By Anjaana Bhairo
It’s amazing to think that it has already been a week since I met some of the most amazing people in New York City! I have so many memories from this trip that it is going to be hard to summarize all the experiences, feelings and lessons I learned during my three days in New York City. However, I hope that this travel journal can at least share a snippet of how impactful, exciting and transformative the trip has been for me.
Thinking back now, I have realized that I have so many memories from this trip that were both amusing and inspiring. My favorite memory was watching Rico, a participant from Las Vegas, eat Indian food for the first time. Another favorite of mine was observing Hassan, a participant from Tri-City Interfaith Council in the San Francisco area, experience snow for the first time. Both experiences reminded me of how each of us came from different walks of life, yet we all shared a similar vision and desire to achieve interfaith cooperation and acceptance.
While, Rico’s and Hassan’s experience definitely left an imprint on my memory, a moment that I will always remember and cherish was learning about what each participant had accomplished back at home. Not only was I amazed at all the great things everyone was doing, but also at how young each of us were, yet we were determined to make an impact. I especially enjoyed learning about what Rico was achieving with ‘Camp Anytown’ and its goal in encouraging acceptance amongst diversity through the confrontation of widely held stereotypes within our societies. In the same breath, I am also in awe of Jasper, a participant from Michigan representing the Euphrates Institute, and Hassan who have both actively engaged in creating spaces for interfaith interactions, within their high school communities -- despite managing both school work and college applications. Since interacting with these fellow URI youth leaders, I have realized that no matter your age, you can always make a difference, as long as you have passion and courage to challenge the status quo. Moving forward, I would like to take a leaf from Rico’s book and attempt at using interfaith as a means of combatting stereotypes that exist in my community.
URI has enabled me to achieve one of my biggest goals yet - visiting the United Nations. Not only did this trip enable me to visit the UN but it also enabled me to attend various conferences such as the UNICEF-KAICIID event that explored the use of Social Media as a space of “Constructive Encounter for Young People.” However, this was not the best part of my experience at the UN: meeting the United Nations URI representatives changed my perspective on the role that interfaith can play in solving global issues. Debbra Gill, one of URI’s UN representatives, explained to me that interfaith organizations, such as URI, have the ability to lobby for certain circumstances and affairs, that can ultimately determine certain struggles as urgent matters within the United Nations. As an International Relations major, this new piece of information has opened my eyes to an entirely new method through which nations can interact with each other to achieve peace and prosperity. Since my interaction with Debbra, I now find myself examining my international relations classes through an ‘interfaith’ perspective, which I had never before considered. For future purposes, I hope to utilize this perspective in my international relations classes, work as well as potential projects that I will engage in within my community.
"The purpose of URI is 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."
Since my trip to New York City I have realized how important Cooperation Circles are for URI and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to engage with members from other URI Cooperation Circles. Interacting with these members not only left me with a sense of hope for global peace and prosperity, but also assisted me in solving an issue that I was facing with my Cooperation Circle. For some time, my CC, the Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester, has struggled with succession as many of its students have graduated, making it difficult to continue with existing interfaith projects and programs. However, the members from other Cooperation Circles provided much-needed advice and assisted me in outlining potential succession plans, which my Cooperation Circle seeks to implement in the near future. Now that the Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester has realized how beneficial and valuable the URI Cooperation Circles are, we plan on interacting and engaging with them much more in the future.
At the beginning of my post, I mentioned that it would be difficult to summarize my URI experience in New York City. While this is very much true, if I were to summarize my experience in one sentence I would say ‘the discovery of a new family.’ Since meeting members such as Rico, Jasper, Amy (URI's UN Intern), Ellie (from the Golden Rule Project) and Hassan, I have realized that interfaith does not need to end with just my Cooperation Circle. In fact, since this trip, my Cooperation Circle and I have been thinking of planning World Interfaith Harmony Week and International Day of Peace, with other Cooperation Circles across the country. We hope that by joining forces with other circles within our ‘family’ we will make an even bigger impact during these celebrations in the future.