Saturday, December 30, 2006

Kids, Dreams, and a Peace Force

Dear Peter,
I finished reading your book last week, and developed with it a friendship of sorts. Here's an email for your weekly quota of requests for advice that you mention you receive.
I need your help with a dream, if you're willing. I'm cc'ing my parents, my co-dreamers. I'm also cc'ing Skilly (Mr. Skillicorn) a teacher from my old school, the one who lent me the book and gave me your address.
Here's the idea, in two parts, of what we would like to see happen:
Part 1 -
We help create a Space – a child's world – a Home for kids who have no home, and for all the things that come along with kids, like grandparent figures, guava trees, goat droppings, carving tools, and books, lots of books (the only resource we actually have right now). A space for growing, playing, learning, healing, loving, and generally Being. I've pasted a piece below called We Will; it's my picture of the way of life in the Home.
Recently we've had doubts about setting this big thing up all by our little selves, so for now it looks like we're going to start by apprenticing with like-minded existing projects, and maybe the Home of our dreams will birth itself one of these days. Meanwhile...
...Part 2 –
I train to be a Shanti Sainik (see next paragraph). In training I join with other practicing and potential Shanti Sainiks (some of whom might even be kids from the Home).
A Shanti Sainik is a member of a Shanti Sena (or as my mom and I prefer, Shanti Sainya) — a non-violent peace force. It's an idea from Gandhi and Co. Maybe you already know of some of the organizations trying to put it into practice. One of the things they do is organize people to take a Shanti Sainik pledge each year on September 11th. When I first heard about the event last year, on the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's first 'Satyagraha', I wrote and took my own version of the oath. I've pasted that below too. Ten or so friends joined me in the oath after an email call-out I sent, some of them with their own versions.
One of the reasons I'm emailing you as opposed to the other many folks who do Good Things is that, both in your descriptions and in the way the projects seem to have been carried out, I was reminded of the way military operations are planned and executed. From an "anti-war activist" that may not seem like a good thing, but it absolutely is. What I'm looking for is a military style training for focus, discipline, logistical capacity, strength, fearlessness, awareness, wordless togetherness of soldiers, but without the killing-people and all that. The other reason is that your book is about kids. Strong, able, smart, caring, playful, freedom-loving kids. That combination pretty much sums up the two parts of the dream that are consuming — and not quite knowing how to digest — me.
Floating in my head are the first precipitations of more specific ideas of what I want my own training to be, and what I can extrapolate/generalize from that for how I could help others train themselves, but its still really all too vague for me to put down, and I'm going to Nairobi in a few days to help out with the World Social Forum so I'm all a-fluff, and this email is biting at its tethers, so I thought I'd send you the initial idea and see what you think, if it's something you're interested in.
With a heck of a lot of respect and gratitude, even if I don't hear from you,
And we will…
"And tonight we will keep right on singing for our dead.
And we will give our dead back to the Earth
and the Earth will embrace them and breathe them into the seeds of new life.
And we will save these seeds and exchange them and plant them everywhere, even – no, especially – in our most crowded cities,
and the flowers will come cracking out of the concrete, and when the petals fall we will clap our hands in wonder at the fruits and the plenty before us.
What we have, we will give, and what we need, we will create.
We will hang dewdrops from our ears and sunshine from our hips and leave the diamonds and the gold for the earth to wear.
When we cut down the body of a tree we will first ask its spirit for its permission, forgiveness, and blessing.
When we take from a body of water we will remember that every drop is sacred.
We will heal each other with our hands and our hearts.
We will measure time by the skies and space by our stride.
The planet will be our playground, the universe, our classroom, and we will see all the world in the seed of a grape.
We will build each other houses and grow each other food and bathe each other's children.
We will breathe the air of equality.
We will be good neighbours and bad subjects.
We will have a healthy disrespect for authority and question before we believe but have faith before we dismiss and understand before we judge.
We will write and re-write our own laws, and the greatest punishment for a crime will be the very knowledge that we have committed it.
Our minds and hearts will be weapons of love, our bodies, shields.
We will read and write about freedom in the sunlight, sing and dance about it in the moonlight, and whisper about it in the darkness.
And tonight we will find, deep inside us, the soulforce, truthforce, that resides in the freedom of Tibet, Palestine, Kashmir, Myanmar, Manipur, Assam, Nagalim, the Cherokee Nation, the Mapuche Nation, the Yirrkala Nation, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Aung San Suu Kyi …
And tonight, we will..."
Oath of a shanti sainik
Beginning today, September 11, 2006,
I will seek the good, the wild, and the sacred in all;
see the interconnectedness between every being
and the bliss in every moment;
observe and dissolve my fear and my perception of need;
move towards ahimsa, active non-violence,
in every breath, thought, word, and deed;
aspire to be someone in whose company
it is easy to be peaceful and joyful;
learn to be gentle;commit myself to truthforce, soulforce, satyaagraha;
turn my heart, mind, and body into weapons of love,
and take them with me as I step into the depths of hate.
Tonight, I will be a shanti sainik.

excerpts from The Courage of Children, by Peter Dalglish

I was particularly moved when a homeless person, standing outside the Midtown Tavern in Halifax, handed me half the proceeds from his day of panhandling. "I may be poor," he said, "but those kids in Africa are dirt poor"...Over the years, my work designing community-service projects for children and youth has shown me that even hardened adolescent young offenders have the capacity to care for other human beings, and that we gain strength when we are asked to give something of ourselvs. I have seen young people who have been living in the streets of Canada's largest cities acquire extraordinary self-confidence when given a chance to volunteer. I have visitied recycling projects run by former street youth who, when trusted with the responsibility of managing a business, became productive members of the community. A door had been opened for them to mainstream society. Helping others is life-affirming. The street youth employed by recycling centres tell those who will listen to them that, fo the first time in their lives, someone actually needed them. Volunteering is an effective antidote to cynicism and apathy; we are reminded over and over again that there is a place for us here on earth. While Ethiopia Airlift and all the other organizations that responded to the great African famine did extraordinary things for the people of Africa, the challenge of responding to the famine made better citizens out of everyone who decided to get involved. We learned, once again, that it is better to serve than to be served.
p. 101

In a milieu that puts a premium on getting things done, and when the task at hand often involves feeding kids by the thousands at a single siting, lawyers and university presidents are of limited value. Amidst the chaos of famine in the Ogaden Desert, a meritocracy emerged in which people were ordered not according to the degrees they had earned at fancy universities but rather according to their social utility. Pilots, nurses, doctors, engineers, excavators, agronomists, and veterinarians had all earned the right to be there. John and I were consigned to the role of spectators to human tragedy.
p. 118


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