Doctrine divides, Action unites


  January 2014

Interfaith Youth Peace Seminar Organized in Bangladesh

Bruce Van Voorhis

Participants of the Interfaith Youth Peace Seminar explain their
newspaper of the future depicting life in Bangladesh and the
world in December 2023 with stories that mimic their vision for
justice, peace and the use of non-violence to settle conflicts.
(Photo by Subarna Poli Drong)

Every year Shanti Mitra, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Mymensingh on the banks of the Brahmaputra River north of Dhaka, hosts the Interfaith Youth Peace Seminar in Bangladesh. As the name of the program implies, it brings together youth—college and university students—from different faith and ethnic backgrounds from throughout the country. In 2013, the program was held from Dec. 5 to 8 with 60 participants. Based on the belief that youth are change-makers who can free society from conflict, violence and social injustice, the seminar offers a space for youth to learn what is justice and peace through creative processes and to develop their own vision of a new and peaceful world. This program is a reflection of the dream of Shanti Mitra, which was formed in 2007, to build a peaceful society for all people in which cooperation replaces conflict and disharmony.

The primary resource people for this interfaith activity were from Shanti Mitra with other organizations—the environmental group Mati, the Taize Brothers and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)—also conducting sessions. During the program, music, games and films were utilized to inspire the thinking of the participants. For instance, after listening to John Lennon’s song “Imagine,” the participants were instructed to sketch in their mind their own vision for society and the world and to produce a newspaper of the future with stories of events that would reflect this vision in 10 years.

During the seminar, the participants were also asked to ponder the difficult question: Which is most important for peace—justice, love, forgiveness or truth?

Other sessions of the program were devoted to an analysis of injustices in Bangladesh and a discussion of environmental issues. On the last day of the program, the participants were introduced to community organizing as a process to address social injustices and transform conflicts as well as various tools for transformation, such as music, mime and drama, creative writing and art, that can be used to educate others about issues and encourage them to take action to bring about social change.

At the conclusion of the program, many of the young participants shared that this program was their first exposure to these topics and that they are now motivated to non-violently work toward resolving the social injustices in their communities.

As one participant noted, “We may be different in religion and faith, but we can make a peaceful society together: it will be the world of our visions.”


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