Nour Darwish is a Generation Change fellow, medical student, and a part-time primary school educator from Libya who works with youth to understand the importance of promoting peace. She was the lead organizer of the first TedxYouth event in Libya and works as a project manager for a youth-led NGO called Makers of Hope. She is one of 30 young civil society leaders from 12 nations facing violent conflict whom USIP gathered in 2018 for training and mentorship with the Nobel peace laureate and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Nour Darwish meets His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, India.
Nour Darwish meets His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, India.

In recent years, USIP and the Dalai Lama have joined to strengthen such young leaders, recognizing the outsized role that youth can play in halting the world’s violent upheaval and warfare, which is concentrated in countries with relatively young populations.

Nour describes her experience, and what she learned from it, in the essay below:

In October 2018, I had the chance to speak with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and meet the Tibetan community residing in Dharamsala, India.

When I first met him, I found myself too focused on my preconceived notions of the Dalai Lama, a well-known figure around the world. I was focused on trying to figure him out rather than just being present and listening to what he was teaching us. But once I let go and focused on the moment, it was like I was in the presence of my grandfather.

One thing resonated with me the most—the concept of mind liberation. It is often said that “true freedom is a state of mind.” That’s what the Dalai Lama means when he talks about mind liberation: to be free from prejudices, judgments and attachments. This allows you to look beyond your own world.

This is a lesson that I have tried to impart on youth in my country. Through my work with Makers of Hope in Libya, I implement projects that increase the awareness, participation, and involvement of youth to help fight the most pressing problems facing today’s world. Being able to look beyond one’s own world, is critical to this work and is what I try to teach the youth I work with.

In a war-torn country like Libya, sometimes it is extremely difficult to think about or focus on anything but your immediate experience. When you live in a country in conflict, you don’t know what to expect from one day to the next. For example, soon before I made the trip to Dharamsala, fighting broke out in the city where I am from and the airport was bombed. I had been planning to conduct a workshop that would lead to an initiative on food waste in the country. But, I didn’t get to do that because of the fighting and I had to leave the city. It made me realize that despite my best efforts, everything I was trying to do can end in one second. So, we must do all we can when we can to work for peace.

Learning from the Tibetan Community

It wasn’t just my visit with the Dalai Lama that left such a lasting impression. During our visit, we had the chance to meet the Tibetan community and experience their world for a brief moment. Despite being displaced from their ancestral home, Tibetans have preserved their culture, customs, and religion. This resonated with me because, although I grew up in Libya, I am originally from Syria. So, I grew up without a firm sense of a cultural belonging.

Learning more about the Tibetan community helped me look beyond my own world—but, it also helped me to understand my world better. Even though Tibetans were forced to leave their homes, they managed to create their own community. I learned that what matters is not where your real roots are located, what language you speak nor the food you eat. In the end, it is the community of people that you create that gives you the sense of belonging you need to thrive as a human being. And that community can be found in sharing the same values, passion, and love for one another. A part of the Tibetan world has become a part of mine.

The Dalai Lama’s lesson about looking past my world is something everyone working for peace should apply to their own life. To build peace, we must understand the other side and the only way to do that is looking past your world.

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