Activity: Structure and Needs

For this practice to succeed, it requires an organization willing to coordinate the different activities, recruit the volunteers, fund and organize the missions.

For example, a local non-profit can work with a network of diverse congregations to provide temporary emergency housing for families experiencing homelessness. The organization would also offer resources such as childcare, health care services, literacy programs, and job training. Congregations contribute to the work by providing space and offering resources and volunteers. Therefore, they become part of the conversation on solutions to larger social issues, such as the lack of affordable housing or living wage employment. Another activity would involve linking religious communities together with local authorities to work on regional projects. The leaders and communities would engage in solidarity projects for the common good, such as contacting local government authorities to better understand the needs for social and environmental sustainability, which would help develop a local territory and create a social link between citizens and different religious communities.

On the international level, this practice can take place in countries in need of humanitarian help. International youth volunteers of diverse religious backgrounds would join local ones to complete a given service project. The objective is to go beyond differences by acting for a common goal. In a local community one can engage in such an activity by empowering youth of different faiths. First, one should identify a social issue to work on, such as disabled people’s rights or child healthcare, then the youth are given the tools needed to solve these issues. To achieve such an activity, a partnership with a local or global NGO with expertise on the issue is necessary and helpful.

A further practice would involve religious communities mobilizing their leaders and believers to cook and prepare food together for the poor, on a weekly or monthly basis, before distributing the meals on the streets or in a community centre. People get mobilized for an entire day for the whole process, and they would participate in all steps of preparation and distribution.

Associations can also engage the youth to empower them as local leaders of their community, by working on different issues, such as women’s empowerment, children’s education, or public health. Young people are encouraged to initiate interfaith dialogue through community services and their actions are carried out depending on the specific needs of local communities.

An NGO can also encourage the interfaith youth to act for the common good. This activity would bring social cohesion between people of different faiths and the beneficiaries of the initiative. As an individual, one can propose an interfaith project to an existing NGO. The team leading the project would be composed of people from different religious backgrounds. The NGO would offer workshops on community organizing and social projects to train the youth in a framework of inclusivity and leadership in their communities.

This practice can also be conducted in both cities and rural areas to assist isolated communities and individuals. The group of volunteers conducting such an initiative must first send someone to obtain consent from the target individuals and make sure they are willing to greet a group of strangers in their homes. This activity must never be imposed on anyone. Once trust is built, the interfaith group can come and spend time with these people, pray with the person if they wish to do so and talk.

 

Objectives: Impact and Focus

This promising practice leverages connections to and between local congregations to provide comprehensive services to low-income families, remote and isolated communities, and individuals in need. It fosters a sense of community among and between the volunteers and targeted people, thus it establishes interfaith coexistence.

This initiative focuses on the non-existent relations between religious communities and on dialogue and common actions between different religious communities. It aims to improve relationships and interfaith dialogue between believers, to achieve active coexistence. This project targets divided and multicultural societies such as Lebanon, to help them to create social links between different religions. Diversity is used as a driving force to provide a positive social impact on society, instead of using diversity as a destroyer of social links.

Targeted groups are usually people in need of assistance and intercultural relations. The diversity in the volunteer’s faiths and beliefs bolsters them to go beyond their differences to assist individuals they do not know and the communities they live in. By engaging in interreligious dialogue they encourage active coexistence. Therefore, this practice empowers participants by showing them that they can act towards the common good with their skills, and create social links and peaceful coexistence between the participants and the beneficiaries of different faiths, which would tackle prejudice.

Social service is considered part of the duties of many believers, and food distribution reunites them around a common belief. Furthermore, it involves leaders and believers of different convictions, promotes giving back to the community, and emphasizes the equal responsibility all have for their communities. It pushes for the integration of marginalized communities and endorses a common effort to engage them as equals through a united stance from all religious communities, rather than one specific one. Therefore, the individuals benefiting from these visits find a lot of joy in sharing these moments with the volunteers offering their free time. It is a blessed chance for them during which they can interact, pray, and share their feelings and thoughts with others.

 

Field Data: Examples and Sources (Activity – Organisation – Location)

1.) Congregations Serve Low Income Neighbours through Housing and Resource Assistance – Family Promise of Las Vegas – Las Vegas, Nevada USA

Family Promise of Las Vegas began in 1996 as an affiliate of the U.S-wide Family Promise network, which includes 177 affiliates in 41 states, as well as the District of Columbia. Family Promise provides services such as assistance with transitional and permanent housing, childcare, and family mentoring, in addition to temporary shelter and meals. Family Promise of Las Vegas’ local Interfaith Hospitality Network consists of twenty-three congregations (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian Universalist) that are able to host up to five families for a week at a time, with ten additional supporting congregations that offer additional financial assistance and volunteers. Additionally, it offers resources with a more long-term focus, such as transitional housing, job training, health care services, child care, and literacy programs. Over 2,000 volunteers have been trained to offer services through Family Promise of Las Vegas.

 

2.) One Community – Adyan – Beirut, Lebanon

Adyan is leading an initiative in Lebanon titled the “One Community” program. Their goal is to create social cohesion and engage in a reconciliation process in a post-war context. They encourage religious communities to launch small projects to serve the whole community, the “One Community”. Adyan gives subventions to the communities that want to gather and engage in projects. The program takes place in 7 regions of Lebanon with 7 inter-communal projects. Cadmous School (catholic) and the Islamic Charity Society are, for instance, renovating a playground together to promote peaceful and positive interactions among youth.

 
3.) Interfaith Youth Service – Religious Youth Service – Tarrytown, New York USA

Religious Youth Service is led by the Universal Peace Federation. Since its creation there were more than 250 projects led in more than 70 countries. UPF uses its worldwide chapters to propose service projects to the international community. UPF is a network of interreligious peacemakers. They believe in the unity of the world community, in spite of all the differences. One service focused on helping to rebuild Nepal after the 2015 earthquake. During this project, more than 300 families were assisted. Other service projects include building a community center in Sri Lanka or planting trees in Australia.

 

4.) Interfaith Food Distribution to the Poor – Buddhist Community of Kuala Lumpur – Kula Lumpur, Malaysia

The Buddhist community of Kuala Lumpur organizes weekly food distributions to the poor in collaboration with the Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities. It also regularly organizes interfaith events such as choirs, sport games and dramas, to reinforce the sense of belonging to the same society despite differences.

 

5.) World Faith – End Religious Violence and Global Poverty with Interfaith Volunteering – Worldwide

World Faith is an international organization that uses a network of local chapters to apply its methods. Their goal is to highlight common values through service projects aimed at the development of divided communities. Chapters are created by locals who ask World Faith to assist them in the leadership of the group. The first chapter was created at New York University and is still active. New York has a very fertile ground for interreligious initiatives. Today World Faith has 16 local chapters worldwide. Here are two examples: In Lagos, Nigeria, World Faith is linked to a local association named Advocates for Youth and Health Development (AYHD). This association encourages the youth to build the Nigerian society by carrying out educational and humanitarian programs led by young people from diverse religions. In Poso, Indonesia, the institute MOSINTUWU focuses on four fields: education, debates about local issues, ecotourism programs and cultural programs for the community of Poso. Their members are mainly women and college students from different religions.

 
6.) House Visits and Prayers – Vidas Plenas – Guatemala City, Guatemala

In Guatemala, though the majority of the population is Christian, there are still misconceptions present between both Catholics and Protestants. Vidas Plenas organizes visits to elderly women living in the Lemonade Slum in Guatemala City in order to offer them company during their prayers. Since the people living in the slum are either Catholics or Protestants, this activity is rather ecumenical. Both branches of Christianity tend to perpetuate prejudice towards the other without investing the time in dialogue encounters. These House Visits go beyond differences to provide help and support to those in need regardless of their denomination.