Music and Community Building

The impact of art and creativity in building and sustaining peace is an area that needs more attention. It is hard to lead an existence with no ear for music. On that note, we began the third session of Ecopeace Teen Cafe Ambassador Programme on 30th October 2021 at 7.00 pm IST, With Janielle Beh as the guest speaker.

Sitting in a cafe in Rwanda, Janielle related her journey with music that she began at the age of 12. She narrated her experiences in Afghanistan, where she spent three years teaching music and connecting with young students. It is also difficult for her to see the plight of the country under religious fundamentalism. She showed us some photographs with her students in Afghanistan as well as in Rwanda. In her introduction, she talked about the necessity of music in every culture. As a passionate musician, she seeks to create opportunities in places where music is needed, but hard to practice. One thing that she repeatedly stated throughout the session was how music is a gift that one cannot lose at any time in life. If you cannot give anything to a person, you can always give them music, write a song for them. Even if you are in a prison, music and the art that it carries cannot be shackled.

Janielle was open to questions from the participants. One of the students, Kalyani, asked her about her experience in India, which she positively connects as a wonderful experience. She got to teach students in Mumbai as well as street children in Delhi. She happily looks back at those times and cherishes the eagerness that those children showed her in learning music.

Greshma, the founder of the programme, also asked her about her extraordinary experiences in meeting people who are genocide survivors and local heroes. Janielle was quick to recall a couple who helped abandoned children and women in Afghanistan by providing them a shelter home. In Rwanda, she came across a woman in the streets whose loss of loved ones at a tender age inspired her to be a champion of widows.

When Greshma asked her about the religious conflicts that ravage the world and how music can heal wounds, she replied that her experience has showed music as a platform where people from different cultures have come together to create a new world. She has seen people learning from each other through music and killing the prejudices that they might have about each other. For her, music is not competitive, but soothing and artistic.

Furthering the session, Daniel, one of our volunteers, asked about the connection music has with nature. It was heartening to hear that she considers nature to be divine and that leaves birds, and stars make sounds in reverence to the divinity that surrounds us.

Janielle’s words were enlightening for the young people with us. She told us the importance of having a purpose in life. Even when one cannot find it, constantly attempting to discover one’s passion and purpose is vital to living happily.

After the Q&A, the students were led to a song-writing activity. A screen was shared for them, asking them to pick two words from a range of terms like believe, light, ceasefire, violence, etc. They were asked to think of an issue that affects a community like racism, gender discrimination, or even a personal crisis that hinders an individual from moving forward in life. The students quickly responded to all these.

Next, they were asked to write 4 lines based on the issue with the two terms as the keywords. Within two minutes, all of them wrote 4 lines and posted them on the chatbox for everyone to read. Janielle was very appreciative of the wholehearted participation that the students showed. She said that the session would have been more engaging if it was conducted offline, to which all of us agree.

Towards the end, Daniel expressed a token of gratitude to her on behalf of all the team members. Janielle also conveyed her good wishes to all the participants and her desire to revisit India in the near future.
The healing power of music and the way it connects humanity despite all the differences that we impose on ourselves were narrated by this passionate musician, nudging us to think of art and creation as tools for peace and harmony.

About the author

Vani K

An enthusiast in literature, aspiring teacher, and a listener more than a speaker, consider each day as an opportunity for learning.

Birth of Ecopeace Teen Cafe

When I was doing my internship at Earth Charter International Secretariat based in Costa Rica in the year 2019, one day, Mirian Vilela, Executive Director, suddenly came out of her office and observed a toucan. The entire team went outside and observed the bird with enthusiasm. Back then, I did not care much about the beauty of nature, but living with nature-loving people on a green campus transformed my life. I started observing nature more and realised how the beauty of nature influences us, thereby becoming more peaceful humans.

It was then that I began to think about sharing this spirit of love for nature with younger generations in India as a means to spread awareness of peace through love. When I came back to India, I started working from the ground level. However, the year 2020 proved challenging when the whole world was struck by the pandemic. I was confused with countless questions. I wondered how I can reach more children at this point, whether online space is safe for children and how I can overcome the issues posed by the digital divide.

Furthermore, attending the Peace Practice Alliance programme organised by the Euphrates Institute from March 2021- August 2021 imparted a new direction to my path. It rekindled hope and confidence within me to utilize online spaces in creating connections and building communities without borders. Words of Jamila, my big sister from the Philippines, motivated me to take the first step towards this project. The mentorship has given by James Offuh, Sylvia Murray, Hollister Thomas, Katy Friedman Lunardelli, Sally Mahe, Amanda Bennett and Sarah Oliver also made this journey smooth and more successful.

With a renewed sense of optimism, I started recruiting volunteers in August. I got applications from different parts of the world. My Ecopeace Teen Cafe Team, Aleena, Khadeejah Bint Malik, Vani, Nadia, Joshua, Eduardo, Victor, Amy, Haripriya, and Daniel, have put their relentless efforts behind the success of this venture up till now. I want to thank all of you for your contributions. Moving forward, the selection process lasted about two weeks. We planned a community project that turned out to be a national project. We got participants from different parts of the country. Among the 62 applications that we received, we selected 29 students for the first cohort of the eco peace ambassador program.

On October 2, 2021, Dr Abraham Karickam, Secretary-General of United Religions Initiative, who has been guiding me since my teenage years, officially inaugurated the project. As his student, this is a moment of happy manifestation in my life. Thank you so much for supporting me in each step.

Dr Miriam Vilela, Executive Director of Earth Charter International, delivered the keynote speech. I was fortunate to do an internship under her supervision. She gave me a task to find the impacts of the Earth Charter Movement. That helped me to understand how the Earth Charter helps in creating a just and peaceful world. It motivated me to commit to the Earth Charter and introduce this platform to teenagers to share the soul of this living document that promotes inclusivity and peace. Ecopeace Teen Cafe got life on this Gandhi Jayanti. This project is our tribute to the Mahatma. We are committed to spreading the message of nonviolence and peace to generations.

Let’s grow together and act together.

About the author