Warm July greetings to all! So much has been happening with the launch of our Youth Ambassadors program this year and with the next cycle of our Intergenerational Mentorship program. Our Youth Ambassadors have been busy networking with NGOs and fellow youth activists across the globe, in Indonesia, Barcelona, Egypt, Jordan, India, the Philippines, Nepal, Kenya, Somalia and Argentina, making great connections and promoting their visions of a more healed and whole humanity and healthy planet through the enduring, daily fabric of interfaith cooperation. And they are sharing their plans and progress with each other, inspiring each other to keep going despite the challenges they each face in this work. Some of their projects include an interfaith blood drive that will take place in Kenya in August, an arts project with Sudanese immigrant and refugee communities in Melbourne, the creation of an Abrahamic Youth Alliance, and the establishment of a border-bridging peace movement in Nepal.
Recently I heard this quote from Stephen Covey, shared by a global staff member from Argentina, “Compelling trust is the highest form of human motivation.” And that is precisely what we are building in URI – person by person, Cooperation Circle by Cooperation Circle - compelling trust between improbable neighbors to meet the most dire of challenges we face on this planet. Three of our youth Ambassadors have initiated Cooperation Circles in their communities – one to build peace between religious groups on the volatile border between Afghanistan and Pakistan where NGOs are being forced to close their doors in the face of extremist threats, one to inspire service and student activism in the multicultural mecca of Melbourne, Australia, and one to promote ancestral knowledge and the sharing of environmental wisdom with indigenous youth in Argentina. These Circles are seeds of hope for the future that, with the care and attention of a global community that supports and nurtures them, will blossom into beacons of peace for this planet. And there are many more of these seeds on the way.
Another way we are nurturing youth leadership this year is through the second cycle of our mentorship program Intergenerational Wisdom, pairing up aspiring interfaith leaders with experienced interfaith elders for a year-long e-mentorship program. The mentor will offer a window into the field of interfaith cooperation and provide guidance on how to navigate challenges along their interfaith journey. In the process, the program will nurture relationships of friendship and trust between people of different generations. This year we have paired 24 youth with 24 experienced leaders from the URI network. As Avon Mattison, President of Pathways to Peace and past mentor for this program, remarked, “There is so much extraordinary wisdom that is sometimes right at the surface or sometimes just needs some help to be uncovered. And that’s something we do for each other as human beings, help one another along the path.”
Through our Ambassador program, our Intergenerational Mentorship program, regional youth leadership trainings, and monthly live chats, we are nurturing present and future generations of interfaith leaders. Your support of our growing Young Leaders Program is much appreciated! To find out more about how you can support this work, please contact: Sarah Talcott Blair, Director of Youth Programs, email@example.com. Or visit the newly designed website at www.uri.org to find out how you can make an online donation.
Profile of URI Youth Ambassador: Peter Dziedzic, USA
Peter Dziedzic, a Youth Ambassador from Illinois, USA, is working to establish an online community for youth from the three Abrahamic faiths, what he calls "The Abrahamic Youth Alliance," or the AYA. The AYA will be an internet-based forum and chatroom service that will connect young Jews, Christians and Muslims from around the world to discover their common humanity through dialogue and interaction. He hopes that, by discussing the mutual problems they face and joys they share, they will learn to overcome their faith differences and learn to embrace their spiritual cousins as true brothers and friends. Peter spoke with us about his plans for the project.
Kyle: So you're working on creating an "Abrahamic Youth Alliance"--what are your goals for the project? Where does the project stand currently?
Kyle: How have you been spreading the word and getting people interested in the project?
Peter: We are promoting in several ways. I am working with the Abrahamic Alliance International [AAI], and they have been a great resource. They have connected me with many young leaders, individuals of faith, and teachers that are interested and willing to spread the word. I am also working on a promotional letter to post to the URI forums and Bridgebuilders.com, another great social networking resource. Since I am Catholic, I am also promoting with my local Diocese. Facebook is also a great resource for spreading the word.
Kyle: When do you expect the website to launch?
Peter: We are currently deciding what the best forum for a website will be. [The] AAI and myself are assessing several options for a website and hosting/domain options, so once we have finalized what will work best, we will begin constructing a "home" for AYA.
Kyle: How can interested people join?
Peter: We will have an option for interested people to sign up and join. We are envisioning a website in which members can join (like any other forum or social networking site) and chat/discuss on the current topics. There will be an easy way for all interested members to join.
Kyle: What motivated you to organize a project like this? What about interfaith work on the whole?
Peter: My motivation for organizing a project such as this is a desire to share the joy of life with others. I see many individuals, some who claim to be individuals of faith, who distrust others because of their cultural or religious background. I believe that this is a sad reality of our world, and one that I believe can be changed and overcome with interfaith understanding and promotion of such religious sharing.
Kyle: How did you first get involved in interfaith work?
Peter: I began to become involved in interfaith work by first becoming more deeply involved in my own faith, Roman Catholicism. In this, I grew closer to God and myself. I soon became involved in a Catholic-Muslim High School Steering Committee that was organizing a fair trade promotional project. After this, I was excited about the prospects of interfaith work. That summer, I volunteered at the offices of the Interfaith Youth Core and the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, and since then, I have enjoyed the mutual understanding and joy that can spring from interfaith dialogue.
Kyle: Can you describe for me more about the area in which you grew up and the religious diversity? You're from an area close to Chicago, I understand.
Peter: I come from a small Suburb outside of Chicago. Chicago, however, is an excellent hub of cultural and religious diversity. Chicago is also at the forefront of the interfaith movement - being home to both the Interfaith Youth Core and the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, it's a city that fosters understanding. It is absolutely wonderful to be close to such a great city!
Recent URI Youth Actions
Bowes Award helps boost youth participation in Abrahamic Conference
The Centre is a Christian retreat centre that values openness and hospitality, a perfect venue for interfaith encounter. I have always found the weeklong residential stay refreshing and expansive, but also sadly lacking in youth participation.
This year was different. With the help of URI’s Bowes Award grant, URI Europe was able to bring nine young people from across the continent to add to the few young people already in attendance.
Those receiving bursaries came from the UK, Germany and Bosnia; and with those from Turkish and Cypriot origins, the youth contingent was a real cross-section of the European continent.
I observed this enhanced diversity making a real difference to the feel and flavour of the week. The youthful energy also gave a shot in the arm to what can sometimes become nice tea-and-cakes talk. It was particularly beneficial to have young people from Bosnia who could share real stories of multicultural strife and religious conflict in a contemporary setting; pulling the rug, as it were, from under the feet of comfortable dialogue and creating a sense of urgency in our conversations that underlined how important it was that we were together in unity.
Us “young-uns” threw ourselves into the program willingly and still found time to kick a ball around, watch world cup matches and share some rousing games of Frisbee.
But one thing categorized the youth involvement more than anything. Our visitors from overseas were particularly fixated with acquiring Fish and Chips, a quest which resulted in a largely fruitless multicultural trek around Bristol (a City near Ammerdown) and getting a little lost. Still, getting lost together felt a little better than the countless times I’ve found myself lost, alone, in bleak and unfamiliar English cities, something that oddly happens a lot.
I don’t know if everyone satisfied this peculiar craving, but I do know that it was deeply satisfying to have a robust, diverse and engaging summer school and I hope that it will be possible to get just as many young people to participate next time. - Matthew Youde, URI Youth Liaison Officer
Nepali Rose Movement Celebrates URI Tenth Anniversary and Takes a Stand for Peace
In Nepal, Sushil, URI Youth Ambassador, held an event celebrating the 10th Anniversary of URI.
Over the past four years, Nepal has gradually attempted the transition from a feudal Hindu monarchy into a secular democratic state. This transition, however, has been marked with political turmoil and violence. Currently, the government functions under an interim constitution, awaiting a more permanent government. Unable to reach a consensus, the nation’s parliament faces an ever-extending and embattled deadline for a new document accepted by all parties.
"We wrote ‘Peace,’ ‘Reconciliation,’ ‘Let's go Green,’ and finally ‘Constitution’ in hopes of peace and a new constitution. Nepal is in the process of writing a new constitution. We wrote ‘URI’ with Lamps. We prayed for Peace, we chanted, and we shouted loud slogans demanding peace in Nepal. It was a wonderful evening.
"All this was on the June 25th, just a day before we signed the URI Charter. On the 26th I organized a grand tea party where influential people of the town representing many major organizations attended. We signed the charter and petitioned for peace in the country along with peace and harmony among people of various religious faiths. Participants exchanged roses, shook hands and wished peace to each other!”
While the nation struggles between the legacy its past government and the possibility of a new nation, bridging a peaceful gap between peoples of different religious backgrounds and beliefs might allow Nepal a more peaceful and harmonious future.
"I have done some ground work toward forming a Rose Circle. I will meet and invite people again and continue in few weeks time!” - Dr. Sushil Koirala, URI Youth Ambassador, Nepal
Peace and Sustainability at the URI Sub-Regional Assembly in Argentina
"In early June, the URI Sub-Regional Assembly took place in Argentina where different peoples and indigenous nations across Latin America spoke together about their experience and work in the region. The place was very comfortable and healthy, and the people were very interesting. The CCs from Argentina and Latin America taught me about the importance of their traditions and religions, especially the Mexican, Peruvian, and Venezuelan peoples.The Bolivian people told me about the changes in the political life in Bolivia and the important work Evo Morales has done for interfaith cooperation at the Congress for Climate Change in Cochabamba, the principal value being 'Hay que salvar a la Madre Tierra'--'We have to save Mother Earth'--and 'El Buen Vivir'--'Wellbeing.'
The theme or initiative for this sub-regional meeting came from the union, the TINKU between the Condor, the Aguila (Eagle) and the Serpiente (Serpent). 'Cuando los pueblos del Condor, del Aguila y la Serpiente se encuentren encontraremos la paz'—'When the peoples of the Condor, the Eagle and the Serpent meet, we will find peace.' These words were said in old traditions, and functioned as the Indigenous Cosmovision about the future before the Spanish Conquest in 1492. It was very interesting to meet people from different indigenous nations and discuss the important topics of Culture and Cosmovision.
Last month the Inty-Raimy Celebration, or 'Fiesta del Sol,' began Monday, June 20th, coinciding with URI’s 10th anniversary. I think that the coincidence between the Inty-Raimy Celebration and the URI anniversary isn’t accidental; I believe it is a symbol of the engagement between the Indigenous community and URI.
Vivan los pueblos indigenas! Vivan las tradiciones y religiones del mundo!" - Francisco Morales, Aymara tradition, URI Youth Ambassador, Argentina
German Youth Ambassador Visits India
“During an interesting two-month stay in India, I managed to network at several conferences. Some of these conferences were youth-oriented, especially pertinent since 75 percent of India is below 35 and the average age of Indian citizens is 25.4. These
One such group is called iWatch, and they focus on the transformation of India through increased literacy and greater availability of education. I also encountered the ANaRDe Foundation, which works worldwide in cooperation with Habitat Around the World and seeks to enfranchise impoverished youth and women.
A trustee from Mumbai, where many of the organization's trustees live, introduced me to their network and I feel that this connection may prove very crucial… Imagine the many teachers who might have gone to such meetings, and the opportunities they will have to educate countless students inspired by what they learn at these conferences!
With rising unemployment across Europe, an ongoing oil spill off the coast of the United States, and fears of political unrest, it can be difficult to see the positive in what looks like a worldly collapse. But with these conferences, what is clear to me is that the many present issues might also motivate many people to work toward the common good, as long as we provide a constructive alternative.” - Patrick Nickisch, URI Youth Ambassador, Germany
Melbourne's Upcoming Events
URI Youth Ambassador Freeman Trebilcock and his Cooperation Circle, Inter Action, in Melbourne, Australia received funding last month from the Victorian Multicultural Commission, a government organization that fosters cultural harmony, which will allow them to move forward on several projects in the upcoming year. With the funds, Freeman hopes to facilitate a discussion between the many religious communities in the area on the topic of interfaith service.
Through the dialogue Freeman aims to give the groups a chance to collaborate and unite their efforts. Freeman is also planning a multimedia project in which local Muslim and Christian youth refugees will participate. Melbourne and its surrounding areas saw an increase in its refugee and migrant populations, particularly with young people from the Sudan. The art project should allow these groups to integrate and create something for the wider community.
In addition to these plans, the group is organizing an interfaith day at RMIT University for the various spiritual clubs on campus as a celebration and as a fundraiser for charity.
The group will be selling clothing and other assorted goods donated by religious communities from all over Melbourne with performances, music, and food to allow a comfortable and enjoyable space for people to come together and raise money for a cause.
To read more about InterAction, go to: www.interaction.org.au
Empowering Youth for Peace in Pakistan
During the second week in July, URI Youth Ambassador from Pakistan Shazia Wahid helped organize a local event in Quetta of the Balochistan province as part of the first ever National Youth Peace Campaign sponsored by the United Nations.
Youth in Pakistan make up about 60% of the population and, because of their age, financial constraints and limited access to resources, they often find themselves ignored, excluded, and subject to the forces of social compulsions. This workshop, however, sought specifically to enable the youth participants to become active citizens in a tolerant, peaceful society. By means of further exploring their individual identities and culture and the identities of others involved in the workshop, participants were equipped with the rudimentary tools for conscious global discourse beyond the workshop.
Facilitated by Mr. Irfan Ali, the President of the Human Rights Commission for Social Justice and Peace, and with over 135 youth from the province in attendance, the orientation began with a series of recitations from the Qu'ran, the Bible, and the Bhagavad Gita. Afterward, facilitators and guest speakers familiarized the youth with various concepts and approaches to issues present in society, such as the relation between individual and society, identity, youth and extremism, the role of the government and political parties, and the meaning of peace.
The structure was largely participatory, and the youth were invited to discuss. On the second day, the youth even created their own role-play performances exploring the themes around which the workshop was based. By means of educating the youth in these important matters, the facilitators hoped to see the young participants develop the ability to recognize human rights infringements and negative forces around them. They saw this deeper understanding in the participants as the workshop drew to a close.
The final segment, to be held in Lahore this September, will unite youth from the four provinces across Pakistan in a National Youth Festival, to pledge their commitment to work for a terror-free nation and to forge concrete commitments to peace.
Taking the Initiative on Interfaith Actions for the Environment
Continuing our monthly program of interfaith, cross-cultural live chats, open to any young people interested in interfaith dialogue, this month's chat will be on the topic of Interfaith Actions for the Environment.
The chat will take place Sunday, July 25th, at 14:00 UTC / GMT.
To find out what time this will be in your area of the world, you can go to World Time Clock,http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html and choose your location.
For more information about how to access the chat, go to: http://uriyouth.com/chat.aspx
During our last chat on the 72 Hours: A Global Celebration of Interfaith Service, our youth participants shared about many great model projects of interfaith service they are organizing in their communities. Sharon from Youth for Unity in the Philippines shared about a tree-planting project (planting 70 saplings) and an environmental seminar on waste management techniques for youth that they organized in the Philippines; Erik and Allison from Interfaith Works are organizing a project in New Orleans empowering youth entrepreneurship – especially for youth who are chosen as the “tradition-bearers” carrying forward the New Orleans traditions of "festivalizing," drumming and more; and Arin from the University of Southern California shared about an interfaith choir they have created at his university.
Upcoming Interfaith Conferences and Events
The URI Young Leaders Program aims to connect religiously and spiritually diverse young people from around the world, and to develop their capacity to be servant leaders in the areas of interfaith cooperation, peacebuilding, ecological imperatives, human rights, and sustainable just economics. We especially wish to encourage youth participation in regional interfaith conferences, workshops and trainings this year. Here are just a few conferences and interfaith leadership trainings coming up this year:
-NAIN Connect 2010: Plaza Hotel, Salt Lake City, Utah, Temple Square, July 24-28th. For more information see: http://www.nain.org/NainConnect2010.htm.
- URI Uganda Regional Youth Leadership Training, Kampala, Uganda, September 18th - 21st. For more information, please contact: Despina Namwembe, URI Uganda office, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- URI Europe Regional Assembly and Youth Leadership Training Program - Emerging Youth Leaders: Interfaith Action Across Boundaries, Istanbul, Turkey, October 27th - 31st, 2010. For more information, contact: Karimah Stauch, email@example.com
On behalf of the Young Leaders Program Steering Committee, I thank you all for your support and participation in building the interfaith youth movement!