An Interview with Justine Auma: Embracing the Power of Dialogue Through Her KAICIID Fellow's Journey
The International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) is excited to announce the premiere of the first documentary in a series highlighting the inspiring stories of KAICIID Fellows, set to launch on Tuesday, March 28. This documentary series seeks to shed light on the vital role that inter-religious dialogue plays in addressing local, regional, and global challenges while fostering social cohesion and unity.
Interested people can watch live on KAICIID's YouTube the launch of the documentary and a Q&A session with Justine Auma, Documentary Producer Yves Briceño, and KAICIID's Fellows Senior Programme Manager Kyfork Aghobjian.
In the debut film, "Justine: A KAICIID Fellow's Journey", viewers will be offered an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the KAICIID Fellows Programme through the experience of one of its remarkable participants, Justine Auma from Uganda.
The documentary follows Justine's transformative journey as she undergoes training in Nepal and Portugal, immersing herself in the Fellows Programme and applying the invaluable knowledge acquired to her initiatives, including her volunteer work at St. Austin's Roman Catholic parish in Mbale, Uganda. The KAICIID Fellows Programme encompasses three residential trainings, monthly online sessions, the development and implementation of interreligious dialogue projects, and culminates in joining the Fellows Alumni Network upon completion.
In an insightful interview with KAICIID, Justine delves into the profound personal, professional, and societal growth that stems from engaging in the Fellows Programme, highlighting the critical role that interreligious dialogue can play in addressing local challenges and fostering understanding.
Tell us about what led you to become interested in interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding.
I was involved in religious clubs during high school. This brought me close to students of other faiths. After high school, I enrolled in religious studies.
I experienced a lot of good things, but during my early years of work, I witnessed a lot of indirect or direct discrimination with respect to religion, ethnicity, and gender. I developed a deep conviction to try and bring people of different faiths and cultures together through dialogue and peacebuilding.
How did you come to apply for the KAICIID Fellows Programme?
I learned about the Programme from another KAICIID Fellow. I was inspired by the rich information, stories, and testimonies he and other fellows on social media shared.
How did your experiences in Nepal, Portugal, and Uganda shape your understanding of interreligious dialogue and its potential to address local challenges?
My experience in the three countries changed my whole perspective on dialogue. From visiting a Buddhist temple in Nepal and the dialogue trek in Nagarkot to seeing multiple religious sites in Portugal where different faith actors acknowledge each other with respect, I developed a deeper understanding of what dialogue is in a local context. Seeing religious leaders in each place working together in the community was an indicator that dialogue is possible, directly from the grassroots.
Also, the dialogue sessions where we would share about a specific topic touched me in a special way. In these sessions, I experienced what it means to create a safe space for people to express themselves without fear. Experiencing dialogue sessions firsthand, I can say that I am a far better facilitator of dialogue than I was before the training.
What initiative have you implemented in Uganda and how it has impacted your community?
My initiative was entitled, “Interfaith response to the negative effects of COVID-19 in local communities.” COVID-19 had a devastating socio-economic impact, with people experiencing things like loss of livelihoods, loss of loved ones, school dropouts, and teenage pregnancies.
The initiative involved a one-day training of selected religious leaders from different faiths. They shared ideas on how they can work together within the existing structures and resources to mitigate the pandemic’s negative impacts.
Six months after implementation, we have seen how the interfaith task forces are vigilant in identifying challenges in families and conducting dialogue in affected localities. We have facilitated six community dialogues to discuss different issues like sanitation, gender-based violence, and environmental degradation.
Tell us more about your work using the arts to promote dialogue, tolerance, and peace among children and youth at St. Austin's Roman Catholic parish in Mbale.
Youth are attracted to music and drama. That prompted me to introduce music and drama as a way of preaching peace and tolerance among them. I write songs about different prevailing issues, the young people learn them, and then we record them. The young people then present these songs in gatherings to talk about peace.
It started with the youth from St. Austin’s parish but now we invite youth from other faiths, including Muslims. We are now encouraging the youth to write their own songs, poems, plays, and short stories about peace.
2024 KAICIID Fellows’ applications are now open. What advice would you give to individuals considering whether to apply?
Apply! Above all, one becomes a part of a great network of interreligious practitioners and peacebuilders. I am now part of a big family that is geared toward the promotion of peace and tolerance. To me, this is the greatest resource you can have.
How do you feel about sharing these experiences with audiences around the world?
I am very humbled and honored to share my story with a global audience. Initially, I had mixed feelings about it. But it occurred to me that this was an opportunity to showcase what fellows and other interreligious actors are doing. I pray I represent them well.
I also hope it will help people understand that we all have a role to play in promoting interreligious dialogue, peace, and tolerance in our societies in order to have a better world.
What lessons have you learned that you will carry forward in your work promoting interreligious dialogue and understanding?
Despite the troubles we see in society, there is a large force of people out there yearning for, and willing to promote peace. We only need to find these people and organize them to be able to dialogue.
All our differences can be put together to produce a beautiful collage of ideas and actions that together yield positive results in terms of fostering peace. We should learn to give everyone an equal opportunity to express themselves.
KAICIID is currently accepting applications for the 2024 Fellows Programme, featuring both an International and a Latin American cohort. The Latin American cohort will be implemented in collaboration with Religions for Peace – Latin America and the Caribbean.
The application period for the 2024 KAICIID Fellows Programme runs from March 13 to May 21, 2023. Interested applicants can review the requirements and criteria here and submit their applications here.