International interfaith youth project, Gujarat: Village temple & mosque build
From 22nd December 2001 to 7th January 2002, thirteen young adults from Gujarat — nine from other Indian states and ten from Canada, Hungary, Japan, South Africa, UK, and the USA — took part in an international interfaith project in Gujarat, India. They helped to restore a mosque in a Muslim village, and to build a temple in a Hindu village. The original temple had been totally destroyed and the mosque partially damaged in the massive earthquake that hit the area on 26th January 2001.
Background: The project was arranged by our South Asian Coordinating Council (SACC), and supported by the IARF Secretariat. We wanted to show solidarity with the people who had been affected by the earthquake in Gujarat. Our additional concern in choosing Gujarat, was awareness of incidents of religious intolerance which needed to be addressed indirectly through a cooperative, publicly visible endeavour.
Aim: Bring an international group of young adults together in a situation requiring solidarity, to promote interfaith cooperation & an awareness of different cultural traditions, and to provide an opportunity to reflect on issues of religious freedom.[nggallery id=3]
Brief report by participant Xolisa Dingane (PDF, 3 pages)
It was not possible to convey all the different experiences of the young people and the entire programme in detail, but the comments below give a glimpse of some of the more positive aspects of the project:
Aruna, India – There is unity in spite of our diversity. I have enjoyed the people from the four corners of the world coming together to achieve certain goals.
Amit, India – I enjoyed working with the group of young adults with the help of the local village people. These people are from different religions and it is good to see that.
Nangroi, India – I learned the importance of team work and cooperation.
River, Canada – We moved sand, painted and destroyed a wall. The falling of that wall was symbolic of the religious barriers that were collapsing. All of us on our knees worshipping in the mosque is a memory I will cherish. Then there was the tiring work at the temple. The sun burned hot beating down on all of us and weakening our backs but our resolve was strong. We poured concrete, moved dirt and built the foundations. At the same time as we were building foundations of interfaith tolerance.
I was proud of us when we were working, giving ourselves in the true meaning of shramadan (“shramadan” means “the gift of labour”) Recollecting the last evening together, River noted, I have only felt that type of unity and happiness once and that was never in the midst of so many differences.
Nora, Hungary -When we were working in the Muslim village, we experienced the Friday prayer. We were not part of it, since we stayed downstairs, but it was a very special feeling for me, because in that very moment I really had the feeling that we had done something useful. We stopped working, and were listening to what the Imam was saying (some of us did not understand a word, of course). However, we were part of their life and they became part of my life at that very hour.
I have very much enjoyed learning about each other’s faith and cultural traditions. I have experienced the power of human beings, the power in the diversity and similarity.
Nana, Japan – I enjoyed working with the village people. I enjoyed the interfaith group work. We could talk about some of the problems of religious intolerance.
Xolisa, South Africa – I really enjoyed the interaction between the locals and us (internationals); all of us at the project were so close that it was hard leaving each other on our last day. The work we did was probably the greatest thing I have ever done to contribute to one community, and hope I could do the same for my community as well.
Rebekah, UK – It seems to me that shared physical labour of the most simple, enduring kind is part of the humble spirit that helps break down barriers of culture and religion and that, particularly in a situation where communication cannot be perfect in the linguistic sense, such physical acts of communal spirit can speak volumes. We were told by the Muslim villagers, that we were the first of numerous groups who came looking round the village after the earthquake, who had stopped to help as well as to question. Overall, I have never been on a project that left me feeling so positive and so connected to my fellow team mates. Though there were some difficulties of translation and some differences of opinion, this was a very successful project and IARF should definitely feel that part of its 7 year aim to create a network of young people committed to interfaith work, and to international relations is already being fulfilled. I feel full of hope for what we as young people can achieve in our future world.
Paula, USA – The physical work was very powerful for me, being able to give of my time and spirit are things that I value..Learning about different religions was also very moving. I believe that religions, faiths, or just ways of being are really interesting to know about because you learn what motivates people, what keeps them strong, and what their answers to the big questions are. The things I will remember for the rest of my life were the small things during the trip. I loved the bus rides, talking and singing with everyone. I loved the spontaneous dancing that would sometimes happen. I loved that at every meal we would pray together. I loved the conversations I had with the other participants, that weren’t planned. I loved all the laughing that we did as a group and how close I felt I came to everyone. The part that changed my life were the people I met. They are what made the trip so absolutely amazing to me. The work we did was very powerful, but the friends I made, I will have for life.