In December of 2014 I had the grace of coming across the Indiegogo campaign of an incredible young woman, Sharmila Dhungana. (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/work-with-me-on-the-process-of-peace-building)
I felt an immediate inspiration from her way of articulating how she had spent her childhood and pre-teen years amidst the ten year long civil war in Nepal and was now firmly on a journey to discover what leads to peace, instead of war. In her own words: “As a kid, I remember watching thousands of deaths on the news every day, hearing conversations about war in tea shops and bus stops, sensing the continuous fear that suspended in the air, and thinking to myself, there must be some way out of this vicious cycle!”
She was raising funds to attend a program focused on conflict resolution. As she introduced in her campaign, The Caux Scholars Program is an internationally recognized non-profit training course offered to young leaders from around the world, focusing on conflict analysis and resolution, helping the participants to be effective peace builders. (http://in.iofc.org/caux-scholars-program-asia-plateau)
After donating to her campaign, I reached out to see if she would be open to sharing about her experience with the Love Bomb community once she returned.I now have her beautiful answers to my questions, and continue to be inspired by her capacity to articulate the journey towards peace and how she is contributing to it.
Rhea: Why is peace such an important concept for you personally?
Sharmila: I feel that peace is something that we’ve all been striving for, be it with ourselves, with people around us, or with situations in the surrounding that are out of our control. When we reflect on it on an everyday basis, how many of us complain about a job we don't like? Certain amount of money we wish to earn? A relationship where we expect the other person to say something first? The political leaders we disapprove of? The media we think is biased? The war we are terrified of or the brutal killings happening somewhere? I believe that the reason we surround ourselves with the turmoil of questions, dissatisfaction, or confusions is because we are continually in search of peace within ourselves and on the outside. And this yearning for peace is one of the things that unite us as human beings.
Rhea: Was there any one defining moment for you where you realized you wanted to make a direct contribution to bringing about peace?
Sharmila: It was when I was 15 or 16. I came across a photo book, “A People War”, complied of pictures during the civil war of 1996-2006. My heart cringed as I turned one page after another that were full of devastating pictures of people who were kidnapped, beheaded, or dead. Not to mention bridges that were broken, houses that had gone down to rubbles, and roads that were destroyed. I was torn between wanting the put the book down and continuing to look at the photos. As I looked at the innocent people whose lives had been so severely destroyed by the war, I felt a turmoil of mixed emotions go through my heart. Anger, frustration, helplessness, and despair, it was all of it. I loathed war with all my heart, and it was that moment I realized that I wanted to work my part on reducing the enormous amount of tragedy, destruction and plight every war invites, and contribute towards peace making.
Rhea: What is the program that you were fundraising for on Indiegogo?
Sharmila: I was fundraising to travel to India for a three week long workshop on peace building and conflict resolution organized by Caux Scholars Program, Asia Plateau (CSP-AP). With participants from ten different countries including Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt Philippines, Sweden, Finland, Uganda, Nigeria, and Armenia, the workshop consisted of lectures, group works, individual presentations, and field visits revolving around conflict analyzing, understanding factors that lead to conflict, and working for practical approaches to resolving conflicts. The workshop also consisted sessions on inner governance, and trauma recognition and healing.
Rhea: What was the best part about your fundraising experience?
Sharmila: The best part about my fundraising experience was realizing that I was surrounded by people who have my back through all times, and who encourage and support me to reach out for opportunities. I felt especially grateful to have my professors who were very supportive of the conference I was going to attend, and trusted me enough to invest money on my campaign. There were times I felt like I would not be able to reach my target amount. But coming out through all that confusion, feeling determined to convince people of my commitment, and finally getting enough people that had faith in me, it was all an amazing experience.
Rhea: What was the most impactful experience during your program?
Sharmila: I found the trauma healing exercise to be the most impactful not only because it helped me to self-reflect and get to know myself better, but also it showed me the power of honesty, sincerity and team strength. Even though we all had just met two weeks earlier, we found ourselves totally at ease to open our hearts and share our stories with each other. As the stories unfolded, we listened and supported, hugged and cried together. I could sense an automatic air of trust and confidentiality that had built up amongst us. I also felt an immense sense of respect for people around me, who despite going through many difficult situations still continued to live with their hearts full of passion, energy, courage and determination. I felt blessed to be in an environment which was so full of motivation, positivity, and strength. Listening to so many stories helped me realize that I could relate my experiences in so many stories, and that the pain we've gone through or the experiences we've had are similar, except they happened in different contexts and situations. The exercise made our friendship stronger, and helped us heal each other and ourselves in so many levels.
Rhea: What is the most impactful information you learned during your program?
Sharmila: I always understood conflict to be a very bad thing. But, can there be good conflict too? Can good things come out of a conflict? The program made me think about these questions, and helped me realize conflict can also be good in terms of how it fosters creativity, problem solving, better communication, negotiation styles and can help people find common grounds.
Rhea: What kind of peace do you want to contribute to?
Sharmila: The three weeks at CSP-AP made me realize that before wanting to bring about outer peace, it is very important that you be in peace with your own self. I want to contribute to peace that helps individuals realize their worth, and lets them know that they deserve all the great things in the world. There are many people who’re in conflict with their own self, be it going through identity crisis, or feeling like a victim of certain incidences. Since peace on an individual level can contribute to greater peace, I would like to help myself and others to let go of grudges, and move forward with optimism and hope.
Rhea: Do you think world peace is possible? What would it take?
Sharmila: When I see corruption, political chaos, violence, war, disaster, and inequality in the world, the notion of world peace seems really far off. However, it is possible to walk towards it for sure. On a smaller level, people need to forgive and embrace joy in their lives. However, what people experience at an individual level is also closely connected to what is happening at a bigger level (e.g. situation of war or political chaos). I think world peace would take enormous amount of understanding, cooperation, tolerance, and patience among citizens, country leaders, between countries, and between different groups of people.
Rhea: What is the best way for an individual to contribute to peace?
Sharmila: I think an individual from his/her personal level can contribute to peace by spreading joy around him/her, showing genuine concern to somebody in need, lending an ear to somebody eager to share their story.Also learning to give constructive criticism and respecting the differences among people is what one can do. Conflicts can be positive if you can let a contradicting perspective of somebody widen your understanding about the subject matter, not use it instead to argue and pick on your differences.
Rhea: How do you overcome the hatred and fear that arises from living through war or crimes to humanity in order to become a peace maker?
Sharmila: I understand it is very difficult to forget the trauma or destruction after living through war or crime situations. But it is important to acknowledge that holding grudge about a painful situation in the past will do nothing but cause us more pain in the present. I understand that it is not easy. When I look at the mess the 10 years of insurgency brought to the country, it just fills me with wrath. There are people who are still grieving for their lost ones, the families of the disappeared still have hopes that they might find them one day, girls that were raped are still in trauma, the bridges and schools that were damaged are still not rebuilt. I find it really difficult to acknowledge the fact that such a huge number of innocent lives have been irreparably damaged because of the actions of a bunch of people. But I think it is important not to dwell too much on the past and look how we can move on instead. We should look for ways to provide strength to each other and help one another come out of our woes. Unity is something that really has a power to help people through most of difficult times.
Rhea: What do you take away that you feel will help you contribute to peace?
Sharmila: I believe the experience of meeting people from different countries and being aware of issues going on is one of the aspects that can help contribute to peace. During my three week workshop, I took a journey all at once to Sri Lanka, Egypt, Armenia, Philippines, Sweden, Finland, Uganda, and Nigeria without having to step a foot on any of those countries. Be it in the classroom, during late night talks, or conversations over meals, I travelled the journey through the wonderful stories my friends in these countries narrated about their history and culture, life experiences, struggles and achievements, and hopes for the future. Such an experience has further reminded me to be nonjudgmental and respectful of each and every human being regardless of their background, race, or religion.
Many times, conflict can arise due to difference in ideas or principles that could be the result of difference in upbringing and background. What I experienced from interaction, sharing, and learning among a diverse mix of people, is essential in looking at issues from different perspectives to avoid conflict, as well as to develop a shared sense of value and compassion.
Rhea: Do you have any other advice or words of wisdom for us from your life experience?
Sharmila: I would advise people not to run away from getting closer with their spiritual self. Many times, we are hesitant and scared to even look deeper into ourselves. We are so tangled into our studies, work, or our daily activities, that we really don't reflect on ourselves. What are the areas I need to improve on? What are the relationships I need to improve? Who are the people I want to care about? I would advise people to take some time to themselves and ask questions like these, it might feel difficult in the beginning but it really helps to recognize yourself better and bring joy to your life as well as in lives of those around you.
Also, I would advise people to make genuine personal connections with people that they meet in different areas of their lives. It is very important that you build a team of people who believe in you, who will listen and give shape to your ideas, and who are willing to spend their energy and efforts in helping you grow.
When I was doing my crowd funding campaign, I approached so many people, people that I personally knew and also those I didn’t know very much. Among everybody, there were some people who were plainly not interested, some listened just for the sake of listening, some were interested but not enough to invest their money on me, but there were some(mostly my teachers) who were even more enthusiastic about it than I was! They were the ones who absolutely wanted me to attend the conference (mentioned earlier) and knew that it would be an experience to help me grow, learn new things, and use the knowledge to be a better person. They believed in their belief in me. Those people were very less compared to the many I approached, but finding them was worth the search!
Finally, I would like to thank Rhea for this opportunity. She is one of those people who believed in me. Even though I have never seen her in person or met her, she has been one of my strengths.
There are many ways to reach out and drop our love bombs in the world! Micro-donations to crowd-funding projects can be very sweet ways to make a direct personal contribution and connection with someone. I have been enjoying learning about Sharmila and look forward to seeing the powerful contributions she makes to life as her journey continues.
If you’d like to make a small donation to a project today, this just came across my desk and will help Sharmila’s home country of Nepal in a small and immediate way:
I look forward to bringing you more “Love Bomber” stories in the months to come, both in this format, and in a podcast I have brewing in my heart’s inspiration.