What do you do with a group of 25 young people from 6 countries and 8 religious, spiritual and indigenous backgrounds? How do you go about building good interfaith relationships that lead to genuine acceptance, coexistence and cooperation?
Thankfully, young people generally turn up to events, conferences, training programs and so on – whether they are interfaith themed or not – to meet other young people, so they are preset to get to know each other. This makes life easier for the program leader! All you need to do is inject a bit of fun and scope for teambuilding and the group begins to gel.
I have always opened programs with a set of icebreakers (activities that “break the ice” between people, create more of a group atmosphere) and teambuilding games, many of them daft but enjoyable. Getting a laugh out of the participants is a good way to begin a program! In our latest URI Young Leaders Program in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it was important to build a good group with a strong sense of team, as we would be working together on an act of service for a school that was hosting our program. I therefore gave a little more focus than usual to icebreakers and teambuilding games. This is not often my style (I’m a serious sort of chap) but it allowed participants to listen to people other than me for a bit, which they probably appreciated! It was so good to have a cheerful colleague in URI Young Leader Sharon Vaswani from the Philippines, who led the participants in a treasure hunt style race across various challenges in small groups. As an opening activity for our main day of training, this was wonderfully effective in “gelling” the young people and setting a positive atmosphere that was conducive to learning, sharing and encountering each other.
When a program opens, the usual formal welcomes, running through the schedule, introductions and so on ensue. Then come icebreakers. Usually I would do no more than two icebreaker games. In Kuala Lumpur I did three short icebreakers in quick succession, I technique I had learned in a three hour training I recently attended in London (run by a great organisation called the Three Faiths Forum) that somehow managed to fit the same amount of training I had seen others do in two days into those three hours. The icebreakers particularly impressed me. They not only emphasised cooperation and group building but made everyone repeat their names at least twice within a 5 minute window, which meant even a Goldfish like me could remember some names. I employed this tactic in Malaysia and it was quite satisfying to see it work.
In between workshops and following on from meals, it is normal to do “energisers”: short exercises that wake people up a bit and get some smiles – a particularly welcome gift ahead of a long afternoon of training. What continues to delight me is to see the participants stepping forward and offering their own energisers, many of which are often hilarious and most commonly used with children outside of these programs! A particular highlight in our Malaysia gathering was a young man named Rem leading the group in a dance and shouting “get funky!”, something he also shared with the URI Regional Assembly taking place after the youth program. Having fun together is a great way to build a group and games are great for building teams.
The enthusiasm and good nature with which the young people took to the service project at the end of the program was always to be expected; it was a wonderful group, but the spirit of cooperation they embodied was a real testament, I think, to the importance of teambuilding activities, of games and of fun in a youth program, especially when the participants are from diverse backgrounds. This is a good foundation to build genuine interfaith partnerships for peace justice and healing in the world.