YLP and SEAPAC Regional Assembly
April 13th – 19th, 2010
April 13th – Day One:
As the airplane veered down into Manila, I looked out at the expanse below to see tiny boats and houses on stilts dotting the waters surrounding the city, and felt a warm smile creep across my face. Though it was my first time in the Philippines, I felt suddenly and inexplicably at home. Following Sharon’s careful instructions, I made my way through the bustling airport to the arrivals area where I located a red jeep with the recognizable URI star in the window of the dashboard.
I was greeted with a big hug and warm “Mabuhay!” by Sharon and happy greetings from the two other travelers who had arrived earlier that morning from Malaysia – Sanjeavan and Mrithula – both from the Nur Damai CC. Multi-tasking between last-minute arrangements in “Tag-lish” on her mobile phone “Mailbox is full again!” and playing tour guide to the newcomers, Sharon pointed out to us the many sights and cultural landmarks as we made our way through streams of traffic from Metro Manila to Quezon City. I was especially impressed by the “jeepneys,” a remnant of the 50 years of colonial American presence, which the local Filipinos have since then converted from army vehicles into flexible forms of modern public transport, an alternative to buses and taxis. Sharon explained that each jeepney was privately owned and customized to the owners’ liking. The jeepneys pick up and drop off passengers seemingly anywhere along the road and then passengers pay a standardized fare to their destination depending on how far they are going. The sides of the jeeps were air-brushed in the most colorful and creatively varied ways, from depictions of Jesus, to super-heroes to declarations of Pinoy pride. We were also keenly aware of the political slogans and campaign posters everywhere, signaling the next presidential election rapidly approaching. Sharon noted that the cars with a yellow ribbon emblem symbolized support for “Noynoy” Aquino, the nephew of Corazon Aquino and next heir in the Aquino’s long-standing political legacy. Sharon also pointed out the owners of some of the largest enterprises in Makati, the C.B.D. of Metro-Manila, pointing out the Ayala malls and their rival competitors. Makati appeared to me a “super-size” homage to capitalism, with multi-story billboards shamelessly flaunting numerous retail and corporate brands. There appeared to be a mega-mall on every block in the heart of Makati, as well as, yes, a 7-11 and Starbucks. Clearly, the West has made its mark in Manila. Yet, the people have managed to preserve and revive their culture in colorful and creative ways despite past eras of foreign occupation.
Visit to the Regional Office:
Our next stop, after eating some Western-ish munch at the Old Spaghetti house (mango on the pizza was a nice local touch!), was to the URI –SEAPAC regional office which shares its office with the Peacemakers’ Circle, one of the founding URI CCs in the Philippines. The office is located in what appeared to at one time be a bungalow style house which has now been converted into office space, being used by different NGOs engaged in environmental and social justice work. I was struck by the parallel between this and the URI global office in San Francisco which is also located in a consortium of non-profits dedicated to environmental and social justice. We met Shakuntala and Romi there, who kindly welcomed us and showed us around the office, which is part office, part meditation space. The meditation space has been used for “inner work” meditation circles that have been going on every Tuesday for the past ten years, helping the members and friends of the Peacemakers’ Circle to more deeply cultivate their own spiritual practices of peace, recognizing that true peace begins with each one of us. Shakun told us that at times they have managed to squeeze 40 people into the room, a feat which only seemed possible after having maneuvered through rush hour traffic in Manila. I was impressed by the banners and art work from past events along the walls, and the wonderful collection of books from different religious and spiritual perspectives. We were each presented with a URI-branded folder of information and orientation materials for the conference, a beautiful garland of shells as a customary local welcome, and our own green! Coexist t-shirts which had been designed by the URI-SEAPAC office. URI- SEAPAC really excels at the economical production of well-designed print materials for URI, a strength and a gift which perhaps could be utilized by other regions as well!
Afterwards, we walked just a few blocks over to Shakun and Sharon’s house, a beautiful home with a lovely “sala” – parlor room where we enjoyed mango shakes and local snacks (banana chips, lumpia, and other tempting confectionary), which was the perfect remedy for the record-breaking heat of the day. Mrithula, Sanjee, Sharon and I compared stories about growing up in our different cultures and our mutual love for dogs as we waited for the next wave of youth to arrive from the airport.
When the next group arrived – Freeman, Jasmine, Lanelio and Ishilta - we packed up our things and departed for the Meralco Millennium Leadership Development Center, which is located just outside of Manila, on a hill as you ascend away from the city. The girls were all situated in one dorm room in the “Creativity Hall” and the boys in another. It was the perfect set-up for bonding and girl time…Apart from some snoring and bird calling (!), I think the boys got along just as well in their dorm room! As is the customary habit of women, we spent the next hour or so carefully unpacking our clothes into the cupboards provided and getting to know each other better. We then ventured out for an early-evening walk around the beautiful lush conference grounds, familiarizing ourselves with the duck pond nearby and the peacock area, though one of our members (!) was unnerved by the squawking of an unidentifiable creature, so we quickly returned to the more well-lit path. That night we delved into one of many fascinating interfaith conversations over dinner, discussing the role of tradition and ritual from our different faith perspectives. We began the process of peeling back the layers to see each other in greater context of our backgrounds, upbringing and individual faith journeys. That evening around the table we were a Christian Scientist from San Francisco, a Catholic yoga practitioner from Cebu, a Hindu from Nepal, an Indigenous bailan from the Higa Onon culture in Boracay, a Tibetan Buddhist from Melbourne, two third-generation Hindus from Kuala Lumpur, one Earth-traditions practitioner from the Philippines, one Hindu from Quezon City, and one Indigenous traditions practitioner from Manila. But we were also so much more than any of these labels could encompass.
March 14th, Day Two:
The next morning, a good number of us woke up early for the 6 AM Qi Gong session led by Orlan, a practitioner and teacher of Qi Gong now for many years. We went outside to a patch of grass near the “leap of faith” tower that was part of the ropes course / outdoor activities center nearby. With some calming music in the background, Orlan led us gently through the 18 movements that are aptly named with imagery such as “painting a rainbow” or “dove opens her wings” or “inhaling nature’s fragrance.” He also shared a few stories about the healing effects of these movements (prolonging the life by several years of a woman diagnosed with cancer and only a few months to live) and the other spiral postures that help qi (chi) to circulate through the body. We learned that one effect is that it makes the body’s composition more alkalinic, (which helps to keep bugs and mosquitos away!) , along with drinking a lot of water. Feeling very energized from our morning practice, we walked up to the dining hall where we ate a hearty Filipino breakfast of chicken (tocino I think), rice and egg (for the non-vegetarians), necessary sustenance for the busy day ahead!
Back in the Creativity Hall, Orlan and Sharon led us in the opening ceremony, during which we placed sacred objects from our traditions or spiritual journey on the altar which would be with us throughout our time together. We also tuned into our prayers and intentions for the gathering while Orlan played for us on the nose flute.
Following this, we delved deeper into interfaith dialogue through a process of Appreciative Inquiry which is now common to most URI conferences and gatherings. I shared that Appreciative Inquiry is a process that creates a generative learning atmosphere and safe space in which people from different backgrounds can listen deeply to each others’ stories, and learn to see one another with new eyes. It is also a tool for bringing in the values of our traditions in order to create a collective vision for the world we wish to create together. One of the things that makes URI different than a lot of other organizations is that we are very decentralized, from our organizational design to our founding philosophy to the way leadership is shared across the organization. Appreciative Inquiry is compatible with this philosophy because it draws out the personal stories, gifts and visions of all participants in the room. “Appreciative Inquiry is founded on a practice that might be called sacred listening and on the core democratic value that every voice matters.” - Birth of a Global Community, Charles Gibbs and Sally Mahe
We divided into pairs, interviewing someone from a different faith background in the group that we didn’t already know well. We took turns asking each other the following questions:
1- Tell me of a time in your life when you experienced a sense of deep connection and inner peace. What happened? How did it feel? What difference did it make for you?
2- Who in your life, or in your tradition, would you consider to be a hero of peace? What would you say is her or his message to the world? What message do you have for the world? How would you share this message with a little child?
Some of the pairs stayed in the Creativity Hall while others opted to go outside to find a shady place for their interviews (see Mrithula from Malaysia and Sharon from the Philippines below).
We then came back into the main hall to introduce our partners to the group. Many wonderful stories were shared and insights and messages of peace, which created a beautiful atmosphere and helped us all to know each other more deeply. Here are a few highlights:
- Sanjeavan shared about his grandfather who for him exemplified humility and peace. His grandfather, whenever he passed by a mosque, a church, or a temple of any kind, would offer a prayer of peace.
- Sushil’s message of peace to the world, often conveyed through the lovely gesture of giving a rose to another person, is to simply “be yourself.”
- Freeman’s message is to “practice universal responsibility.”
- Jasmine’s message is to “practice peace.”
- Mrithula’s message is to “find what makes you happy and share it with others.“
- Sharon’s message “Be good; do good deeds to others and this will influence others.”
- Lanelio shared the message of his bailán (priest) from the Higa Onon Indigenous tradition: “The universe was made through peace. The process of peace is to find peace with nature and peace in the community. This will restore peace in the world.”
- Ishilta’s message was “We are all one race, the human race, and we belong to the Earth.”
- Orlan’s message was “Love is all there is… We’re here to learn to love,” which he said is best exemplified through one’s example rather than one’s words.
Sadly, we weren’t able to hear from everyone as we were still waiting for two other participants Shazia and Jahangir to arrive, who had been delayed on their way from Pakistan. They arrived later during the World Café activity.
After the break, we began the “SEAPAC Storyline” hearing from the different CC representatives and youth Ambassadors about their CC activities and their plans and projects in the region.
Ishilta presented a video to us all called “The Ambassador Trail” charting his journey as a Youth Ambassador over the last four months, and making use of his new Flip Camera which were given to all the Ambassadors to help document their projects. The video was edited with photos and video clips of Earth ceremonies he had organized and participated in. You can view it online here: http://sharing.theflip.com/session/d2c325e54ed9b972871d88591198e931/video/12667843
Then Mrithula shared a powerpoint presentation about her plans as an Ambassador, combining her three life loves: Music, Dance & Art. Her presentation will be featured on the www.uri.org site as a youth resource. She quoted an instructor who teaches art as a form of healing and reconciliation in war-torn countries. Mrithula believes that people open up more, using art as a form of expression; it is easier for many to express themselves in this way than through public speaking. She describes music as “the language of the soul.” Her vision is to create a yearly event of music and dance as a platform to bridge ethnic conflicts and separations in Malaysia and promote greater cross-cultural and inter-religious understanding. She is planning a two-day dance and music festival. As a member of the Nur Damai CC, she also mentioned that they are planning to create a youth wing of this CC. And she hopes that the Malaysian government, who has now established the first interfaith council, would be able to help fund interfaith activities of her CC.
Freeman, Youth Ambassador from Australia, shared about the work of his interfaith youth group that he has established called Inter Action. He plans to apply for Inter Action to become a CC. The purpose of this group is to promote interfaith understanding through servie. They have done a number of service projects already. For example, they invited all the religious student clubs at Monash University to come together for a day of service – doing gardening for the university. He really hopes the group will help to “make religion relevant through social responsibility.” Then Freeman showed us a few of the really great videos he has made documenting interfaith youth projects in Melbourne. You can view these at www.interaction.org.au.
Lanelio, youth representative of his Indigenous Community, the Higa Onon Ha Migsabuwa Ta Lanao group, which has been a URI CC since 2006, shared about his work linking his Indigenous community with other organizations across Mindanao, the Philippines, in order to improve the quality of service, welfare and development. The services they offer in their community concern basic education, peacebuilding and livelihood. He shared a number of very interesting diagrams during his presentation. He also shared that the traditional methods of conflict resolution and peacebuilding in his community are accepted and even adopted as wider practices by the local government. Finally he shared with us that, from his perspective, there are 4 forms of dialogue:
- dialogue of faith,
- dialogue of words
- dialogue of actions
- dialogue of life
He described the dialogue of life as “where people of different cultures bear witness to the values of their life.”
Jasmine, from the G.R.O.W.T.H. CC also presented about the activities of her CC in Cebu, the Philippines. G.R.O.W.T.H. stands for Giving, Respect, Opportunity, Wisdom, Transformation and Harmony. Her CC organizes many activities in their community to promote: health exercise; vegetarianism; permaculture; leadership training; the need for wisdom; personality development and other areas. They fundraise for their activities by offering services to the community such as: laundry, packed lunches, photography, live bands, catering, stress management workshops, vegetarian cooking classes, yoga and a food fair. I was impressed that their way of fundraising is very much integrated with the values and activities of the organization overall. They also offer free services to the community such as: mass feeding, chanting for peace, yoga and tai chi, vegetarian cooking classes, tree planting and river clean-ups. Their purpose is to help the members of their CC and the wider community cultivate mental and spiritual well-being; caring for the environment; and caring for humanity. The G.R.O.W.T.H. CC presentation will also be offered as a youth resource soon also on www.uri.org in the Young Leaders area.
After such a stimulating morning, we were all quite hungry so we went back up to the Dining Hall to enjoy another filling meal of rice and, from my recollection, fish of some kind.
That afternoon we launched into another full session, beginning with a hands-on activity working in groups called “Headliners.” We were first introduced to this activity during the URI global staff retreat in San Francisco earlier this year, and I found it a very interesting and useful practice to bring into the youth leadership training as well. The activity divides people into small groups, and each group is given a magazine or journal, and an envelope of photos showing URI members in action. The objective of the exercise was for each group to come up with one compelling vision for the URI in 2012, and to then story-board their idea as an article tailored to the specific audience and messaging of their selected media outlet. First, the group members individually brainstormed as many ideas as possible for what the URI might look like or be in 2012. Next, they had to come to a consensus choosing one idea – either one of the ideas from the members, a new idea, or an idea combining a number of the suggestions. Next they were to story-board the article, choosing a photo, a headline, a tagline, bullet points, quotes and a sidebar of information if they had the time. As I watched from group to group, I could see the excitement brewing. One group was particularly inspired by the photos, another by synthesizing their ideas together, and another was appropriately challenged by the business focus of their magazine. They came up with three compelling articles in the end. One was written for a local paper – the Gulf Times, entitled “URI World Assembly Kicks Off! 2,012 CCs Attend.” The group with Forbes magazine came up with a story in which Bill Gates had invested in technology to support computer training in Africa. And the third came up with a photo-journal essay documenting the people of URI.
The next activity we did was inspired by the model of the World Café. We set up the room like a café with three tables for “kinship circle discussions.” At each table we looked at two questions related to the focus of their kinship circle – Building Safe Spaces for Conflict Resolution, healing and Reconciliation; Caring for the Earth; and Social Well-Being for all Humanity. The questions we explored were:
1- What wisdom, values or practices from your tradition(s) would be helpful in making a positive contribution to:
- Building safe spaces for conflict resolution, healing and reconciliation
- Caring for the Earth
- Social well-being for all humanity
2- What beliefs or practices from our traditions could be a barrier to:
- Building safe spaces for conflict resolution, healing and reconciliation
- Caring for the Earth
- Social well-being for all humanity
Two of the people at each table rotated once to another table to enrich the discussion further and to share the conversation from the other table. We then presented the main points of our discussion to the larger group.
My transcription of these notes is as follows:
Building Safe Spaces for Conflict Resolution, Healing & Reconciliation:
- the Higa Onon (Indigenous) traditional justice system includes a ritual called “alubong” which means amicable settlement. The parties in conflict will come together and talk out all of their anger and complaints. They are allowed to speak freely, until they feel they have an “empty cup.” Also a cow is slain as a sacrifice to represent putting to rest the conflicts of the past.
- In Malaysia, the Nur Damai CC showed a movie screening of the “Imam and the Pastor” which opened up a space for people there to speak freely about some of the tensions between the three major ethnic groups there – Chinese, Malaysian and Indian. Government officials were also present, so they were able to see that there were still issues that needed to be addressed. This helped enable a healing process to begin.
- Jasmine spoke about the personality development seminars they give in her CC – the importance of being able to express one’s self freely and give people the space to talk about things that had happened to them in the past. “If you don’t speak out, it becomes a burden to you.” People that have been hurt in the past by others can then become role models to others.
- The concept of forgiveness can be found in many religions and traditions.
- Indigenous traditions: seeing yourself in the other. What heals one heals all. What harms one harms everyone.
- The golden rule – the same idea can be found in all traditions – to be good to others as you would want them to be good to you.
- In some religions, it has become taboo to speak out about certain things.
- In some cultures, you don’t air things publicly that have been done to you. Family secrets. Saving face.
- Religion has been used as a reason to justify genocide, ethnic cleansing, forced conversion, proselytism.
- Religious fanaticism exacerbates divisions between people.
Social Well-Being for All Humanity:
- the whole world is one family – Hindu belief
- non-violence is the supreme method – in Hindu and in Buddhist traditions (do no harm)
- giving wholeheartedly / charity – Hindu, Muslim, other traditions
- psychological techniques and practices – Buddhism
- 5 elements in understanding people / planet – Hindu
- Social justice, eliminate poverty – Christianity
- Service – every religion!
- Compassion – every religion!
- Meditation, yoga and contemplation
- Responsibility / responsible living
- rituals and traditions devoid of meaning
- discriminating ideas that marginalize people, i.e. anything that makes others feel segregated or persecuted
- religious extremism – political misuse of religion
Caring for the Earth
- Earth traditions – interconnectedness and oneness. Once we recognize the inter-connectedness, we cultivate respect, we become more responsible, more aware
- Buddhism – karma (actions have results)
- Indigenous traditions – presence of Spirit in everything. Nature is Life. Take only what we need. Reciprocity – gift demands a gift.
- Christian – stewardship of God’s creation; fasting; thinking of others leads to positive action. Compassion stops harm / selfishness. Psalms encourage a connection to nature – the beauty of the Earth.
- Hindu – use every part of the animal. Replenish what we take. We take only what we need. Gratitude to Mother Nature.
- Hindu – pollution caused by burning offerings.
- Indian culture – buying a lot of things for the deceased – impractical. Non-biodegradable offerings discarded in rivers.
- Churches don’t promote environmental issues enough.
- Indigenous – tribal leaders decide on behalf of others
- Tibetan – the definition of sentient varies
After a long day of dialogue, small group work and mental stimulation, we needed a change of pace! So we eagerly awaited the instructions from Sharon and Ishilta who had been faithfully planning our outdoor team-building activity. They asked us all to change into our Coexist shirts over the break and running shoes. And then they revealed the surprise – SEAPAC Survivor! - an interfaith adaptation of the popular TV show. Sharon had even made a short intro video with all of us cast as “contestants” to really get us in the spirit of things!
Sharon divided us into two teams named after actual local Indigenous groups. The Kalinga – Earth beat – were one team and the coastal Badjao- Sea Gypsies - on the other. Sharon first read to us information about the Indigenous groups we were named after, and then we all went outside eager to begin the race! The objective was to complete a series of challenges by working as a team, then run to the next station to receive our next clue.
The first challenge was to order ourselves by height and run in a single file line singing a peace song and then build a group sculpture of peace at the next station. The next challenge was to successfully pass a calamansi (like a small lime) from one member to the next using only spoons that we held in our mouths.
The final challenge was to say in unison a local tongue-twister in a different language.
So much thought and detail had gone into this, and we were so eager to compete, that somehow we finished the challenges in ten minutes or less! In true Survivor spirit, the winning team was given the “Immunity Idol.”
And both teams were given very nice prizes – locally woven hand-held fans and some local sweets. A very fun time was had by all as you can see from the photos!
That evening, we heard two more presentations from Shazia, from Pakistan, and Sushil from Nepal. Sushil presented about the Rose Movement that he has begun in Nepal, to help ease tensions on the border between Indian and Maoist groups on both sides. He organized an event in which people on both sides of the border showed up, and they gave roses to each other as a sign of friendship and respect. He is now using the Rose Movement to mobilize civilian support and political pressure for the Nepali government to successfully draft the new Constitution guaranteeing the rights of all citizens in Nepal.
He also showed us many pictures of past events he has organized through the organization he has founded, Peace for Nepal. Then he actually had all of us participate in a rose exchange, so we each had the opportunity to give a rose to another person in the group.
Shazia also presented about the interfaith Cooperation Circle she has begun, as a new Youth Ambassador, in Balochistan, Pakistan. The CC is named Roots. She explained to us a little background about the religious diversity in Quetta, where she lives, the target killings of certain religious minorities including the Hazara tribe, which she belongs to.
And then she walked us through the process of setting up her CC there. She also showed us pictures of activities she has been organizing there with the youth. It was exciting to hear about this courageous work!
We were also treated to a very special presentation by Mrithula who shared with us a traditional Indian dance that she has been studying for many years.
It is hard to believe we fit all this in to just one day! Exhausted, but happy, we went to sleep soon after...
Thursday, April 15th, 2010
Traveling Peace Academy:
After another session of Qi Gong and breakfast, we were happy to be joined by Marites Africa from the Peacemakers' Circle CC to lead two workshops from the Traveling Peace Academy, a new peacebuilding program in URI. Marites participated in the two-year Moral Imagination peacebuilding program in URI and attended the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. She started by giving a brief overview about peacebuilding and conflict. We learned that conflict is neither good nor bad, but instead represents a turning point, and can be a catalyst for positive change and transformation. We looked at some slides to illustrate this and to investigate the nature of conflict.
Marites then led us through a visualization process – imagining ourselves several years in the future and living in a world that reflected our deepest aspirations for peace and wholeness. We then got into small groups to share what we had seen with the others in our group and to create a picture that incorporated all of our dreams into one. We were then asked to share our collective dream in a creative way with the group.
It was beautiful to see the different visions shared in different ways. One group presented their picture silently by coloring it in together while drumming played in the background. Another group used interpretive dance to illustrate some of the ideas in their artistic design. And our group converted one side of our picture into angel wings, flitting from one person to the next to share each part of our vision of the future. It was interesting to note some commonalities across each group. Balance with nature and the Earth was a common theme. Advances in technology, still in keeping in balance with nature, was another. And unity in diversity was another.
For the next activity, Marites had us explore how differences in position can affect how we see the world. She had us all sit around a table laid out with many different objects that could only be seen from one part of the table. She asked us questions about what each of us saw. Then she would ask us if we believed the person from the different part of the table. Some people were very trusting, some people did not believe, others had to go see for themselves to confirm. It illustrated for us what our tendencies may be when we are in a conflict with someone, and there are differences in perception or position. Building on this idea further, Marites had us look at a few more slides to illustrate the differences in how we each view an image and a photo.
Awakening the Dreamer – Changing the Dream Symposium:
In the afternoon, I introduced the Awakening the Dreamer Symposium to the group. This is an environmental seminar created by the Pachamama Alliance, www.pachamama.org, although it is not about The Pachamama Alliance. The Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium arose in response to a request, a “call” that came from an intact, indigenous dream culture in the Amazon region of Ecuador and Peru, the Achuar people. Pachamama is a word in the Quechua language of the Andes that some translate as “Mother Earth,” but which more accurately includes the sacred presence of (the) Earth, the sky, the universe, and all time. The purpose of the Symposium is to create an environmentally sustainable, socially just, and spiritually fulfilling human presence on this planet; recognizing that these are not separate issues but 3 interrelated aspects of one profoundly interconnected whole. The creators of this Symposium believe this can only be achieved by opening our hearts to the pain for the world that connects us all, and converting that pain into power.
As I was preparing and thinking through how to present the Symposium in just two hours, (which is usually presented over a minimum of 4 hours), I met with the youth coordinator of the Pachamama Alliance, Zo Tobi. He told me that the work of the Symposium is grounded in the work of Joanna Macy, a pioneer in deep ecology. Her book, Coming Back to Life, looks at transformational work in terms of a spiral: starting with gratitude, then moving into owning and honoring our pain, then seeing the world with new eyes, and finally going forth. Zo sent me several useful resources to become more deeply acquainted with this work. Throughout the Symposium, I offered time for reflection using process questions inspired by Joanna Macy’s work, after each video segment. The Symposium takes participants through a process of discovering Where Are We? How Did We Get Here? What is Possible for the Future? And Where Do We Go from Here?
During the Symposium, we watched a number of videos that are both breathtaking and heart-wrenching that show the beauty of the Earth as well as the environmental devastation that we have wreaked, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and the crisis of spiritual well-being that we are facing as human beings on this planet. We took time after each video to process what we were watching, and to create a more personal, human connection with this information and each other. Some of the open questions we reflected on were:
One thing I love about being alive on this Earth right now is...
When I connect to the suffering on the planet, a longing I have is for...
When I think of the world my great, great grandchildren will inherit, what gives me hope is...
For the final workshop, building on all the areas we had covered,we used Open Space as a process for the participants to generate ideas about topics they wanted to discuss in more detail with others. These ranged from how to attract youth to participate in interfaith work, to the role of religion in peacebuilding and environmental healing, to how to bridge the divide between the traditional and modern-day. Initially there were more topics, but we combined some ideas and put aside others. Then the participants self-selected into their groups based on which topic they most wanted to discuss. I told them the one law and four simple principles of Open Space. First of all, there is the Law of Two Feet, namely, If at any time during the session, you find yourself in a discussion where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go somewhere else. And the other principles are simply:
1- Whoever comes is the right people ...meaning that the people who care will show up, and that is who really is needed to get the job done.
2- Whenever it starts is the right time ...in other words "spirit and creativity do not run on the clock."
3- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have ...
4- When it's over, it's over ... meaning we can’t predict how long it may take to fully discuss the issue, but that whenever the issue or work or conversation is finished, move on to the next thing.
From some of the evaluations, this was one of the most energizing sessions and we could have taken even more time to more fully explore the details. As one evaluation said, “My favorite session was where we each proposed an idea / issue that was of interest and got to discuss it. This meant we had a chance to get specific about how we were dealing with things in our CCs.”
Since this was the first time we had combined a youth leadership training program with a Regional Assembly, we were eager to learn what participants got out of it and to find out what improvements to make for next time. It was exciting to hear back from the evaluations that 90% of the participants were “very likely” (with remaining 10% “likely”) to organize an interfaith activity in their own community as a result of the program. Also, 82% they were more likely than before to get to know / work with someone from a different faith tradition than their own.
Here is some of the feedback from participants about their favorite sessions:
“Overall each program provided a good experience for me... But the slides on the Earth [Awakening the Dreamer Symposium] did hit a ‘raw nerve.’”
“Yes, there was an activity which I liked the most but overall, the sessions were so interesting and learning full. The activity on our dreams was so good because dreaming is the first step which takes a person towards our object and all had practice to express their dreams through participatory action.”
“Appreciative Inquiry – very effective in experientially learning how to dialogue and to know each other. Global Café – effective for self-reflection.”
“Awakening the Dreamer Symposium because of the environmental content and the very amazing video presentation.”
“ ‘World Café’ Kinship Circle discussions. Visions of Peace Among Religions (led by Marites). Awakening the Dreamer.”
“I particularly liked the sharing sessions [youth presentations] because it allowed me to get to know what the other ambassadors are doing and learn from their experiences. I also liked the Awakening the Dreamer sessions. It really touched a cord inside of me.”
“Headliners activity: It was amazing to come together as a group, visualize what URI is in the future, and coming up with concrete steps for HOW we can do this.”
And here are some more testimonials from participants about the program overall:
“I am further inspired to continue interfaith work to fulfill the global work for world harmony and peace.”
“...it has enhanced my understanding of other faiths and recharged my batteries.”
“I find it an interesting process to interact with people from different faiths.”
“The amount of knowledge I have gained just by interacting with people of different religious traditions is immense and I want to learn even more.”
“I am more willing to get to know people in all aspects of life and more likely to work with [them.]”
“I’ve learnt more about the various traditions and had fun with some great new friends!”
“Yes I love to work with different religious traditions because in the context of Pakistan’s situation, it’s very important.”
“I believe this meeting is a reminder for me to go seek out [people from] Earth-based traditions and indigenous people more! ?”
“I REALLY enjoyed myself and learned so much from this experience.”
“The youth program is awesome, inspiring and empowering! Please keep it up!!”
“I am refueled to do URI work again!"