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Starting young

At the tender age of 13, Sonia Azad is already something of a veteran peace activist, having set up an anti-war campaign for children, as well as making two documentary films. She talked to Andrea D'Cruz about what inspired her to get involved

December 1, 2008
4 min read

How did you get into peace activism?

My mum kept taking me to peace activism and demos and I watched Uncle Mil and Emily [author Milan Rai and artist Emily Johns, co-editors of Peace News and Justice Not Vengeance activists] do peace activism and direct action. I wanted to be part of it, so I started a group called Children Against the War when I was seven. I’ve basically been doing demonstrations and vigils and organising and trying to aim for children to come so they understand what’s happening to other children in the world.

How did you set it up Children Against the War and how did you get children involved?

Well, I had the help of ARROW [Active Resistance to the Roots of War] and Voices in the Wilderness and they helped me set up the group by making leaflets. I wrote the leaflets and I organised demonstrations and vigils and basically on the demonstration I did a speech to get them aware of what’s happening.

Were you nervous to give a speech when you just seven years old?

It was a bit nerve-wracking. It was scary but I started and I was okay. Someone had to do it, someone had to tell children what was going on in the world and I wanted to tell them myself because children have the right to live and be safe.

What do your friends and the other kids at school think about your activism?

My friends don’t really know. They don’t understand. They think I’m a bit strange, because of their backgrounds, what their parents are teaching them – we live around an RAF base.

What about your family?

My mother is also a very strong peace activist. She’s been going to demonstrations for many, many years and going to different countries, like Palestine, and doing direct action and she’s taken me since I was four. I liked to get involved. I liked to give out leaflets and stuff.

Can you tell me about the film you made in Jordan?

Yeah, because I’ve always been demonstrating for children and Iraqi children and I actually wanted to give them a voice so they could speak out. We heard that these families fled to the neighbouring countries, such as Jordan and Syria, so I went there with my filming equipment to give them a voice and I interviewed them and they spoke and I made a film about it.

What was that experience like? Was it very upsetting? Did you find you had a lot in common with the children?

I found that we had a lot of things in common – no-one would have known that they’re from Iraq and I’m from Britain if we were put together because we had so much in common. When they were telling the stories I met this boy who was kidnapped and got hurt and tortured and I was really upset to find that out and had nightmares when I went to sleep and I really felt strongly about this.

What are you busy with at the moment?

I’m doing interfaith stuff – getting young people from different backgrounds to come together in understanding. I’m also helping with a Justice Not Vengeance film on Islam. I’m going to be interviewed about it, because I’m a Muslim myself and I’m interviewing some children.

How has your faith helped you as a peace activist?

At the moment I’m reading about the prophet Mohammed and how he brought peace, because Mohammed has been a big influence on my life. Also all my family are very religious as well and Mohammed, my prophet, basically inspired me – he taught us compassion and peace and not to hurt anyone and nonviolence.

What message would you like to send to the children of this country?

I think it’s really important they be aware of what’s going on around the world and they should meet people from other backgrounds and faiths. We’re all like a bouquet of flowers – all different, but all beautiful and the same.

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