Together, Interreligious Youth Take Actions To Change The World

At a recent seminar for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) in Bangkok, Thailand, I learned about Maningning Creek, a very polluted waterway in the Philippine town of Taytay. There was little hope for reviving the creek until a group of young leaders took action and launched an innovative environmental initiative.They sparked a massive community effort undertaken by neighborhood churches, schools, public institutions, and businesses which pooled their resources and volunteer efforts to clean the creek. The success of that initiative inspired youth from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam to rehabilitate polluted creeks and rivers in their own communities through a transnational initiative called “Streams of Hope” which has now been implemented in at least 22 communities in five Southeast Asian countries.

One of the linchpins to the success of “Streams of Hope” was the vital role played by religious communities. Their involvement is just one example of religiously diverse young people across Southeast Asia coming together to promote environmental sustainability, economic development, educational opportunities, and civic engagement. This spirit of activism is also evident in the efforts of youth in virtually every region of the world, who are at the forefront of projects in their communities, and often inspired by their religious and secular values to address global challenges through interreligious action. They serve as champions of pluralism, religious diversity, and human rights. 

Young leaders in Pakistan organized an Art for Peace event to create opportunities for children to express the values of peace, understanding, and respect through the arts in partnership with St. Mary School, Holy Child Association, Master Ayub's School, Pakistan Hindu Council, Baha’i Center and Pakistan Sweet Homes. Participants from Hindu, Baha’i, Muslim, Christian and different ethnic backgrounds painted "Peace Messages" for the world. [Photo Courtesy of Pak-U.S. Alumni Network]

These values are also at the heart of a new initiative called DIYA, or the Days of Interreligious Youth Action -- a project of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs, facilitated in cooperation with the Alumni Affairs Office of the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. DIYA is a pilot program that seeks to highlight these youth-led civic initiatives and broaden their impacts.

Since its launch in April 2016, I have seen many inspiring examples of interreligious youth action by DIYA participants. Young leaders in Islamabad, Pakistan, have organized a DIYA Arts for Peace connecting members of the country’s Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Baha’i communities to share creative messages of peace. A group of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian young leaders from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, also joined forces to lead an interreligious DIYA Sports Gala aimed at teaching lessons in teamwork and sportsmanship to local children. To celebrate their community’s diversity and encourage unity, Muslim youth in Kampala, Uganda, hosted a series of interreligious iftar meals during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Another youth group in Uganda participating in DIYA organized a job skills workshop to teach economically disadvantaged women how to make soap and mats to help provide financial stability.

Religiously diverse members of the Critical Xchange youth network discussed interreligious action project ideas during a DIYA training workshop in Singapore. [Photo courtesy of Usra Ghazi]

Through DIYA, I have spoken with alumni and youth leaders in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Islamabad, Kampala, and Khartoum about the ways that intra- and interreligious action can take shape in their communities. I have also learned about the impactful action projects young interreligious leaders are envisioning to effect positive change in their communities.

Secretary Kerry’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs applauds young people -- whether a part of DIYA or other efforts -- who boldly endeavor to partner with their peers from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds and strengthen their relationships while addressing community needs. It is through this type of continued engagement and partnership that relationships and understanding develop. 

About the Author: Usra Ghazi is a Franklin Fellow and Youth Advisor in the Secretary 's Office of Religion and Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

For more information:

  • Use the hashtag #DIYA to learn more about this initiative on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Learn more about the “Streams of Hope” initiative and share your interreligious youth action stories on the Office of Religion and Global Affairs' Facebook page.
Participants of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Alumni Thematic International Exchange (TIES) Seminar in Bangkok, Thailand visited the Wat Paknam Buddhist temple. [Photo courtesy of YSEALI]
Posted by Usra Ghazi
August 25, 2016

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