of these two fantastic Social Entrepreneurs that I realized that inner silence and calm are fundamental for peace.
And if you are in the mood for some inner stillness and calm yourself, I like to use an app called Headspace.