I have to be honest, apart from learning about the gardens at the Taj Mahal as part of a Garden Design course, I took nearly fifteen years ago, my knowledge of India was, up until a few years ago, limited to the local takeaway menu and a couple of Michael Palin documentaries. Though I have always loved the Indian influence of the George Harrison songs on Revolver and Sgt Pepper, I didn’t know who Ganesha or Shiva were, and I thought partition was something that divided two parts a room. I’d never even seen Dickie Attenborough’s Gandhi*.
My dream, for the last twenty years – in fact, pretty soon after a graduated from college – has been to study for a degree. I love learning and I guess that’s why I’m such an avid reader. The degree hasn’t happened (it will, one day) but founding Postcards For Peace has and the knowledge that has brought me from day one, in 2013, has probably been greater, and certainly a lot cheaper, than any formal education.
You see, I’ve discovered, there’s no better way to learn than from actually speaking to people. Asking questions. Listening to their answers. Looking, watching, discovering. Take an interest in people, countries and cultures, and you are rewarded with friendship and support.
After the UK and the USA, the first Postcards For Peace Goodwill Ambassadors came from India – Author and activist Kirthi Jayakumar (founder of the Red Elephant Foundation) and Chintan Girish Modi (founder of Friendship Across Borders). The country has always been one of the charity’s biggest support groups on social media. Today, it provides us with a large number of our ambassadors, and every one of them has their own personal agenda for wanting to be a part of the organisation: improving relations with Pakistan, equality, human rights issues, unity between religions and LGBT rights are all covered, and more.
Postcards For Peace is still very much my baby; it’s a thing I’m very proud to have created and I am very much attached to it. If someone contacts me, wanting to represent the organisation as an ambassador, I immediately feel an emotional bond with them and I can’t help but try to find out more about them, their culture and the things that affect them. And that is how my knowledge of India – and her politics, cultures, religions and history – although still limited, has increased massively. But I still want to know more. I need to know more for, if Postcards For Peace is to have any success in any country, then we have to understand all of the issues that we can, hopefully, help resolve.
Last year, I found myself watching a video of a young Indian girl holding up handwritten signs that told the story of how her father had been killed in the war with Pakistan while she was still very young. She explained how, for many years, she could only feel hate for those people from her neighbouring country, until she realised that it was war, not Pakistan, that killed her father. Her name is Gurmehar Kaur and that film has made her many friends, and sadly enemies in her own country and around the world. Straight after watching the film, I searched to see if she was on Twitter because I knew I wanted her involved with Postcards For Peace. I invited her to become an Ambassador for the charity which she accepted.
Since becoming an Ambassador for Postcards For Peace, Gurmehar, who is still only 20 years old, has been commissioned to write a book by Penguin India, named as one of Time Magazine’s Next Generation Leaders and gained more friends (and enemies) for the campaigning she does. I also count her as a friend. A friend with a shared goal of creating a society that is safe, united and at peace for every one of us.
Her book, Small Acts of Freedom, is published in December and I was incredibly flattered when she officially invited me to the launch taking place at the Jaipur Literary Festival in January 2018. I think my heart skipped a beat when I read her message – not only would this, if I could make it happen, be able to visit one of the countries high up on my “Bucket List”, I would have the opportunity to meet this brilliant young woman and find out more about her. And then I began to think about all the other opportunities I might have while there: would it be possible to meet Kirthi and talk about how Postcards For Peace could work more closely with the Red Elephant Foundation? And Chintan to talk about relations with India and Pakistan? Could we even gather a few of our Ambassadors together to have an ideas session – use our collective minds to find the best ways for Postcards For Peace to create change in India?
I remembered reading an article in Positive News about a school in India that was using more creative approaches to teach equality. I found the article and contacted Schools of Equality, discovering they were in Chennai, the same city as Kirthi Jayakumar. Suddenly, it seemed, more opportunities started to arise and, as if it was some kind of sign, I began to see India in newspapers, on the TV, and in books.
But, for all the opportunities, for all the people in India telling me that they hoped I would be able to make it, one thing was getting in my way: funding. I would need money for flights, for accommodation, food, drink and travel within the country but the charity doesn’t have that much money in its account. I started to look at flights and, not having travelled alone before, and never having flown for more than four hours, I began by looking at the cost of Premium Economy or Business Class to make the journey more comfortable for me. It didn’t take me long to realise that, if the trip was going to happen, if funding was to be found, I might have to look at standard, economy prices and invest in an eye mask and a neck/shoulder cushion and lose myself in a very long novel.
I thought it was worth contacting a couple of the bigger airlines to see if they could help with flights – I remembered that British Airways flew Peace One Day’s Jeremy Gilley out to New York for a meeting at the UN so I contacted them first. Their response was immediate and promising: they would be willing to look at the cheapest price possible. Virgin Atlantic said they wouldn’t be able to help at all. In the meantime, others were also looking into flights for me and we found that the overall cost of the trip didn’t need to be as expensive as I previously thought. But still, more than we could afford without help.
I began to think about what we could offer businesses in return for sponsorship and have put together a plan that I have been sending out offering them the chance to see their name and company logo on our website and in promotions we do about the trip, on posts I write on our website and social media while I am there. For a company with foresight, this could be a great advertising opportunity for a relatively small investment. I have been contacting businesses nearby, hopeful that one might see the PR opportunity for them to be seen working to help a local charity.
The clock is ticking but I am still hopeful that the trip will happen in January. I have to remain positive and so I am continuing to look for opportunities for people to meet. I know that making this journey will life changing for me but I also know that it will also be an incredible opportunity for the charity too. We have the chance to put Postcards For Peace on a global stage, to listen to what the people of India want and to witness first hand the sights, sounds and smells that makes it the incredible country it is. While Postcards For Peace can continue to grow, while it can continue to educate me while I sit at my desk, it is one thing to sit and judge from afar but one can’t fully appreciate a country or a situation without witnessing it first hand.
I hope that we can find others that can also see the potential this trip brings and can help me realize this dream.
If you would like to help contribute to the fund for this trip, please visit our own donation page or our GoFundMe page. If you are a business interested in sponsoring the trip, please download our Sponsorship Benefits Fact Sheet.
* I have watched Gandhi now and read a biography. I also know that Ganesha and Shiva are more than just tattoos as well.