Today's guest blogger is Benjamin Bechtolsheim, a Faiths Act Fellow hosted by The Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA).
Last week, hundreds of senior Nigerian faith leaders gathered in a crowded hotel conference room to launch Faiths United for Health - a cooperative effort between Muslim and Christian communities in Nigeria to combat malaria, a disease that kills over a quarter of a million people each year in that country alone. At the launch, the Sultan of Sokoto, the most powerful Islamic leader in Nigeria, and the Archbishop of Abuja, his counterpart among Christians, stood together as leaders of the project and partners in the ambitious and lifesaving work that the campaign will undertake.
Christian-Muslim collaboration of this scale is unprecedented. The Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA), an innovative new development agency, has pioneered this model of interfaith collaboration around public health issues. However, its lessons need not be left in Nigeria. Jean Duff, CIFA's Executive Director, made that clear: "The significance of Faiths United for Health goes well beyond better health and development in Nigeria. It showcases Nigeria's interfaith action as a model for interfaith collaboration in the global fight against poverty and disease."
Faith communities across the world also have an important role to pay. The Faiths Act Fellows - 30 young people devoting a year of their lives to building an interfaith coalition to advance the Millennium Development Goals - are bringing this message to communities in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
As a fellow, I run an interfaith youth group, drawing talented high school students of various faith backgrounds from throughout the Washington D.C.-metropolitan area. After just one meeting, many of the students went back to their faith communities and have begun to raise money and awareness about malaria. They have told their communities that we know how to eradicate malaria and that purchasing a $10 bed-net can protect an entire family.
This morning, I came into my office and had a message on my phone from Aseer, a Muslim student who is part of our youth program. He told me that in the short time since our last meeting he had worked with the youth group at his mosque to raise nearly $100 to purchase bed-nets through Malaria No More. Many of the other participants in our group are doing the same.
In addition to this high school program, I am working with CIFA, the ONE Campaign, and the Institute for Faith and Service to convene a working group meeting for a new project called DC Interfaith Response. Representatives from the non-profit, public and faith sectors will be meeting to discuss how faith communities in Washington D.C., by working together, can increase the impact of their collective efforts to combat global poverty. The project is based on the premise that has made Faiths United for Health such a success in Nigeria - that faith communities working together can accomplish incredible things.
Whether it is the Sultan of Sukoto, the Archbishop of Abuja, or Aseer, a Muslim high school student in Washington D.C., people are recognizing the power of interfaith work as a vehicle for repairing and healing the world.
The content of this blog reflects the views of its author and does not necessarily reflect the views of either Eboo Patel or the Interfaith Youth Core.
December 15, 2009; 10:53 AM ET
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