Mitra Sen: "Let us embrace the beauty of every culture and faith to create peace in our world."
An idea of a Canadian filmmaker / schoolteacher:
The Canadian government promotes multiculturalism instead of the melting pot
approach of the U.S. But not everyone favors the celebration of cultures and
religions which are different from their own. Mitra Sen, a public
schoolteacher at Inglewood Heights Junior Public School in Scarborough,
ON, experienced this dislike of multiculturalism first hand.
She received her B. Ed. from the University of Toronto, and is also a
graduate of York University's Film Production program. She is a follower of Hinduism
-- perhaps the most tolerant and inclusive of the major world religions. She
became concerned when the parents of some of her students did not allow the
children to take part in
her class' multicultural celebrations. The parents wanted to isolate their children
from cultural and religious beliefs that were not their own. Ms. Sen said: "I've had
children who can't participate in our celebrations or in our music and art
programs. Usually, they don't know why, but are simply told by their parents or Sunday school teachers that they can't." In the case of recent immigrants
from other countries she said that some parents: "...are concerned about the Western
influence on their kids growing up here and want them to hold on to their
Ms. Sen is also an accomplished filmmaker. According to the South
Asian Literary and Theatre Arts Festival (SALTAF):
"Mitra's first independent production, 'just a little red dot …'
inspired by a true story, empowers young people to challenge racism and
shares the message of peace and understanding between people of all
backgrounds. The film has received 12 international awards including the
Most Popular Film at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival,
Best Short Film at the Children's Film Festival in India, and the Golden
Book Prize at the Roshd Film Festival for Best Educational Film. 'just a
little red dot …' has been invited to over 30 film festivals including
Roger Ebert's Film Festival and has traveled extensively to universities
internationally that deal with Peace Studies."
"Ms. Sen was the Director of Programming for ReelWorld Film Festival
2003, 2004 in Toronto and the Assistant Director of the critically
acclaimed CBC series Degrassi Junior High."
Her concern about her pupils motivated her to create a 48 minute
movie: "The Peace Tree" (2005). It portrays the wishes of three girls -- two Muslim
and one Christian. The Muslims want to celebrate Christmas -- the day that
Christians associate with the birth of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ).
The Christian girl wants to observe Eid (a.k.a. Id
al-Fitr and 'Id). It a Muslim celebration held on the day after the
end of the lunar month of Ramadan. Ramadan recalls the giving of the Muslim holy
book, the Qur'an to humanity. It is a time of great rejoicing. Houses are
decorated; Muslims buy gifts for relatives.
In the movie, the girls cooperate in order to find a way to overcome their
parents' resistance and let them observe each other's celebrations. They succeed
in teaching their parents "...the importance of sharing and celebrating
diversity together. Through their struggles, they create a unique symbol – The
Peace Tree, a tree that highlights the symbols from all our cultures and
faiths to reflect the beauty of 'diversity in unity'."3 "Symbols like the
origami paper crane, the Moon and the Star (from Islam), the Ohm (from
Hinduism), the Star of David (from Judaism) and the dove are highlighted from
every culture and faith on The Peace Tree to celebrate peace and create hope for
our planet." 4
The Peace Tree film has been invited to
several film festivals including the Chicago International Children's Film
Festival, Fici Film Festival for Children and Young People in Spain,
Taiwan International Children's Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival,
Melbourne International Children's Film Festival, and the Mill Valley
Film Festival. It was recently invited to the Smithsonian Institute
film has also inspired the creation of Peace Trees in schools around the world.
Peace Tree Day:
According to Sandlewood Productions:
"The production of the film inspired Writer/Director/Producer Mitra Sen
to bring the Peace Tree to reality by creating Peace Tree Day. The purpose
of Peace Tree Day is to create a common festival where families and friends
from all faiths and races can learn about and celebrate each other's
cultures, traditions and festivals together. Peace Tree Day is a time to
educate, donate and celebrate. This new festival will be celebrated on June
1 of every year. 5
The purpose of the Peace Tree Day is:
"To create a common festival where families and friends from all faiths
and races can learn about and celebrate each other’s cultures, traditions
and festivals together. The concept of Peace Tree Day is to educate, donate
and celebrate diversity." 6
Initially, two Peace Tree Committees have been created: one in Calcutta,
India, and the other in Toronto, Canada. Families, schools and community groups
are encouraged to create their own Peace Tree and hang symbols from different
religions and cultures on the tree. Their web site has a LOT of ideas on
implementing Peace Tree Day in various locales. 6
The committees are attempting to organize a special meeting of children at
the border between India and Pakistan -- two countries which have experienced
a great deal of conflict over the past six decades. The children will create peace symbols
from their cultures and faiths and create a Peace Tree at the border. In future
years, they hope
to repeat this celebration at the borders of other countries that have been in
conflict. They hope that
the children involved "will continue their friendship and realize the importance of
respect and compassion for each other."
The world’s first Peace Tree Day will be launched in Toronto, ON
at City Hall on 2006-JUN-01.
Nicholas Keung, "A peace tree blossoms in Scarborough," The Toronto
Star, 2004-DEC-05, Pages A1 & A17.