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A peace-building Commonwealth

A peace-building Commonwealth

Celebrating Commonwealth Day with Queen’s Young Leaders

As 52 countries join together on to celebrate Commonwealth Day, Queen’s Young Leaders tell Leading Change why peace matters, where peace is fragile, and how to combat hate and build reconciliation.

Why is peace so important to you personally?

Nushelle  de Silva

At age 16, I travelled with a group of prefects from our school to Jaffna, a city in the north of Sri Lanka that had borne the brunt of decades of warfare. Along the way, we saw trees pockmarked with bullet holes, and abandoned roofless houses. Just beyond the tarred road were deadly landmines, buried in the dirt.

When we got to our host school we were greeted with warmth and kindness, but my heart grew heavier and heavier. Language was a barrier, and I felt guilty that I hadn’t worked harder to learn Tamil in school. We visited the Jaffna Public Library, burned to the ground by Sinhalese nationalists in 1981, and I felt somehow responsible.

Finally, we visited a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam graveyard. We walked through the gates and I was horrified by the endless, oppressively ordered rows of gravestones.

I saw our new friends pause in front of stones that were familiar to them. In that moment, I found it impossible to use the word “terrorists” or even “separatists” to describe the dead. All I could think was that here were Sri Lankans like me, and that they were gone.

It pains me to think that there is so little space for difference, for working through complex emotions, for showing and receiving deep love in the aftermath of unspeakable horror. 

People continue to hurt, and I have personally experienced how we destroy ourselves and others when we are hurting. I am deeply concerned that not everyone can see this.

Amiya Prapran Chakra Borty

We need to make a violence-free, equal world for sustainable development and our future generation. Peace is very important and is a pre-condition of such development.  

Kiiza Saddam Hussein

All the values and principles, rightfully enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, can only be exercised and implemented in peaceful societies. This reminds us of our utmost responsibility – to promote peace everywhere.

How is peace promoted by combatting discrimination?

Sara Ezabe

If fear overtakes us and we hate each other because of our differences – not looking beyond and understanding that we belong to one humanity – then we can never live in peace.

Looking back at history – especially in the last century – the world has come to realise the importance of peace.

Educating our young generations and, in the broader sense, our communities about unnecessary conflicts and their results, clearly proves that peace is necessary for us to live in dignity and respect.

Ignorance and banality have led to great evils in the world. In these cases education is a tool of power to overcome mass destruction and promote peace. 

How can peace be promoted through grassroots activities?

Amiya

In Bangladesh, and many other countries, minority groups – such as tea workers, coastal areas people, hillside people, ethnic communities, disabled and LGBT groups – don’t have equal rights.

Their living standard is low. Many challenges are there. So, how will peace come?

We need to work together. Investment is required for grassroots empowerment, youth empowerment focusing on peace and sustainable development goals.

People need to be aware about their rights and we need to promote their culture with a better livelihood. Then peace will be sustainable.

Is there a connection between climate change and war?

Kiiza

The world is already experiencing conflicts as a result of climate change impacts.

For example, people living on the borders of Uganda and Kenya who are predominantly cattle-keepers and fishermen, have in the last five years been clashing – due to the limited green pasture for animal feed as a result of drought, and fish scarcity due to heatwaves.

As climate change continues there is a strong prediction that wars will become more likely.

How can the arts and the built environment promote peace?

Nushelle

The greatest barrier to dialogue is not being able to understand where the other person is coming from. But it only takes a few simple theatre activities to start building your muscle for empathy. This is the first step to productive – and transformative – conversation.

It’s hard to change the feel of an unfriendly space, but the arts are – again – a wonderful way to create interventions with an impact, from something as low-budget as a mural or as temporary as a pop-up exhibition or performance.

The most thoughtful of these interventions work when they have a clear understanding of the problem to solve and who they’re solving it for, which takes patience and kindness and love. 

Nushelle de Sliva

"People continue to hurt, and I have personally experienced how we destroy ourselves and others when we are hurting. I am deeply concerned that not everyone can see this."

Nushelle de Silva

Nushelle de Silva founded Building Bridges in 2012 and is currently a PhD Student at MIT, studying History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art.

Amiya Prapran Chakra Borty

"People need to be aware about their rights and we need to promote their culture with a better livelihood. Then peace will be sustainable."

Amiya Prapran Chakra Borty

Amiya Prapran Chakra Borty is the Executive Director of Dhrubotara Youth Development Foundation, which engages volunteers and promotes grassroots development in Bangladesh.

Kiiza Saddam Hussein

"All the values and principles, rightfully enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, can only be exercised and implemented in peaceful societies. This reminds us of our utmost responsibility – to promote peace everywhere."

Kiiza Saddam Hussein

Kiiza Saddam Hussein is a lawyer, climate change activist, and Programme Manager at the Uganda Youth Society for Human Rights.

Sara Ezabe

"Ignorance and banality have led to great evils in the world. In these cases education is a tool of power to overcome mass destruction and promote peace."

Sara Ezabe

Sara Ezabe studies Law at the University of Malta, and is the Co-Founder of RedefiningUs working to combat discrimination and promote a more diverse and inclusive society.