It encouraged me to come out of my shell,” says Saurav Kumar, a Class 11 student of Apeejay School, Pitampura, one of the 12- to 17-year-olds of different faiths and cultures in 550 schools across 17 countries engaging in inter-faith dialogue under an international programme.
“Every person we communicated with had something common (with us),” says Kumar. The students interact with their counterparts in other countries via video-conferencing as part of the Face to Faith initiative formally started by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, London, in 2009. Through cyber space and their own schools and communities, the students in the countries as far and wide as Britain, the United States, Jordan, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia reach out to each other, learning more about major world religions.
As part of Face to Faith, they have delved into the definition of faith, words that they can associate with faith and explored the technical aspects of faith. As Kumar and his fellow student Lakshi Bhatia talked about their continuing learning process about “religion and faith”, they declared that they “learnt to accept everybody with their own perceptions… accepting others for who they are.”
They duo were among children from 15 Delhi/NCR schools taking part in a three-day conference where inter-faith and faith leaders were asked to speak on two key questions: How does your faith/belief inspire you to make a positive difference in the world? And, how does your faith/belief help you find spirituality and peace in your life?
Students at Summerfields School, Kailash Colony, joined Face to faith this year, starting with a talk on co-existence by Razia Sultan Ismail Abbasi of the Global Network of Religion for Children and founder-convenor, India Alliance for Child Rights. “Can you guess her religion?” asked Aditya Bhandari, a Class 11 student attending the conference. “Muslim,” one replied reluctantly thinking that the answer was probably incorrect. “No, she is Christian (married to a Muslim),” said Mehak Sukhramani, his classmate. So, they used that response to stress that, “We’ll not label people (going by external markers)”.
“We should first act and then show people what we are doing. That is, we should not just preach, but practise a non-discriminatory attitude,” says Bhandari.
“We organised a rally from our school and visited a gurdwara, a temple, a church, a Buddhist monastery and the Baha’i temple where five groups of students presented skits on unity in diversity,” adds Sukhramani.
The video-conferences bring to light the similarities as well as differences between various people.
Elizabeth K Philip’s students at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Sainik Vihar, have done six video-conferences with their peers in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. The US students were surprised that people in India could speak good English, she recalls. Also, “they thought India is a poor country. But my students were able disprove that by quoting Barack Obama who has said that the Chinese and Indians would take away Americans’ jobs.
“If I give the opportunity to my students, they can be better citizens of the world. They get exposed to different traditions, beliefs and faiths. I saw great change in my students. They felt they could raise an issue,” says Philip.
‘I learnt about festivals like Holi and diwali’
Alvira Rizki Rahmadina
From: Amalina Islamic Junior High, Tangerang Selatan, Indonesia
My association with Face to Faith started when I was in grade 6 of elementary school. Now, I’m in grade 7 of junior high. The experience of interacting with students from other countries, including India, has been amazing. I learnt about Indian culture and festivals such as Holi and Diwali. The Indian students brought colours and sweets such as gujiya to show us (through video conferencing) how these occasions are celebrated. They also narrated stories about why these festivals are celebrated, which were very interesting. We also exchanged information about our own culture, festivals such as Eid and how we greet each other. This was followed by a section in which we performed an Indonesian traditional dance for the students of Apeejay School, Saket. We asked them questions such as ‘What do you like most about growing up in your country’ and ‘What is your idea of having fun.’ Programmes like Face to Faith help in contributing towards our education and holistic development. My school implements this programme as part of our school curriculum and it is integrated with subjects such as English, religion, social studies and arts.
-As told to Gauri Kohli
We learnt to accept everybody with their own perceptions… accepting others for who they are - Aditya Bhandari, Class 11 student
We’ll not label people (judging them by their names for example) - Saurav Kumar, Class 11 student