What happens when you bring together 170 young people, each in their own part of the world, representing 65 countries and 17 religious/philosophical traditions, for a 3-hour virtual Forum under the theme of #SolidarityinAction? Inspiration. Friendships. Hope. and Action.
This was part of the experiences of URI youth who participated in the 5th ACWAY Virtual Youth Forum on the 25th February 2021.
ACWAY is a youth-led and youth-driven movement of over 180 young people aged 18-40, from various faiths, religions and backgrounds, who organise interfaith and intercultural activities to promote peace and understanding between faiths and communities. (Learn more about ACWAY here.)
URI was proud to be a partner organisation for this event, along with other partners such as The Stirling Foundation, We the World, The G20 Interfaith Forum, GenLab, and the Parliament of the World's Religions.
The aim of the Virtual Forum was to provide a platform for young people to share ideas, experiences and opportunities to engage in promoting peace, understanding, and solidarity among different communities.
Through interactive breakout sessions, participants discussed tools and techniques on how to build and sustain interfaith and intercultural engagement in local communities, and addressed key issues to put forward as policy recommendations to be presented to the G20 Interfaith Forum.
URI was tasked with hosting one of the breakout sessions, where Sarah Oliver and Tahil Sharma led a discussion on lessons learnt and sharing of experiences when it comes to implementing an interfaith project.
Greshma Raju, a forumer URI Youth Ambassador and current Earth Charter Young leader, shared her current vision of starting eco-peace clubs, inspiring young people to learn more and connect more with the environment around them. She highlighted the importance of having a clear vision and setting clear goals, as crucial starting points for a project.
As we know, implementing a project in our current COVID-19 reality, brings a whole new set of challenges. Grace Chilongo, from Wildlife and Natural Resources Conservations and Rehabilitation Trust CC in Malawi, shared her story of how during the pandemic with the schools being closed, many young people were left without anything to do and were at risk of falling into negative social activities. Grace decided to make short inspirational videos, which she would send to girls in her community, encouraging them to become financially independent by starting home gardens and other entrepreneurial activities.
Both Greshma and Grace’s stories left an impact on all who were there. Agustina Herrera, shared the inspiration it gave her:
“I was amazed with the testimonies and about the similar dreams and ideas all the participants had. It is a good sign since we are all trying to work together for the same cause and future. I left the forum with 5 projects in mind and new people to work with.” - Agustina Herrera, Argentina
The Forum was also a space of reuniting friendships and making connections across the interfaith movement.
“I think the hope that it brought to me was seeing my friends again in this time where hope is rare.” - Elias Gonzalez, Mexico - Fraternidad Interspiritual CC
Greshma also offered her own reflection of the event:
“I loved the energy of the young people who participated in the forum. As we all know, we are experiencing lots of political challenges across the globe but it is inspiring that youth are peacefully taking action and giving voice to the voiceless.” - Greshma Raju, India
Ultimately an experience like this, albeit virtual, allows for the diversity of our world to be present. Vasu Bandu, from Fraternidad Interspiritual CC shared this view:
“What I liked the most was the diversity of expressions, identities and life experiences of each of the young people. I learned from each of their experiences.” - Vasu Bandu, Mexico/USA
Finally, Grace shared her reflection of the event:
“It was great to see people from different backgrounds coming together with one voice. From the different presenters, I have learnt that solidarity is horizontal, it respects the others regardless of who they are, where they are coming from, or their religion and learns from others as well. Through actions that are governed by unity and peace, even weak people in our communities can become strong. I am the agent of that change” - Grace Chilongo, Malawi
As URI we are grateful that so many young people from the network were able to experience this Forum. Thank you ACWAY for hosting this special event!