I started to write this blog about advice for practitioners, the importance of learning from failure and of conducting monitoring and evaluation for that purpose. It remains a good topic, but after spending the last few days with Generations For Peace "pioneers" and "delegates,"after hearing their stories and their wisdom, what i had written seemed less important, even silly.
The representative of Generations For Peace I spoke with were from Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. Though their geographic proximity is very close, their experiences and approaches to sports and peacebuilding were nothing short of unique. In each unique story, however, threads of similarity in the smallest details began to weave a tapestry of the wider sports and peacebuilding world, demonstrating not just the universality of sport, but perhaps more importantly, a common humanity.
Their stories filled my notebook, my recorder, my mind, and my heart. From the academic side, we discuss these programs in terms of theory and extensive categorization of each interaction. I found, though, more resounding wisdom not in the notions of contact theory or physio-therapy, but rather, in the simplest and often off-handed advice of the youth leaders. For both the Lebanese and Palestinian representatives, politics and constrained and defined their lives, even "peace" is highly politicized. They recognized the politics, they demonstrated resentment or despise or hope for the political situation, and they returned to the point over and over that when they play sports, they have the opportunity to escape these politics for a moment. They can be free of the constraints that political divisions impose. They can play. And, when even peacebuilding is political, the simplicity of playing a game with others is accessible and alluring.
Pushing aside all my notions of theory and categorization, the most important observation/advice/pearl of wisdom came from each group of representatives, from every site I've visited, and from the people existing in the darkest of places. Smile. That is it. That peace starts with a smile. A smile expresses inner peace, it is infectious and, even if just for a moment, it is a light in a dark place. I am grateful to the GFP representatives that reminded me of the power of the smile, and to reiterate the GFP motto, I hope to "pass it on."
For more information on Generations For Peace visit http://www.generationsforpeace.com/
For Georgetown University's Conflict Resolution Program visit http://conflictresolution.georgetown.edu/