Smiles From Kirkwood to Kabul - Seeds of Happiness

Smiles From Kirkwood to Kabul

Smiles From Kirkwood to Kabul

February 04, 2020

Apologies for such a delay in sharing this with you. The trip to Afghanistan was a success. My experiences on the trip have provided me the opportunity to share the story below with you.

I knew before the trip that the ongoing war has resulted in conditions that have bred hopelessness among many Afghans. This includes Afghanistan being ranked as one of the five most impoverished countries in the world, a continued occupation and destruction of their country by foreign military forces who claim to be there for "peace," and Afghanistan being recognized as the most corrupt country in the world despite politicians who claim to stand for "peace." Because of this, many Afghans think that 'peace' is a "dirty" word. Due to these realities, I wasn't expecting to find many smiles on my visit.

As you remember, I took several "seeds of happiness" with me to Afghanistan to share with the youth in Kabul. I am glad to report that I was able to familiarize the Afghan Peace Volunteers with the "seeds of happiness" story from the website:

Mark Borella, a sculptor, created small smiley faces from left-over lumps of clay. He gave these to his friends whose young son was dying of cancer. He told them:  I know there is nothing I can say or do to make you feel better so I thought I would bring you some smiles to help you get your smile back. I call them Seeds of Happiness.  (

After Hakim translated this to the youth, they broke out in smiles while I passed the "seeds of happiness" around the room.

Attached is a photo of myself, Mairead Maguire (Nobel Peace Laureate, '76), and a few of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. As you can see, we are holding our "seeds of happiness." I've included both a full-size and web-optimized version of the picture.

There is also a larger significance to this small transaction that I would like to share with you.

It is a story that is linked by the simple idea of a smile.

Hakim, who is a mentor to the Peace Volunteers, shared with us a story of asking a young boy in a refugee camp to smile for a picture. The boy's grandmother was in the background and upon hearing this, started shouting at Hakim, "Why? Why are you asking Najib to smile? He has no reason to smile."

"He has no reason to smile," she said again as she chased Hakim away.

The grandmother represented a common sentiment among Afghans that after forty plus years of war resulting in over 2 million civilian Afghan deaths, with Afghanistan becoming one of the five most impoverished countries in the world, and with millions of Afghan children under the age of 5 acutely malnourished...that there is no reason to smile.

Saddened by this experience and others (, Hakim decided that for there even to be the chance to talk about peace and nonviolence, they must first take the small but powerful steps of bringing smiles back to the people of Afghanistan. Thus, Hakim and the Peace Volunteers, launched their nonviolent movement in Afghanistan, aptly named "Our Journey to Smile." They also posted their first YouTube video of the same name at this time. (

I can testify that the Peace Volunteers have courageously brought smiles to people throughout Afghanistan and throughout the world. During my visit with the Peace Volunteers, I saw countless ways that they are finding to bring smiles to Afghanistan. Here are a few:

  *   Smiles to each other by living in community and knowing that others love them regardless of their ethnicity and religion

  *   Smiles to the women by providing a space for women to gather and share stories as they learn sewing skills to make duvets

  *   Smiles to the poor and marginalized by giving warm duvets to protect those with no heat from the cold winter

  *   Smiles to the young kids by offering a free education to those who would otherwise be selling items in the streets

  *   Smiles to the internationals by embracing us with open arms and sharing their tremendous capacity for love and joy with us

While my experience and the suffering I witnessed in Afghanistan oftentimes brings deep sadness, I instinctively smile every time I think of or hear someone say "Afghan Peace Volunteers."

Just as the Peace Volunteers challenge the sadness (deprivation of joy, livelihood, and humanity) with smiles, they also actively protest the war and ethnic violence in Afghanistan through leading nonviolent demonstrations and wearing blue scarves.

The Peace Volunteers have nonviolently marched in the streets with banners proclaiming "enough is enough" and calling for an end to war. (

The Peace Volunteers, with Mairead Maguire, delivered a ceasefire petition to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon through a UN representative based in Kabul to ask for a UN-brokered ceasefire between all the warring groups in Afghanistan.

At each of these actions, the Peace Volunteers proudly adorn their blue scarves -- a universal symbol calling for peace and justice that was started in Afghanistan. ( and

Just as a smile is universal, the blue scarf is a symbol representing the expansive blue sky that connects all people across the world.

I've sent a blue scarf (from Kabul) in the mail for you to share with the Seeds of Happiness team and so that you can have a reminder of the Afghan Peace Volunteers as we all continue our work to bring smiles to those in need in every corner of the world.

Blessings of peace, love, and smiles,


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