“Once upon a time…” These words spontaneously evoke our childhood. We listened attentively to these stories, sometimes even falling asleep quietly, that deeply shaped our perception of the world and our interpretation of social norms, affecting the way we imagined new worlds and adventures.
Though in most societies the written tradition has the monopoly of legitimacy, some societies still have as essential basis an oral tradition, despised for far too long. These last years, many initiatives have been highlighting a renewal of interest in the oral tradition.
The Afghan culture is notably based on storytelling, which accounts for a way of expression and transmission deeply rooted in the society. It serves as a bridge between the old and the younger generations, and as a tool of harmonious social development; in a post-conflict context, it also serves a tool of peace building.
Peacebuilding does not just depend on political and economical issues. In order to make peace sustainable, it is essential to create peace in the hearts, souls and minds.
“The power of a story can be enough to power change,” as it’s claimed by the Qessa Academy. Qessa, which means “traditional stories”, is a wonderful organization led by a great woman, Selene Biffi, an Italian social entrepreneur. This organization offers a school for storytellers in Afghanistan. Their mission is to keep the traditional storytelling alive as a catalyst for sustainable peace, to build stronger societies, and to “revive traditional storytelling to craft a new narrative for Afghanistan”. The school is a place for the elderly storytellers to transmit their love and their skills to the next generations. Moreover, they continue to do great work by archiving and digitalizing traditional stories, the story of the country’s history, and placing folk archives alongside more traditional historical sources.
The core principle of this action is the “moral imagination,” an innovative concept developed by Lederach, who describes it as the capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world, yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist – peace – and to tell the story of new opportunities and a better future.
The role of art and culture has to be reconsidered in global politics. By imagining and generating constructive responses and initiatives, that transcend the challenges of violence and work to break the grips of destructive stereotypes and cycles of violence, they power the change.