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Updated: 21 weeks 6 days ago

Sewing Center Certificate Distribution Ceremony

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 1:19pm

The result announcement and certificate distribution

Chak 700/42 is a place where majority of the girls and women are not educated. So Joy Foundation has been running a sewing center for these girls since 2015. The girls got trained for one year in subjects like hand embroidery, cutting, sewing, hand work, home economics and child care. The girls made their practical copies also. In the last week of October, the girls had their final examinations. All the girls were present in the exam and did a great Job. Ms. Shazia Jalal (Deputy Director) and Ms. Rukhsana Khalil (Program Coordinator Sewing Center) were present during the examinations for the monitoring.

The pictures below are of the examination:

After the examinations the results were made and on 7th November 2016, the results were announced along with certificate distribution. The parents of all the girls were present. The Chaudhry of the village and the Church Catechist was also present during the result announcement and certificate distribution. Mr. Yaqoob Sadiq (Director JF), Ms. Shazia Jalal (Deputy Director) and Ms. Rukhsana Khalil (Program Coordinator Sewing Center) were there for appreciating the girls and distributed certificates among the girls. The girls were really happy and were thankful to Joy Foundation for providing them such an opportunity and they were also thankful to Mrs. Mussarat Nadeem (Teacher of the Sewing Center) for being so supportive and teaching them so well.

The picture below is of the result announcement and certificate distribution:

 

The Weekly Shot: Raising Breast Cancer Awareness

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 7:47am

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), the URI Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region Women's Initiative program, in partnership with the clinic of Dr. Naela Doghmi (Co-coordinator of the WIN MENA (Women's Interfaith Network) Cooperation Circle, and in cooperation with Al Hussein Cancer Foundation and Breast Cancer Awareness Program, organized an open day for Breast Cancer Awareness.

The event started by reciting prayers that were selected from different religious traditions. Participants listened to awareness lectures and stories of breast cancer survivors. The clinic provided free physical examination. At the end of the event, one woman even won an insurance voucher for breast cancer treatment provided by the clinic. 

See more photos from this event here.

World Toilet Day

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 2:28pm

World Toilet Day…

A day all about toilets may seem quite odd. After all, many of us take access to toilets for granted.

But for many millions of people around the world toilets are a luxury. A shocking 2.3 billion people – one in three of the world’s population – do not have access to a safe, private place to go to the toilet. One child dies every 17 seconds due to lack of sanitation, unclean water
and poor hygiene.

An estimated 600 million people in India alone defecate in the open, which infringes on human safety and dignity. Women and girls risk rape and abuse as they wait until night falls to relieve themselves because they lack access to a toilet that offers privacy. Another issue is that toilets generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly. Therefore, the burden of poor sanitation falls disproportionately on women, children, and the disabled and elderly.

A proper hand-washing technique with soap is the single most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrhea.

Today on World Toilet Day, we must raise awareness about all people who do not have access to a toilet – despite the human right to water and sanitation. It is a day to do something about it.

Please make a personal pledge.

Resolve to take the message of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) to your congregations and communities, embracing the spirit of this campaign so that homes across the world have improved access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in order to save millions of children and families from death, diseases and stunting.

Initiate a WASH Project in your community.

Create awareness of hand washing techniques with soap. This simple activity could save more lives than any vaccine or medical intervention, preventing the spread of infection and keeping children in school.  Educate and motivate children to embrace and share proper hygiene practices.

Share your experiences and spread the word.

Utilize social media to raise awareness of sustainable sanitation. Let us adopt a successful plan in another part of the world and share resources.  

Maintain cleanliness of our toilets.

Those of us who are fortunate to have access to toilets can ensure that we always flush the toilet with the toilet lid down in order to reduce the spread of bacteria in the room. We air the toilet to reduce the level of humidity in the room, check that the ventilation system is working properly, and that we clean the toilet daily with a product specifically designed to reduce
the spread of bacteria such as:

  • E.Coli
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Staphylococus aureus
  • Salmonella
  • Enterobacter
  • Listeria

Abolish Nuclear Weapons in Commemoration of Hiroshima Day 

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 1:05pm

RALLY: ABOLISH NUCLEAR WEAPONS in Commemoration of HIROSHIMA DAY 

Around 130 students of SLS DAV Public School Mausam Vihar, Delhi-51 and Kathak Dharohar along with 30 staff members participated in a rally on 06.08.2016 to commemorate Hiroshima Day and pay tribute to the victims of destruction caused by Atom Bomb dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during World War II. 

The Rally was organized in collaboration with United Religions Initiative (A Global Interfaith Network for Peace)-North Zone, India, Delhi. The students of Classes VIII-XII recited a Peace Prayer for those whose hearts carry the weight of Nuclear Weapons and appealed to the world to do away with Nuclear weapons and war and instead promote peace, harmony, global brotherhood and cooperation. 

The Rally “to raise Voices for a World free from Nuclear Weapons” was flagged off from the school campus by Principal Vandana Kapoor who in her brief address emphasized on the need to develop patience, tolerance and respect for cultural and social differences across the world. She also sensitized the students as how DAV movement has always contributed in promoting and supporting the cause of prevalence of Peace and Harmony and considering humanity as the only religion of the world.

Shri Sadanand Biswas, North India Regional Head of URI, also a Kathak maestro, along with his team of volunteers also accompanied the students in the rally to motivate and support them.  The rally took the route from the school to Preet Vihar Crossing to Vikas Marg and back to school via Marginal Bund Road covering a distance of around 5 km. The students raised slogans to spread awareness and express their solidarity and desire to have a world free from Nuclear Weapons, endorse the prevalence of peace and harmony around the globe.

The Message was loud and clear…HELP US LIFT THE FOG OF NUCLEAR DARKNESS!!

Memoriam for Dr. Paul Eppinger

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 12:19pm

Paul Eppinger, who led a campaign for Arizona to recognize a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. and later was involved in interfaith affairs, has died. He was 83.

Ordained to the American Baptist Church, Eppinger led First Baptist Church of Phoenix for seven years before retiring in 1992. He became executive director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council in 1993 and then started the Arizona Interfaith Movement, which seeks unifying themes among representatives of all world religions.

The Rev. Larry A. Fultz, who succeeded Eppinger, announced Eppinger's death to the community in a letter posted on the Arizona Interfaith Movement's website.

"The Interfaith Community around the world lost a dear friend and champion for justice and civility," Fultz wrote. "... But I lost a dear friend, a friend who has been my mentor and teacher for many years. He stretched me in ways that I never thought possible and always did it with love and humbleness. ... Undeniably, Paul leaves a great legacy which we all can draw on and learn from but it’s what he takes with him that grieves me the most. He takes all that wisdom, knowledge, passion and caring that simply isn’t transferable."

Paul Eppinger now joins URI's "Celestial Cooperation Circle," which encompasses all members of the URI community who have passed on.

The Ideal of a Decolonized Education System

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 10:12am
The ideal of an educational system which is decolonized seems to be the issue which is constantly debated from time to time and has no end. In addition, a decolonized education system is the key to broaden one individual's mindset to understand the perspectives of different authors from different countries.

Moreover, the key to having an educational system which is not entirely eurocentric is possible if we become accomodative to other forms of knowledge which come from different countries. In our current era, there have been intellectual debates which have been sparked by the educational system which seems to promote education which caters for the privileged. Moreover, due to the intellectual battles, arguments and the institutions failing to provide platforms for various theories and knowledge which are not predominantly Western, there seems to be tension which has been amounted by students.

In addition, we have become a generation of arsonists and violent protestors and have forgotten the importance of being effective change agents without the use of violence. Moreover, the institutions that were meant to inspire the perception of freedom have failed the students in more ways than one. The question we need to ask ourselves is: do we value wealth over the needs of the students, or do we want to raise a generation of educated leaders? That is the question we need to ask ourselves every day.

Reflections on Our Visit to Peace Terrace

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 12:34pm

Sally Mahé, Dom Gelin and I had the pleasure of visiting middle schoolers at Peace Terrace Academy in Fremont, California, a Pre-K through 8th grade Islamic school in the East Bay. The morning greeted us with a variety of treats including the beautifully still sunrise on our drive over, the stunning but simple white domes of Peace Terrace school and moms and dads bustling in and out of the parking lot to drop the kids off at school. Upon entering the school we were met by usual elementary school sounds, the loud chatter of kids excitedly meeting on a Friday morning, as well as the less familiar beauty of middle schoolers reciting the Qur’an while seated casually on the floor of a classroom hovering over the holy text.

When we entered the classroom, all of the students were seated in a circle, girls in one row, boys in another. They held prayer cards which they recited in unison. While they seemed almost bored at the routine recitation, I felt a deep calm as I let the unified Arabic prayer sung by the nearly 30 middle schoolers sweep over me. What was for them probably a basic daily routine was such a treat for us visitors.

We began our visit with some brief introductions of ourselves and of URI. We are a bridge-building network, we emphasized. We focus on bringing people together and transforming conflict. And while this message is easily spoken, it is more difficult in practice. This is exactly why our time with the students was spent practicing the Principles of the URI rather than preaching them.

From our seats in the circle we came to know each other’s similarities and differences through an energizing game: "A Warm Wind Blows." In this game, one student stands at the center of the circle and says, “A warm wind blows….” followed by a self-descriptor, after which any student who also identifies with that descriptor must change their seat as fast as possible so as to not be the last person in the center of the circle. The self-identifier that evoked the most students to jump up from their seat and run across the room: “A warm wind blows for anyone who has a parent born in another country.”

The energy of middle schoolers dashing across the room and giggling could well have been an end in itself, what great morning fun! At the close of the game, we reflected on the fact that we share things in common and have differences, and much like a Cooperation Circle, it is important to take the time to learn about each others’ similarities and differences in a safe, inquisitive and accepting manner.

In a circle, we moved on to discuss some of the challenges and barriers to peace that we face in our communities. Some of the challenges the students named included: racism, socio-economic differences, language, educational differences, and gender. We then set out to find tangible solutions to these challenges, since, rather than thinking of the challenges we face as ends in themselves, we ought to think of them as opportunities to bridge the differences that cause conflicts. Some of the students’ ideas for conflict transformation included: Start a club to learn about each others’ traditions, help friends from other traditions celebrate their holy days, learn different languages, improve education access, stand up to bullies, and treat everyone like a friend.

We left the students with the sheets of ideas they generated, reminding them that they are capable of acting on the solutions they brainstormed. In the end we spoke with the gracious principal, Homaira Wassel, about the possibility of forming a Cooperation Circle of middle schoolers, since just next door to the school is a church where there is a joint preschool for Christian and Muslim children.

It was such a joy to visit the middle schoolers. They have such energy and creativity and unique outlooks on the world. I hope we get the chance to visit them again to mutually inspire one another to do the best we can to transform the barriers in our communities into opportunities for peace. 

A URI Perspective on the US Presidential Election

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 1:14pm

Photo from a post-election demonstration in Washington, DC, USA | Photo Credit: Ted Eytan for Wikimedia

The Constitution of the United States begins with these words: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…” September 17, 1787

The Charter of the United Religions Initiative begins with these words: “We, people of diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions throughout the world, hereby establish the United Religions Initiative to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”  June 26, 2000

These two lofty intentions, 213 years apart, are based upon a common assumption, i.e. the legitimizing necessity of grassroots authority. In the case of the United States, the language states, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” In the case of the United Religions Initiative, the language states, “We have the authority to make decisions at the most local level that includes all the relevant and affected parties.” So at the end of the day, the voice of the people determines the direction, whether in the USA or the URI.

Given that the voice of the people of the United States was heard on the night of November 8, 2016 General Election, I have several comments to make from a URI perspective. 

First, URI operates in 96 countries, so matters in the USA aren’t our whole concern.

Second, we need to have a moment of humility and reflection.  “No one saw this (the election results) coming” was the shocking comment of the evening. There were subterranean forces at work which, when surfaced, caught everyone off guard. We “know-it-all” folks need to bow toward the unexpected, deep yearnings that escaped our view but which have appeared and now demand respect. Hidden hurts deserve attention.

Third, URI has a high doctrine of respect for people of different religions, for the environment, for women, for the marginalized, for diversity as a gift, for fairness in financial matters.  Up until November 8, 2016, URI thought it was in sync with similar attitudes in the USA.  But the winning message of this election made an appeal to the country which seemed to promote opposite values. Many in URI are of a heavy heart and deeply worried just now.

Fourth, the USA has been around for a long time and gone through manifold moments of crisis and evolution. In the long run, the USA can be trusted to correct its mistakes and forge a better path.  But each change has to ripen at its own pace.  It is possible that the pace of our cultural and common life has moved faster than all of our people could accommodate. Cars have brake pedals and acceleration pedals.  Both have their moments. Perhaps, the electorate just put on the brakes.

Fifth, URI has been successful in getting Muslims and Christians to talk and work together.  I wish that we could be as successful in getting Republicans and Democrats to do the same.  Appreciative inquiry could go a long way at this moment of time. In the present polarization in the USA, URI members here have a special calling to be “bridge-builders.” Our country could use bridge-builders just now.

Sixth, no one knows what is going to happen next in the USA.  Perhaps, someone will do the right thing for the wrong reason.  Perhaps, some desperately needed things might just get done.  Perhaps, we will cast off the 24/7 cable news propagandizing that comforts us and chose the harder path of reconciliation with our suspected enemies. Who knows? The “surprise factor” keeps us from a false sense of omniscience and keeps us hopeful. 

At the end of the day, I have confidence in the USA, because it is founded on the consent of the governed. At the end of the day, I have confidence in the URI, because of its grassroots base.

Where do we go from here

Fri, 11/11/2016 - 6:22am

The events of the past few days have left many with more questions than answers.  We offer this graphic as means to assure those feeling lost or afraid: there is a place for you to be heard, to be respected and to learn from others. We encourage you to share this image, and invite you to work with us towards a more just and peaceful world.

Contact us to find out how to get involved: CLICK HERE

 

The text version of this image reads:

As we grapple with division and uncertainty, we ask: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

There is a place where people of all political perspectives meet to work together to build inclusive communities of compassion and trust.

There is a place where people of all beliefs work together to protect the rights of all people from discrimination, prejudice and violence.

There is a place where men and women practice equality for people of all genders and identities.

There is a place where people of all races and v practice justice and seek peace side by side.

There is a place where people from across the world come together in their common concern for the wellbeing of our planet. 

This place is called URI – the United Religions Initiative.

URI is an interfaith grassroots peacebuilding organization working across the United States and in nearly 100 countries around the world to bring peace, justice and healing to all people and the Earth. 

People who identify as liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Indigenous, Spiritual, Humanist, Atheist, and all other traditions - people from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East and planetwide - are already coming together every day bridging religious and cultural differences to work for the good of their communities and the world.

Become part of a global community that envisions a world at peace, sustained by interconnected communities committed to respect for diversity, nonviolent resolution of conflict and social, political, economic and environmental justice.

Join us at uri.org.

My Wonderful Experience at the TPA

Thu, 11/10/2016 - 5:46pm

Photo by Sally Mahé

My wonderful experience at the Traveling Peace Academy (TPA) still lingers in my mind and it will linger on 'till the end of my days. Little did I know that the six days I spent at the URI's TPA in Kerala would change the way I perceive this world we live in. It is an experience I can never forget.

I was blessed to have had this experience in one of the most beautiful places in India. Known as God's own country, Kerala and her bountiful beauty made my experience fulfilling. It filled my soul with bliss. I loved every minute of my time in the midst of nature, waking up to birds singing, watching the sunset. It truly is the land of God. And what made it sweeter was that I was surrounded by kindred spirits. Our morning walks in nature always made my day. I felt that I belonged there.

Interacting with an interfaith gathering of people from different parts of the world, belonging to various cultures and religion, has done what it was meant to; transform me. I felt like this program was intended to make us realize the importance of unity because it is unity that brings peace. Personal interactions with the participants left me speechless. The stories we shared had depth, reality and raw emotions. At that moment, I felt like I was one with them. I was overwhelmed with empathy when I listened to the experiences some of my fellow participants have had. They spoke from the heart. Their stories gripped me and I felt their sadness, fears, happiness and joy. 

I thoroughly enjoyed all the activities that were conducted. It not only brought us closer to each other but uplifted my mood in a way that I cannot begin to describe. The group discussions gave me a lot of insight on what is going on in the world and what can be done to change it. Listening to the others talk about their views, made me realize that we all want the same result; a world filled with love, compassion and peace.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and now I strive to bring that change in me so that I may be able to mend our wonderful world in my own small ways. It has been an eye-opening experience for me at TPA. With crystal clarity I understand that my journey of building peace within and to others has begun. I will cherish the memories with all my heart. I'm forever grateful for this amazing experience and to the amazing people that were a part of it.

Raksha Kothari, Yoga Teacher for TPA

Sharing URI Europe's November Proverb

Thu, 11/10/2016 - 4:18pm

Everyone is entitled to a bad day!

After a bad night your partner joins you in a grumpy mood at the breakfast table. Your “good morning” falls on deaf ears and the coffee does not do its job. You try harder, but nothing seems to work. Maybe your partner needs time to see things more clearly, or maybe he needs some space to put things in perspective? Your reaction is important in determining whether you both come to a discussion later that brings some relief.

To become angry because someone has a bad moment, does not help. That is certainly true. We cannot determine the moods of other people. How can we deal with it? You could try to say something like: "You are entitled to a bad day! If there is anything I can do for you, please tell me."

Every person's life has a dark side.

Some days you are happy and you see the beautiful and good side of life. Everything goes smoothly, everybody is friendly and you don't know why. And suddenly, often without a clear reason, a certain sadness descends upon you and every little thing becomes an excuse to complain and criticize others. Why? Why is it like that?

A human being is a part of nature

There is a day and a night. A winter and a summer. People follow the rhythm of the sea - low tide and high tide - much more than they realize. Our life is a succession of 'living' and 'dying'. We have to go through so much at different stages of our life that, not surprisingly and impossible to explain why, sadness or a vague feeling is part of us.

To be aware of this can help us to accept that having a good day and a bad day is just part of life. When we allow these natural ups and downs in life, we shall live more consciously, a more stable and deeper life. In the end it will help us to become more even-tempered because we learn that after each night a new morning dawns.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Movement without a Name (MWN / BZN) CC and URI Europe wish to contribute to a better world in a substantial manner. We want to set an example and have therefore introduced the URI Europe proverbs. They are meant to inspire and spark conversation. You can subscribe to the URI Europe monthly proverbs for free. Click here to find out more.

After the Election: Now What?

Thu, 11/10/2016 - 2:49pm

Throughout this contentious presidential election, interfaith organizations have served to support and connect members of their communities in the spirit of peace, justice and healing. This work continues. Interfaith groups are stepping into their roles as healers and have planned peaceful gatherings of solidarity across the nation with the hopes of creating spaces for community members to work through these questions of “Now what?”

Read the full article, including state-by-state resources for peacebuilding, here.

On the Eve of the US Elections, the World is Watching and Praying

Mon, 11/07/2016 - 5:01pm

Despina Namwembe, Regional Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, leads a workshop on peacebuilding in Uganda

Recently, a colleague of mine in Kampala, Uganda emailed me offering her prayers for the people of the United States in the midst of this election, and calling upon the global community to do the same. Her words touched my heart, cutting through the constant barrage of accusations and apocalyptic predictions, lifting my spirits out of the depths of concern and anxiety, and reminding me about the greatness that is the human family.  

Dear Victor,

I am writing to share my voice about what is happening in the US currently.  The issues surrounding this election have affected many globally, especially those who believe in human rights, diversity and what the US First Lady once termed as “basic human decency.”  I know that some people may ask why I care about the US elections when I am not a US citizen. But probably that is because some don’t know me fully and how I value every human being on earth.  The US is considered a point of reference for many of us around the world. Sometimes people may think that because the US is a super power, it doesn't need to be prayed for. But to me this is not right. The US needs our prayers now not only because of its global influence, but because of how interconnected we are as humans.  When the world prayed for the kidnapped Chibok girls in Nigeria, we acted because our human nature is one of inter-connectedness as people of many different religious backgrounds, spiritual expressions and Indigenous traditions.  A peaceful election and post-election healing are much needed in the US for our brothers and sisters, colleagues, friends and relatives alike, and for people around the world.  As the world struggles with so many situations of division, hate, conflict, discrimination and human rights abuses, we need to use our spirituality for cultivating the good within ourselves and beyond our borders.  May peace prevail in the US. May peace prevail everywhere on earth.

Blessings from here and thank you, Despina Namwembe

Amidst economic and political turmoil, on top of the threat of terrorism that is a part of daily life in Uganda, Despina found herself thinking about and praying for those of us in the United States. That in and of itself is an extraordinary act of kindness. But her prayers also challenge us all to reconnect with our sense of compassion and respect for one another as fellow human beings during the days, weeks and months ahead. Will we accept her challenge?

Neither Despina nor I mean to say that those whose words encourage hate, promote prejudice and incite violence should escape responsibility. Whether it be in Uganda or the United States, those who terrorize must be held accountable for their behavior according to the laws that protect the civil rights of all people. But for the rest of us who hold political perspectives that may conflict, there is more at stake in this election than which nominee or party will guide the country for the next four years. Given the acrimony that has characterized this campaign, Americans have a decision to make. Will we embrace the democratic principles forged over two centuries that necessitate respectful dialogue and compromise with those whom we disagree? Or will we continue to follow the path that further descends into the social fragmentation caused by dehumanizing rhetoric?

Despina, and sisters and brothers across the world, are watching and praying that we will awaken from our moral slumber, and embrace the spiritual values of compassion, love and respect for every human being upon which a healthy and peaceful society is built. Thank you, my sister Despina, for your prayers. May we accept your kindness and honor your hope for us. 

 

This post appeared on Tuesday, November 7th, 2016 on the Huffington Post.

 

Walking for Religious Freedom

Mon, 11/07/2016 - 4:08pm

The Brazilian state and society have witnessed, for some years, a growing manifestation of religious intolerance, including physical assaults and destruction of temples and places of religious services, particularly against religions of African origin, an incontestable demonstration of disrespect to the constitutional principles which support Brazilian society. For this reason, took place on September 21, 2008, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the "1st Walking for Religious Freedom: I have Faith", in order to raise awareness. This event was the result of six months of work of a commission established from the evidence of extreme cases of religious intolerance that took place not only in the state of Rio de Janeiro, but also in other states.

The purpose of this project is to keep the population mobilized against religious intolerance practices, highlighting the cultural diversity of different religious cults, thus ensuring the constitutional principles governing the Brazilian State. This year, on September 25th, we had the 9th Walk!

This Walk took place at Atlântica Avenue, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It happened in collaboration with CCIR, ISER, VivaRio, CEAP and many other organizations.

Learn more at the Facebook pages here and here.

See more ways the URI community celebrated the International Day of Peace 2016.

Praying for a Peaceful US Election

Mon, 11/07/2016 - 1:15pm

Photo by Denali National Park and Preserve, uploaded by AlbertHerring via Wikicommons

As the United States heads into a contentious presidential election on Tuesday, November 8, tensions are high and many fear violent outbreaks in their communities as a result of the escalating negative political rhetoric. This heartfelt prayer for a peaceful election comes from Despina Namwembe, a URI Regional Coordinator living in Kampala, Uganda, who along with a worldwide audience is watching the US election with deeply-felt anticipation.

The URI community draws together out of a desire for peace; peace between people of all religious backgrounds, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions. This is the power of the URI family.

 

Dear URI family,

The main reason that keeps me strongly connected to URI is its inter-connectedness both institutionally and at an individual level irrespective of the diverse social cultural differences in outlook, geographical location, social background, economic might, power etc.  The US is going through a period that has never been experienced before. The issues surrounding its candidates have affected many especially those who believe in human rights, diversity, and what the US First Lady once termed as basic human decency.

When a child is perceived as stronger than other children, it is only imperative that we continue to know that he/she also has feelings, can get hurt, and also needs your support as a parent. The US needs our prayers now, not only because of its global influence, but because of how interconnected we are as humans.

When the women set out to pray for the Chibok girls in Nigeria, we acted because of that human nature of inter-connectedness. We can still do the same in our own religious backgrounds, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions. A peaceful election and post-election healing is much needed in the US for our brothers and sisters, colleagues, friends and relatives alike. The US has built so much as a country, and yet it can lose so much depending who occupies that position of leadership.

As the world struggles with situations of division, hate, conflict, discrimination and human rights abuses, we need to use our spirituality for cultivating the good within ourselves and beyond borders. Whatever the election outcome, a lot of souls shall need healing and our prayers are important.  

May peace prevail in the US. May peace prevail everywhere on earth.

Despina Namwembe
Regional Coordinator
United Religions Initiative (URI) Africa, Great Lakes

--

I am moved by this, Despina.  And humbled by your call to spiritual support, from Uganda, for people in the United States.  You are modeling the human interconnectedness you write about.

I am distressed that large numbers of people in this country seem to have lost sight of their connections with other Americans, let alone with our sisters and brothers around the world who can be so profoundly impacted by our country's actions.  

I would like to think better of us, that we have learned from our history and have outgrown our preference for divisions instead of unity. 

But again and again I am reminded through the news of how easily people feel (& indeed often are) left out, ignored, not heard, and not respected. So many people suffer from poverty and discrimination and fear. All of that contributes profoundly to the dissolution of healthy dialogue and democratic process.  

We desperately need to engage, to find a way to stand together in solidarity and in recognition of the common ground that we all share.  Thank you for your leadership. 

May peace prevail, indeed. 

Alice Swett

URI Associate Director of Global Programs for Network Development

--

Dear Sister Despina, 

How nicely you have called the attention of all! Thank you.

The United States is the mother of democracy. Way back in 1776, there were great thinkers and philosophers who could establish a free and fair State, which could be a model for the world. It is true that all the people have to rise up and preserve the values handed over by the forefathers from generations to generations. 

Yes, let us uphold America in our prayers so that the American ethos will remain as beautiful as ever, whatever be the outcome of the election.

Warm regards,

Abraham Karickam

URI Regional Coordinator, India, South Zone

--

Dear Despina,

Thank you for your call. We unite our prayers for a peaceful election in the US and the well-being of Americans,

warm regards,

Enoé Texier

URI Regional Coordinator, URI Latin America and the Caribbean 

--

Thank you deeply. May our citizens live into our founding values and keep the promise of democracy alive. I believe we will... But not without effort... And prayers.

Sally Mahé

URI Director of Global Programs and Organizational Development

The Weekly Shot: Traveling Peace Academy

Mon, 11/07/2016 - 9:28am

The URI Traveling Peace Academy (TPA) gathers interfaith peacebuilders together for training, skill building, discussion, study, and networking, so that they can work more effectively in their communities around the world. The 2016 TPA took place in India and gathered together an impressive group from URI Cooperation Circles worldwide to learn and grow from their time together. 

Learn more about the Traveling Peace Academy 2016 here. 

URI MENA Raises Breast Cancer Awareness

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 4:48pm

On the occasion of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), the URI Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region Women's Initiative program, in partnership with Dr. Naela Clinic and in cooperation with Al Hussein Cancer Foundation and Breast Cancer Awareness Program, organized an open day for Breast Cancer Awareness.

The event started by reciting prayers from different religious traditions selected to fit the event. It included awareness lectures, stories of breast cancer survivors, and free physical examination. At the end, a lucky woman even won an insurance voucher for breast cancer treatment provided by the clinic. 

In love and peace,

Dr. Naela Doghmi

Co-coordinator of the WIN MENA (Women's Interfaith Network) CC


This event enabled refugee women from Syria and Iraq to learn this important information about breast examination. The examiner found something suspicious on one of the women and had her do a mammogram and is now waiting for the biopsy result. So this event potentially saved a life with early diagnosis.

Elana Rozenman

Global Trustee Multiregion URI -- United Religions Initiative








Traveling Peace Academy 2016

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 1:46pm

Alice with members of Galle CC

Sri Lanka is great. Why? Life is all about the people, fundamentally, wherever we go, right? And I've met some wonderful people... Ravi Kandage, URI Global Council Assistant Treasurer, who showed me around; a Buddhist monk who is clear on the power of his beliefs; a joyful Hindu woman who is committed to doing service work like collecting and delivering relief to landslide survivors; a Muslim man who welcomed us into his home for refreshment and conversation; and an older couple who seemed to want nothing more than to share time and hospitality with me.

Plus, there are religious shrines to look at all over the place; big, small, garish, simple; you name it. Fascinating. And the ocean is right there, next to the city. In the cool of the evening, a park area alongside the beach in Colombo fills with hundreds of people, mostly kids, who come out to fly kites of all shapes and sizes -- some even with lights on them. It recently was a grassy park, but now for some reason it's just dirt. There is lots of construction in Colombo. There were some big, fancy office buildings and apartments. There are lots of colorful (I noted lots of pink) one- or two-story buildings.

A 30-year war here ended just five years ago. I asked my friend, who lives in Colombo, what it was like when the war was happening. He said bombs would occasionally go off in different places around the city, but it didn't keep people (including himself) from going out. He just hoped to avoid the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm pretty there was more to his experience of the war than that. Another friend from Sri Lanka has told me about friends of his dying in the war.

Back to my visit. You should see how the tuc-tucs drive. If there is a half a nanosecond of opening between two other vehicles, regardless of how big they are, a tuc-tuc driver will nose in there, creating his (always male drivers) own space, confident the oncoming line of vehicles will slow down to avoid him. Tuc-tucs thread their way around both sides of other vehicles, including going into oncoming traffic lanes, making motorcycles in traffic on California freeways look like minor annoyances. And there is lots of honking of horns -- but even more in India, it seems, where basically every car beeps at each vehicle or bicycle it passes.

Ravi picked me up at 7 a.m. and drove me to Galle, which was maybe 90 minutes away. Outside the city there was lots of greenery, which was restful after the chaos of the city. We had a meeting with about eight members of a URI Cooperation Circle there. We were seated around a big, rectangular table in an air-conditioned room of a Catholic facility. The group consisted of a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk, a Muslim man, a Hindu man, and a couple of women, I'm not sure of what religion. The priest translated others' comments as they went around the table and spoke a bit about their work with the Cooperation Circle. It seemed to me that everyone spoke with conviction. There was good energy in the room. We were served tea and (multi-colored!) cake.

Here are some notes & quotes from the CC members' sharing:

 "We're not perfect. Humans never are."

 Sometimes "...even the police couldn't help, but we could solve problems in the community."

"Unless we accept and respect, we can not live together."

"Just as there are many roads to get from here to Colombo, we are different but we all respect each other."

They held many trainings at first. Now they do many programs with a focus of building bridges, not walls.

When something happens to someone of one religion, the others respond with support. "In this way, we live in peace, not in pieces."

The government is taking note; URI is leading the way in some areas. "We become enriched by sharing. It increases our awareness."

When the Hindu man spoke, the Catholic priest who was translating said, "We do not agree with him, but we respect him." Opinions differ even within the group. "We have to respect that."

The government fully supports their reconciliation efforts. They provide the main, and oldest, forum for conflict transformation in Galle. "When we are together there is big strength there." 

An example of their work is that on public buses the front seats are reserved for clergy leaders. Muslim and Hindi leaders are difficult for others to recognize. So the Cooperation Circle made and distributed pamphlets explaining that, which helped them have their rightful places on the buses. Also, Cooperation Circle members have planted trees near different places of worship and schools and municipal buildings.

After that visit, one of the women in the group joined us and we went to visit a Buddhist monk at his temple, where we had lunch made by local women, who supply all the food for the monk. Next we went to the home of a Muslim, where we were offered cake and drinks. We had nice, brief conversations in both places. Ravi translated everything.

I realize that when a person translates for me, it gives me an opening for a heart connection with them. They feel like an ally. I trust them more and sooner than I normally would. They are my link to nearly all discussion content with the people I am there to see. So it becomes easier to connect about all kinds of things, to laugh, etc. It's nice to have that experience.

I might add that yesterday I was privileged to hear a young Muslim woman tell me her story of life in her village, which has had terrible anti-Muslim violence in recent years.  She spoke of destructive and protective government actions, of police violence, of Muslim stores being marked and the proprietors attacked. It reminded me of Nazi Germany.  The perpetrators in this case are Buddhists. She has friends of all faiths. She spoke of her personal struggles as a devout Muslim to balance toeing the line behaviorally so her family isn't ostracized, yet also to move independently and unaccompanied (which women oughtn't do) in the community as a peace activist.  She talked about the impact of taking her mother and going to the funeral home when a Buddhist died, and the forgiveness/reconciliation involved. She is a great leader.

She said to me: "Every girl is strong inside. But they are closed. If we help them to open, then they can fly." 

I was so inspired by her!!

Read more from TPA 2016 here.

Traveling Peace Academy 2016 Reflections

Thu, 11/03/2016 - 1:13pm

TPA participants

The URI Traveling Peace Academy (TPA) gathers interfaith peacebuilders together for training, skill building, discussion, study, and networking, so that they can work more effectively in their communities around the world. The 2016 TPA took place in India and gathered together an impressive group from URI Cooperation Circles worldwide to learn and grow from their time together.

See a collection of news stories, in print, featuring work from the TPA, here.

"I said in one session of the recent TPA that excellent students make excellent teachers. The participants that we got for the 2016 TPA were a class in themselves -- ardent peace lovers and exemplary learners." 

- Dr. Abraham Karickam, URI South India Regional Coordinator 

TPA participants blessing the foundation stone for an Interfaith Centre at Meenpidippara, Kottarakkara. Learn more here.

 

Read a reflection from Raksha Kothari, yoga teacher for the TPA, here.   

 

The following is a personal reflection by Jane Abdul, a TPA participant from the Philippines:

16-21 SEPTEMBER, 2016

URI Project in the Moral Imagination Approach to Peacebuilding came into being because of the expressed needs of URI Cooperation Circles - leaders deeply involved in peacebuilding work. Inspired by the book, Moral Imagination, the Art and Soul Of Peace Building.

The Moral Imagination approach to building peace captured the enthusiasm of people dedicated to peacebuilding within URI because it reflected experiences of authentic peacebuilding activities; and, affirmed the value of this kind of effort for the entire URI global community. John Paul Lederach and Dr. Herm Weaver, educator and musician (respectively) served as the primary consultants.

Dr. Abraham Karickam, URI South India Regional Coordinator, shares a testimony of URI's powers of reconciliation. Learn more here.

The workshop was created to provide creative process that addresses the spiritual, physical and emotional aspects of participants. The activity met its overall objective: To create a week long reflection that sparks the imagination, encourages new understandings of self, place and work, and energizes participants to rise to a new level of who they are, what they can be, so that they can begin to hear their own voice more clearly and develop the courage to act on their own wisdom in the world in reference to their journey of building peace and constructive social change.

I really appreciate the methodology, the strategy and tools for conflict analysis, peer learning and co-mentoring sessions. Most of all the learnings on the importance of strategic networking to support our work focusing on creating a web as the beginning. 

Dr. Abraham Karickam sharing how peacebuilding is like a spiderweb

Learning about these people and their stories felt like discovering new things about myself.

I’m committed to continuing to be a peace builder/peace multiplier and share what I have learned from this training. 

At the URI Asia Peace Award panel

To the peace-loving people from around the world, my co-participants in the TPA training: 

I can never thank you enough but offer my fervent prayer: may Allah bless all of us with good health, happiness and prosperity in life. This is an experience of a lifetime. It was a life-changing moment that I shall treasure forever in my heart. No exact words can contain and describe how grateful am I for inviting me and bringing me to this exciting, wonderful, amazing, incredible land of Mahatma Gandhi, the offspring of great poets, philosophers and social thinkers which are among the sources of my daily inspirations. 

First order of the day was the Yoga session, which I consider and recommend as a very valuable tool in any peace training program to start the day. The steps were so simple - yet emerging oneself in the process is a process itself, a challenge. I guess, one of the most memorable is the mantras- chanting is still lingering my mind when I wake up every morning. The sounds still vibrate and penetrate deep in the mind. Getting focus helps me attain synchronicity of breathing and body movements and started enjoying the process all the way. It was just like a lullaby to mind. In every session, I felt the emerging of energy coming in during the process which made me ready for the day’s activity.

Subhi Dhupar, Regional Coordinator, India, North Zone, with Sally Mahé, Director of Global Programs and Organizational Development. Read Sally's reflections on TPA and friendship here.

Furthermore, I believe that when you learn to listen to your body and learn to consciously respond to it, it’s only then that you can start to tap into a place to find peace, harmony and joy. Our body is an amazing vessel for communication that constantly sending signals and fosters a mindset of positive change.

We took part in the silent Morning Walks, then Morning Pages where we spent time writing, tapping own awareness, listening to our inner voice and nature's sounds. Writing Morning Pages reconnected me back to myself during childhood days, the love of poems which never been revealed nor practiced and manifested the “makata, poet” within me sometimes during the course of the training. The well-spring of feelings, thoughts once in my childhood rose up.

The musical instruments and peace songs lead by Matthew Cobb enlivened the group and the rest of the cultural troupes that serenaded us on cultural nights and the movie escapade as well we’re all fascinating experiences.

TPA participants discussing peace, including Alice Swett, URI Associate Director of Global Programs for Network Development (seated in back in orange shirt), who wrote reflections on her TPA experience you can read here.

As implied in the name of the Traveling Peace Academy, we were always on the move. We experienced of the rhythm of the airwaves of the Arabian Sea, Bengal Gulf and Indian Ocean, the windy Thrivalluvar statue in Kanyakumari. Earlier, we had merged with nature as we joined the team in the inauguration of the Global Rights of the River and joined in a Peac

URI Europe Assembly in Belgium: A Story in Photos

Wed, 11/02/2016 - 2:52pm

Photo Report: United Religions Initiative Europe Assembly in Damme, Belgium

Cherishing the past building the future, co-creating our vision, and making URI Europe a strong actor for positive change.

We were guests at the Stiltehoeve (Silence Farm, vegetarian meals, partly grown in own garden!) of Cooperation Circle BZN. Here we had a short, three-day meeting with Cooperation Circles from all over Europe, to share experiences, new ideas and thoughts.

It was very intense, filled with knowledge and young fresh ideas and inspiration. We shared these through plenary group sessions, making posters, and various brainstorming techniques, bringing out all the input in a structured manner.

This was also a moment to explain again how URI Europe is organized, and to explain certain things. For example, currently there is a paid staff of three who are doing all the coordinating and communication jobs concerning the 36 operating Cooperation Circles and 16 starting Cooperation Circles in Europe. But also about the role of Patrick Hanjoul, who has fulfilled the last 13 years as chair for URI Europe, as well as the director of BZN, (Bond Zonder Naam, Movement Without a Name; everybody contributes without taking credit) a major partner in backing activities for URI Europe to happen.

But how do we envision and plan to continue? This was the main question for this meeting.

There was also a small visit to Brugge, a local city, and a musical talent show. It was again a great experience to meet people from countries from their own context, and being able to ask questions. Sadly, it was more or less the same story regarding disappearing jobs, secularization, violence relating to religion, and rising populism. Never the less we are grateful for this opportunity to put our heads together and create a vision for the future. Let’s see where it will take us!

URI IBS CC Editorial Team 2016

Below are a few photos. See many more photos of each day, with captions, here.

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