Religious commitments and social change
Today's guest blogger is Hilary Keachie, a Faiths Act Fellow Alumna who spent the last year building interfaith cooperation and action towards the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals. With degrees in World Religions and Education, she is currently the Director of Children's Education at Christ Church Deer Park in Toronto, Canada.
A bright blue bed net. Not only is this a life-saving tool for malaria prevention, but on June 22nd 2010, in Riddell Hall at the University of Winnipeg, it became a symbol of commitment. Safety-pinned to the bed net were over one hundred multicolored sheets of paper, each with one specific, concrete action that Canadian youth would be taking, starting that very evening, to tackle social and environmental issues in their communities. Shannon committed to stop using disposable coffee cups and water bottles. Adam committed to riding his bike to work every day this summer. Nakisa committed to seeking diverse perspectives on local and global issues and sharing her insights with friends and family once a week.
On June 21st, over eighty senior religious leaders flew into Winnipeg, Canada from every corner of the world to create a joint statement encouraging and challenging the G8 and G20 political leadership to better address poverty, care for the environment and invest in peace. This was the sixth time that the world's religious leaders met and the sixth statement issued, but the first time ever that youth were given a seat at the table.
I, along with the other Canadian Faiths Act Fellows, coordinated the 13 person youth delegation to the Summit which included actively participating and offering recommendations at each session and a 90-minute youth panel on the closing morning. Early on, however, we recognized that having just a few youth delegates would not accurately represent the diverse Canadian youth voice. We decided to host a multi-faith youth mini-summit to open the discussion to the wider community. Over 100 youth, representing a myriad of faith traditions and non-religious groups, engaged in hours of intense discussion and brainstorming on the three foci of the Summit: poverty, the environment and peace. But it wasn't all talk. The culmination of the evening was challenging each young person to put these ideas into action by committing to one concrete change in their lives. Despite their diverse backgrounds, each of these youth were committed to making real changes for the sake of their communities, and the world.
One of the most powerful moments of the summit was standing up in front of global religious leaders the following morning, the blue bed net saturated with "I commit" statements hanging beside me, and urging them to take action with us. Using the examples of the youth as inspiration, we challenged them to make their own commitments, and plan to follow-up with them on their progress throughout the coming year.
Probably the most significant part of this whole experience came after the summit ended. Already in the few weeks since our gathering, I have received numerous emails from both youth and religious leaders informing me about how they are living up to their commitments. Alisha in Winnipeg is working hard to put on a big multi-faith concert to raise awareness and money to address poverty in her city. Martin, one of the German delegates, is connecting with different councils around Europe to ensure that next year's Religious Leaders' Summit, to be held in France, will also include active youth participation. In 2012, the world's faith leaders will meet in the United States - what will the youth presence look like there? Anything is possible.
In the end, the Summit was more than just dialogue, or creating a symbolic visual. These are real commitments and they will lead to real change.
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.
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