KAICIID’s 2020 Fellows Graduate in Lisbon

25 February 2022

Members of the 2020 KAICIID Fellows Programme have celebrated their graduation at a ceremony in Lisbon.  

Formally marking the end of the training and development programme, which lasted two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event in Portugal saw Fellows from around the world reunite to reflect on what they had learnt and achieved.

The graduation ceremony featured a welcome message from KAICIID Interim Deputy Secretary General Elham Alshejni, and a keynote speech by High Commissioner for Migration in Portugal, Ms. Sonia Pereira.

“Through education, capacity building, training and many other opportunities for innovation and creativity, KAICIID empowers the Fellows as powerful agents for social change, equipping them to address challenges both locally and regionally,” Alshejni said in her welcome message.

"What better place to have this ceremony than Lisbon, a city that for many centuries has witnessed, and is built upon the ongoing meeting and exchanges between cultures and religions and is also a strategic standpoint to promote dialogue between Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas,” Pereira said. 

Elham Alshejni, KAICIID IDSG, Sonia Pereira, Portugal's High Commissioner for Migration and Kyfork Aghobjian, KAICIID Fellows Senior Project Manager. Photo: Nuno Patrício

Prior to the ceremony, the 2020 Fellows underwent a final round of training focused on evaluation and sustainability, and visited three religious sites in the Portuguese capital: São Domingos Church, Saint Paul’s Cathedral and the Central Mosque of Lisbon.

KAICIID Fellows and Father Peter Stillwell at São Domingos’ Church in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Nuno Patrício.

Promoting interreligious dialogue

The Fellows Programme aims to give its participants the tools, experience, networking opportunities, and knowledge to design and promote interreligious dialogue projects in their home countries, as well as train their own students to become facilitators of peace and leaders in interfaith collaboration.

The programme also endeavors to establish a sustainable and enduring global network of individuals from different faith traditions and cultural backgrounds, especially in areas where sectarian tensions are high and the threat of conflict is constant.

Reflecting on what he had learnt during the 2020 programme, Muhamad Menya Balonde, a KAICIID Fellow and interfaith practitioner from Uganda, said: “To love other faiths is a must in all religious scriptures, but to hate someone because of a difference in belief is an individual choice.”

Interfaith and intercultural training

The 2020 Fellows Programme was composed of three cohorts — ‘Africa’, ‘South and Southeast Asia (SSEA)’, and ‘International’ — and featured 61 participants, including religious leaders, educators, and dialogue practitioners. The group represent six different religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Bahai, and Islam.

Throughout the year, each cohort attended numerous online classes and virtual courses, along with a residential training session geared towards interfaith and intercultural dialogue. The Africa cohort, the SSEA cohort, and the International cohort met in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Colombo (Sri Lanka), and Vienna (Austria) respectively.

Among the latter group was Nancy Cecilia Falcon. “During the KAICIID Fellows Programme, I learned that despite our differences, we can still work together to achieve peace,” said Falcon, who hails from Argentina.

Jonas Shalom, also from Argentina, shares his countrywoman’s enthusiasm. “The Fellows Programme not only trains on a deep level of interreligious dialogue, but also inspires us to build new and creative projects,” he said. 

Fostering peace at a grassroots level

A key element of KAICIID’s dialogue training is the funding provided to participants so they can implement grassroots initiatives in their home communities.

Collectively, the 2020 Fellows designed and introduced 61 different projects, including dialogue training sessions, conferences, lectures, and field visits. Several pieces of educational material were also produced, including artwork, written publications, and documentaries.

More than four fifths of the initiatives worked directly to promote interreligious dialogue, with 23 targeting intra-religious dialogue, 36 focusing on interfaith education and freedom of religion and belief, and 17 dedicated interreligious research.

The grassroots projects directly addressed problems facing over 13,000 people, and indirectly targeted more than 100,000 individuals in 31 countries. All of them raised awareness on the importance of interreligious and intercultural cooperation in addressing local, regional, and global issues.

All of this was achieved despite the huge challenges presented by the pandemic. Navigating a host of COVID-19-related obstacles, the Fellows were able to execute their plans safely and securely, inspiring local communities and championing peaceful coexistence through the lens of dialogue.

“The 2020 Fellows will enter the history of the KAICIID Fellows Programme as one of the most resilient, hopeful, determined, and creative cohorts,” said Kyfork Aghobjian, KAICIID Fellows Senior Project Manager. “Their constant engagement with the programme over the last 26 months reaffirmed the notion of when there is a will, there is a way,” he added.

KAICIID Fellows at the Central Mosque of Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Nuno Patrício.

KAICIID’s Alumni Network

Having graduated from the programme, the 2020 Fellows will now join the Alumni Network. There, they will continue learning and collaborating with one another, as well as continuing their grassroots work with small scale initiatives that promote dialogue in a local context.

“After two years, the 2020 Fellows are finally graduating, and we are thrilled to welcome them in the Fellows Alumni community,” said Sneha Roy, KAICIID Fellows Project Manager. “We value their individual capacities, collaborations, and friendships. and look forward to walking the path together in further understanding and engaging with interreligious dialogue.”

A fitting location

Lisbon was a fitting location for the graduation ceremony as the city will soon be KAICIID’s new home. In October, it was announced that the Centre would relocate from its current base in Vienna, Austria to the Portuguese capital. The move will take place later this year.

“I am particularly pleased that we could hold this ceremony in the Portuguese Republic, a country historically considered a beacon of multiculturalism, in our new host city, the beautiful and welcoming Lisbon. In 2022, KAICIID will host two additional Fellows graduation ceremonies in Lisbon, celebrating the accomplishments of the 2021 International, European, and Latin-American Fellows Cohorts,” said Alshejni.