One key lesson that I am getting from the experience thus far at the Summer Peacebuilding Program is that peace building is a form of art. It is not something that one can learn from by just going through articles and papers written by renowned scholars (although that provides a strong base). From our experience over the past few days, I have come to conclude that peace building requires greater amount of engagement in the field from the very beginning to ensure that peace builders can make a connection between theory and practice. Almost all of the professors and speakers that we have heard from, have worked in the field at some point in their life, and that too, extensively. One of the many speakers who inspired this thought was Kazu Haga, who is the founder of East Point Peace Academy. In an extremely engaging presentation, he talked about how the army, before going into the field, practices and ensures that they are perfect and ready to wage war on countries. According to him, that is precisely the kind of training that is needed for peace builders to be able to wage war on violence. He said “you cannot face violence without serious training. I compare nonviolence to martial arts – its a lifelong learning process”. Therefore, he has started the East Point Peace Academy, which “empowers communities by helping to nurture the skills and the inspiration to be the agents for change”. By training and supporting local communities to voice their opinions and fight against injustice, he has been able to inspire movements in various prisons, and local communities. This was one example of how peace building is a form of art, because Kazu took the Kingian philosophy of nonviolence and created a program that can further motivate young people to take up nonviolent means of protesting. Another point that was interesting about Kazu’s presentation was his emphasis on how, as peacemakers, we should be comfortable with the concept of conflict. He urged us to understand conflict in order to transform such conflicts for the betterment of these communities. This is an important advice, because it reenforces the idea that in order to be peace builders, we should spend considerable amount of time on the ground talking to the different groups involved and ensure that we help foster solutions that are desirable by community members. As Kazu said, it is key to put yourself in other’s shoes and understanding their perspective before making a judgement about their action. And it is key to remember that understanding doesn’t mean agreeing with the other group and their perspective.

An example from SPP that helped me understand some of the ideas that were put forward by Kazu was during our visit to the State Prison in Salinas, I was walking across various prisoners who had been tried for decades, if not for life. It was absolutely disheartening to see these people, yet I could not but think of the reasons for them to be in prison. At first, my thought was that they were in prison for doing the wrong thing. However, the same evening, we met with Willie R. Stokes, who was once part of the Nuestra Familia gang which is the Northerner gang in California. The gang culture in California is very powerful and maintains a strong network. As a young boy, he was a smart and hardworking kid, who went through difficult circumstances in life, eventually leading to a life in the gang, and eventually in prisons. Although he went through such difficult situations, he was able to change is life. Currently, he runs a program called the Black Sheep Redemption and works in prisons, schools and various halls to provide training and support to the youth who are about to enter the dangerous gang culture. After hearing from him for a few hours, I was able to understand the words of Kazu, who said that it is important to understand the perspective of the group which we usually consider to be in fault. Yes, Willie has made mistakes in his life, and yes he was involved in a poisonous gang culture, but there were powerful reasons which led him to such a life. Even more importantly, he is now a changed man who is helping other young people while risking his own life. It is also important to remember that many times, the real oppressors are not gang members such as Willie, but actually the society which provide minimal support to young children in vulnerable communities, eventually leading them to find groups which are more accepting.

Finally, as we enter this art of peace building, it is important for me to remember the word Agape, which was also put forward by Kazu. Agape is the unconditional love that we have for all of humanity – the idea that I love you because you exist. This kind of unconditional love is important as we become peace builders because only then can we become true listeners and support communities in the way they desire.