BelongCon Speech

On March 28th 2017 our founder, Martin Rowsell, spoke about Postcards For Peace at BelongCon – a conference about community, acceptance and belonging. For reference, here is a transcript of that speech.

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In her first speech in parliament, the late Jo Cox [1] said, “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

It’s true. Us humans we share so much. For a start we are all made of the same stuff: skin and bones, blood and water, squidgy bits and holes. There is not one person on this planet that does not have all of those things. Yet, from an early age we are taught that we are unique even though the only things that divide us are the way we choose to dress and decorate our bodies and our beliefs. But even these things are shaped or influenced by our parents, teachers, friends and society. And still the focus always seems to be on our differences.

One Saturday night, about nine years ago, I was sat on the sofa watching TV. The kids were in bed and my wife was asleep next to me. I was flicking through the channels when I stumbled across a programme about an organization called Peace One Day and their campaign to create an international day of peace. It had me hooked and I realised how passionately I felt about what they were doing. We all have a cause that we feel passionately about, that we champion or support more than others, and mine, it dawned on me that Saturday evening, is creating a world that feels safe for everyone and where we are all given the same opportunities. It saddens me that many people around the world get a raw deal because of the country or body they are born into.

I founded my organization, Postcards For Peace, four years ago. It was born at a time when I kept hearing how we should use our skills and knowledge where possible to create change. I’ve been a graphic designer all my life and I thought that creating postcards and selling them to raise awareness of important issues while raising money for charity, gave me an opportunity to use these design skills. But it soon became much more than that. I realised that the simplicity of the postcard, and that it is able to carry both pictures and words, made it actually an incredibly powerful and versatile tool.

And so my journey began. It’s at this point that my eyes were opened. I admit that I was one of those people that took what I saw on the news or read in the papers as black and white. Anybody that has ever created their own business or organization knows how difficult and challenging it can be. There are days, especially in the beginning, when you wonder whether it is actually worth the work and trouble.

Martin Luther King said, “The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very discouraging sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall.”

I was having one of these moments one wet Sunday morning when I opened Facebook to find a message from a woman in Afghanistan thanking me for creating the project and that she hoped one day we can all live in peace.

Every time I have felt like giving up since, I’ve always recalled this day. The day it dawned on me that people all over the world share the same vision as me of creating a safer, more equal and more united world.

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I’ve received dozens of emails and messages like this since and I’ve learnt so much about this beautiful planet and it’s wonderful people as a result. My bucket list of places to travel to reads like Donald Trump’s worst nightmare. Yes, I really want to go to Iran. Afghanistan? Yes! Why not. Iraq? Definitely!

A couple of years ago one young woman contacted me from Iraq. Maria lives in a town called Halabja and she told me how, in March 1988, between 3 and 5 thousand people died more than 7,000 more were injured when a five hour chemical attack on Halabja was carried out by Saddam Hussein’s forces. Even though she wasn’t born at the time, people in her family had been among those killed and she knew people still suffering the consequences. She is very proud of her country. She told me she would send me pictures of where she lived and I admit I wasn’t really expecting much but the pictures she sent showed streets of modern houses, beneath beautiful mountains. Something’s wrong here, I thought, this isn’t what Iraq is supposed to look like.

Over time, I have connected with many of her friends on social media. On Instagram I see these young men and women happy and smiling, going to university, going out for pizza, to theme parks or the cinema. Yes, some of the women wear hijabs, but also skinny jeans and Adidas trainers. We have recruited one of these young women, Asma, as an Ambassador for Postcards For Peace. Asma loves shopping. She loves shoes and bags and posts pictures of shops that look like they should be in Westfield [2].

So, if me, a man in his forties, can have his eyes opened and his perception changed then I believe we have a great opportunity to change the minds of others before they get too conditioned. We can change the world, we can create unity in our diversity, if we stop telling children how unique we all are and instead focus on teaching them about the things we have in common.

Getting children involved and appreciating our similarities is incredibly important to me and to Postcards For Peace. Mother Teresa said, “If we are to teach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children”. Maybe Whitney Houston said it better: “I believe that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”

Two years ago I created a Postcard Exchange Network. We pair up schools in different countries so that the children can design and write postcards and realise that other kids, regardless of the country they live in, their religion or their culture, still enjoy similar things, still have fun, still have feelings the same as them.

But this is just the beginning – we have so many things planned that will show children about equality and diversity, about humanity and unity. That we are all human regardless of gender, sexuality, religion, culture or disability. We are putting together creative and fun ways of teaching these things that span the whole curriculum and should be just as much fun for the teachers as they are for the pupils. We want to create a spark of curiosity in children that makes them want to learn more. And the more they understand about the world, and each other, well, hopefully, the more amazing the world will become.

We want to create a world where our differences are embraced. Where someone can go out wearing a turban, hijab, skull cap or flat cap and be treated equally, not stared at, not pointed at.

Depeche Mode sang: “So, we’re different colours and we’re different creeds and different people have different needs. It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve never even met you so what could I have done?”

People are people: skin and bones, blood and water, squidgy bits and holes.

I’ve been Martin Rowsell. I’m a human like you.

As John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” [3]

Thank you for listening.

 

[1] British MP murdered in 2016
[2] Large modern shopping centre in Stratford, East London, built as part of the redevelopment of the area for the London Olympics.
[3] Line left out of speech on the night

 

© Copyright 2017 Martin Rowsell/Postcards For Peace. No part of this post may be used without prior permission.