Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Making friendships across borders

An interview by Christina Makri

Image by Eowyn Evvastri Ruud-Olsen 
Chintan Girish Modi is a 'change maker' or, as he prefers to be called, an 'educator'.  He has changed plenty of people’s lives through his initiative, Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, and has a lot to say about it. During our interview he mentioned that Aao Dosti Karein was a seed that was sitting in his heart for a long time before it was introduced to the world and that it began as an initiative that would document stories of cross-border friendships between Indians and Pakistanis. 

He felt that he needed to take action because a lot of what was written in the newspapers and was heard on television had been stories of Indians and Pakistanis firing at each other and spewing hatred, even though there were, also, plenty of initiatives that facilitated connections between the two countries. These were rarely reported though and few people knew about them. In fact there were numerous stories of friendships that came out of these interactions that needed to be shared widely.

By  documenting such personal stories, Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein has ventured to disseminate them by presenting them in the form of peace education workshops in schools and colleges, by offering translations of these stories in multiple South-Asian and European languages, and by collaborating with multiple partners to run campaigns and events that would introduce new audiences to the possibility of cross-border friendships and would celebrate our shared humanity and our shared heritage. According to Chintan, though, despite the success of his initiative, the reactions he receives are not always positive, since there are still people that believe that this work is meaningless, since the governments of the two countries do not get along well with each other.

Thankfully, he has a growing number of supporters who believe initiatives like these are necessary and are needed more than ever, which is what encourages him to continue to use his energy to change the world. When it comes to Planet Harmony he states that he wasn’t the one who started it, but was invited by Navita Mahajan and Ajeet Bajaj to participate. Their idea was to bring together high-schoolers from Kashmir, Delhi, Manipur, Meghalaya and Chhattisgarh to live with each other and learn from each other.  During that time, students were involved in plenty of activities, including writing, painting, dancing and playing sports. And according to Chintan the students had a great time and so did he and his colleagues. Moreover, he mentioned that he felt blessed to be part of this initiative. Along with Planet Harmony, Chintan has facilitated several other programs, but has mostly focused on his ongoing initiative Friendships Across Borders.

When I asked him what inspired him to create and participate in these initiatives, he replied that he was influenced by several things, but that his background played the most important role. He admitted that he has witnessed a lot of fear and hostility being spread in the name of religion. Specifically he mentioned that while he was in elementary school and living in Mumbai, he would see riots and fights taking place between Hindus and Muslims specifically between the years of 1992 and 1993. At the time, he couldn’t comprehend the situation, but while growing up he came in contact plenty of diversity and learned to appreciate every part of it. He loved learning about other cultures and civilizations, as well as bringing people together.

That is when he realized that peace-building was 
Chintan at a Workshop
his passion. And even though he knew he would have to face numerous obstacles, he was always energetic and constantly engaging in activities that would help him reach his goal. His persistence and determination have not only brought him success, but also plenty of knowledge. According to him, working for peace cannot just be an external activity, but it has to align with the way we treat the people who are close to us, as well as the way we treat ourselves. He also states that he thrives on hope and always chooses to believe that the future holds greater things. After all, that is what keeps him inspired and allows him to continue working for what he believes and assists him in accomplishing his goal.

Specifically, he has published several essays through which he attempts to open people’s hearts and help them recognize that life would be much simpler if we didn’t cause so much pain on one another. He also had the opportunity to meet His Holiness Dalai Lama, which he described as a profoundly moving and important experience. When asked about what he believes to be his greatest accomplishment, Chintan simply says - yet to come. Lastly, he would also like to encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about these initiatives to visit www.friendshipsacrossborders.org or email him at friendshipsacrossborders@gmail.com for volunteering opportunities.




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