Report #2 from Kuala Lumpur

7 October 2011, 4:02 PM

After a fitful night’s sleep hindered by the lack of sleep and travel of the previous days and the anticipation for the activities planned for day #2, I arise early and meet Amir and Matthew Youde for breakfast. Matthew is the global coordinator of the Youth Leader Program. A broadcaster by education, Matthew was the understudy to the Sarah Talcott, the former YLP coordinator, and took over for her about 12 months ago when she had her first child and decided not to return. A Brit, Matthew lives in London and is a Catholic. The YLP training he is putting on here is the third he has organized in the past year. The objective is to get young people, many of whom have been introduced to interfaith work in universities, involved in URI by providing them the leadership and peacebuilding skills to organize and lead CCs for young people in their local communities.

It is clear to me that getting young people involved with and committed to URI is critical to its success. Hearing what Matthew is doing and visiting with the young people participating in this program here frustrates me that we cannot provide more resources to strengthen this program. With the advent of the internet and social networking tools, there is an increasing number of young people who are interested in interfaith as they are now seeing that other people in the world have freedoms that they don’t and they are learning that they can make a difference in their communities and in the world. For URI to have only one or two people with the responsibility of implementing URI’s Young Leader Program around the world is simply not sufficient.

After breakfast, Amir, George Armstrong and his wife Jocelyn, and I head to the Pure Life Society, which is hosting our meetings here, for a press conference to introduce to the media URI and the International Seminar on Interfaith Action for Peace and Harmony and a the public performance our CC members are putting on in two days. This programs which are open to the public is co-hosted by Interfaith Spiritual Fellowship and the Malaysian Interfaith Network, both URI CCs.  George is a retired Anglican minister from New Zealand who has been involved in URI since the beginning and his CC was one of the founding URI CCs;  Jocelyn is a retired religious teacher and is working with teachers in New Zealand to teach them how to teach religion – they are a terrific team, passionate about interfaith and URI.  Three people from the media attended our one hour press meeting at which we talked about URI and its work in Malaysia, Southeast Asia and around the world. After the press conference, Predeep Nambiar, the youngest of the journalists to attend – from the New Strait Times – became so enthralled with URI that he met with Matthew and several of the youth leaders and then stayed for lunch visiting with a number of other local URI participants who had arrived. He said that plans to attend the public programs and write a number of articles about URI and its work in the region and that he would like to get more involved to help us publicize our activities. The next day, in fact, there was a terrifically supportive article on URI and its work encouraging the public to attend the seminar and performance and to learn about URI.

The Pure Life Society is a Hindu based home and school for orphaned and abused children and accommodates about 80 young people. It was started after World War II by Dr. Swami Stayananda, who was a visionary in interfaith before anyone knew what interfaith was. His understudy, Mother Mangalam, now 85 and as vibrant a woman as I have ever seen, took over as head of the Society when Swami passed away. Though Hindu based, the Society teaches about all the religions and encourages interfaith understanding and cooperation. Mother spent a significant amount of time with us and is tremendously supportive of URI. In fact, it is the Pure Life Society that has provided more than USD$10,000 for the local transportation, meals and accommodations for all of our Regional Meeting participants as well as host for our meeting itself.

The Seminar we are hosting include a prayer and welcome by Mother Mangalam, a keynote address by Dato Azman Amin Hassan, the Director General, National Unity and Integration Department, and Chairman of the National Interfaith Committee of the Malaysian government.  I will follow that with a welcome on behalf or URI and will introduce URI, its founding and mission and what URI is doing around the world in seeking peace and harmony. Then representatives from the regional CCs will highlight some of the efforts they are doing in striving for peace and harmony. We anticipate close to 200 attendees at the seminar. Later that evening, the CC representatives will perform at what we are calling an International Cultural Night at the new Shantanand Auditorium Temple of Fine Arts, a free program also open to the public at which we hope for 2-300 attendees. I will talk more about the programs in a later report. 

Later that day, Amir and I attend the closing ceremony of the YLP leadership training and presented the Certificate of Completion of the program to the 30 young people from around the region who have participated. On behalf of the President’s Council, URI Founder and President Bishop Swing and Executive Director Charles Gibbs, I congratulated the young leaders and gave an overview of URI’s vision emphasizing how important young interfaith leaders are to URI achieving its objectives and encouraged them to continue to be involved even as their lives get more complicated. It was a real thrill to see the enthusiasm these dedicated people have for making it a better world and how appreciative they are for the contribution URI is making in helping them achieve their dreams of a better life for their families and communities.

All in all, a successful and gratifying day.