You can be friends with Pakistanis: Juhi Chawla

You can be friends with Pakistanis: Juhi Chawla

Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla is endorsing a friendship initiative, between school students of India and Pakistan, aimed at bridging the gap across borders.

"You can choose your friends but you can't choose your neighbours so please go ahead and make friends with your neighbours," the actress said at the launch of the third round of the 'Exchange for Change' programme here yesterday.

The programme, first began in 2010 in collaboration with city-based NGO Routes2Roots and Pakistan non-profit Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP).

In phase one of the 16-month programme, ten schools in Delhi, Karachi, Lahore and Mumbai took art and around 2,400 students exchanged letters, postcards, collages and oral histories. During the second phase the number of students went up to 3, 500.

"Forgive, Forget and move on. Children have made a little beginning with this and I really wish the more students join in and make this program a great progress," said the actress.

The launch was attended by diplomats like Pakistan High Commissioner to Delhi, Salman Bashir, Union Minister Kapil Sibal and principals and children from the participating schools as well as those children who were part of the EFC in earlier years.

"I believe it is the third launch and one of the largest students ex-change program in the world. The element of trust which existed when we lived together is absent and of course it is an accident of history and part of colonial strategy to divide and rule," said Kapil Sibal.

The Minister pointed out that "children of today can bridge the gap as they do not have the baggage of history as they have clear vision and mind."

For the third round of the program, 5000 students from 25 schools from Delhi, Mumbai, Dehradun, Lahore, Karachi Rawalpindi and Islamabad are set to participate.

"I was glad to be part of this program. I had the pleasure of hosting children visiting India from Pakistan to the High Commission in Delhi and then to my house last time. I was deeply touched and impressed by efforts of the organisation," Salman Bashir, High Commissioner of Pakistan to India said.

During the 14-months of program, organisers said "a sustained exchange of written, visual and oral histories with school children aged 10 to 14 years will take place."

The imitative is set to culminate with physical exchange of select children from both the countries to visit each others' country and the schools.

"Exchange for Change- III will connect a much larger pool of children, schools and cities this time and would help in bringing a positive shift in mindsets of  the people in both the countries," Rakesh Gupta, Founder, Routes 2 Roots said.

Participating students who were present at the launch were visibly excited about the upcoming activities with their Pakistani counterparts.

"We have learnt from this program that the difference which we have and which has been portrayed is all due to the political circumstances which we live in. But in reality, people of both the countries love each other and there are no difference  among us,"  Aneesha Stephan a student from a Delhi school.

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