By Bryan Carey
In mid-December, an NGO in Bosnia and Herzegovina that we partner with called Small Steps hosted over 100 youth from around the country for a celebration concluding a 2-year program, “Encouraging Children to Accept Differences.”
Over these last two years, the kids have gotten to know each other while participating in nonviolent communication workshops and traveling to neighboring municipalities to spend time with youth of other ethnic and religious backgrounds. To celebrate their accomplishments they came from cities and towns all over Bosnia & Herzegovina to enjoy games, workshops, face painting and a concert. At the end of the event, they filled a 10 meter long banner with messages of peace and hung it on a terrace overlooking downtown Sarajevo.
After talking to teachers and school directors about whether they had seen a difference in these kids after this two-year program, Ivana Atlija of Sanski Most responded. She affirmed that this program, and others of the same kind, definitely makes a difference for these kids, who often have had no opportunity to interact with those who are different than they are. Just the chance to meet somebody who is different really changes how they see the world. They believe they can get along with each other, and they have the chance to begin taking small steps in that direction.
However, the work is not done. The challenge is that “prejudice and fear really come from their own homes.” These youth go back to their homes where their own family members live with prejudice, fear, and even hatred toward others. Because these kids have friends from other ethnic and religious groups, they feel the tension between two very different ways of relating to people of other groups.
The fact that these youth are becoming leaders who can point society in a different direction – toward coexistence, respect, and even love of neighbor – reminds us of a verse from Isaiah, which describes the coming peace of God’s reign:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)