A long-running student exchange project facilitates interactions between Pakistani and Indian students
In January, a 29-member delegation of Indian school students and teachers from Mumbai, New Delhi, and Dehradun visited Pakistan. The latest exchange in the series took place recently with the visit of a 50-member delegation of Pakistani students and teachers to India in February.
These exchanges are part of the ground-breaking Exchange for Change project, 2013-2015, jointly conducted by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan and Routes2Roots, India. Under this interactive initiative, students in both countries participate in a year-long exchange of correspondence with each other before actually meeting.
According to a CAP press release, this is the largest student oral history exchange program in the world and the largest Track II diplomacy effort between Pakistan and India.
“The first meeting is a special moment” for participating students and teachers, says Swaleha Alam Shahzada, Executive Director of CAP. “They correspond for over a year, wait in anticipation for weeks to visit and when they finally meet, it takes just a few minutes to realise that we really are the same.”
The Indian students visit, coming so soon after the massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar, provided them the opportunity to express solidarity with their Pakistani counterparts.
“It was heartening to see the children meet and greet each other during the various school visits as if they belong to the same playing field,” says Routes2Roots founder Tina Vachani.
The Indian students also visited various monuments in Lahore, including Minar-e-Pakistan, Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort, besides Lok Virsa Museum, Pakistan Monument, and the High Commission of India in Islamabad. They also had day trips to the famed Khewra salt mines and the archaeological sites in Harappa.
“I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that has helped me go beyond and explore the history, thoughts, and learn so much more than I thought I would,” says Ira Sharma, an eighth grader from Bombay International School. “The connections and friendships I’ve built in one week has been the BEST experience I’ve had.”
“Let’s not limit faith and religion to lines on a map drawn by powerful people,” suggests Rya Jetha, another eighth grader from the same school. “Let faith be a point of connection, not one of misunderstanding… Let faith be one fragment of an individual, not an entire identity. I think this trip has been the birthplace of a reform in my mind.”
“Before coming [to Pakistan] I wondered how it will be, but after coming here my perception about Pakistan has changed in a positive way. The visit made me realize that the culture, dressing style, food, language, and many more things are quite similar to our country’s. I want to give a message of harmony and peace – if we young generation can become friends then why not the countries,” said Sumayya from Dev Samaj Modern School, New Delhi.
Through this project we hope that students will have a clearer understanding of their shared history, culture and lifestyles.
Photos: Courtesy CAP