When they first arrived, the 55 participants of the YES Alumni Interfaith Harmony Workshop (IHW) were friendly and excited. By the time they left, they were connected and determined on an entirely new level.
The IHW took place in Morocco from March 7-9, 2016, and included YES alumni from over 30 countries, local YES alumni, and Americans living in Morocco on the YES Abroad and National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) programs. The participants were selected based on their interest and experience in interfaith dialogue, as well as their enthusiasm for preparing future interfaith events in their home communities.
The event kicked off on the evening of March 6th with remarks from Matthew Lussenhop, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Morocco. As the participants enjoyed a welcome reception and Gnawa musical performance by local celebrity Farid Ghannam, their energy and enthusiasm was already palpable.
Photo: IHW Participants discuss interfaith dialogue in a small group.
March 7th was a full day of hard work for the IHW participants. It started with a panel discussion of local religious and interfaith leaders, and moved directly into intensive small group work to build interfaith dialogue skills. Participants were challenged to reflect on their own spiritual traditions and learn about others in activities led by YES alumni facilitators that were specially trained for the IHW. Lamia Lahrech (YES ’06, Algeria), Solayman Maso (YES ’09, Philippines, hosted by AYA in Lake Station, IN), Joseph Maicibi (YES ’12, Nigeria, hosted by Ayusa in Greeley, CO), and Atanas Peev (YES ’10, Bulgaria, host by PAX in Cedar Rapids, IA) worked together with YES staff from AMIDEAST and American Councils for two months to prepare as facilitators. Thanks to their hard work, one participant noted, “I am learning so much, not just about other religions, but also about my own religion and groups within my religion.”
For the second day at the IHW, the groups moved to the city of Fez, considered by many to be the “spiritual capital of Morocco.” After a lecture and discussion on Sufism, guides from a local university took groups around the city to learn about historical religious sites firsthand. Participants rejoined their YES alumni facilitators at dinner to reflect on their experiences in Fez and to discuss the various ways that faith traditions can be a source of inclusion and peace around the world. Ahmed Nasri (YES ‘13, Tunisia, hosted by AFS in Wayland, MA) noted, “I like that this workshop [because it] is very practical and not just theoretical.” Aminata Diallo (YES ’15, Mali, hosted by PAX in Chambersburg, PA) chimed in, “It is very rare for me to be as focused on a topic as I have been at this workshop!”
Photo: IHW participants from Tunisia, Morocco, Kosovo, Kuwait, Ghana, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal, Philippines, and USA tour the Madrassa Bouanania in Fez.
On March 9th, the IHW participants were tasked with another full day of small group work in Rabat. After finishing activities to strengthen their understanding of interfaith community-building, the small groups had a limited amount of time to develop concrete plans for interfaith events they can hold in their home communities. The workshop culminated in presentations about these potential projects, including creating social media platforms to educate communities about other faiths, creating interfaith youth groups, trivia events in high schools, and workshops at predetermined events like film festivals. It was a packed week, and one YES alumnus remarked, “I had a great time. It was really inspiring, and I’m so amazed that I had the chance to learn so many new things in such a short period of time.”
Photo: A small group at the IHW gives a presentation about an interfaith event that could be implemented in their home countires, which include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bahrain, Morocco, Ghana, Afghanistan, Jordan, and USA.
Throughout the IHW, all 55 participants were both challenged and supported. The diversity of the group created innumerable opportunities for growth and exchange, while the common bonds of the YES program drew everyone together.
And that support will be needed now more than ever, as the IHW is finished and the participants have 10 months to develop and implement their ideas at home! Some made specific commitments to collaborate, and others will be creating projects more independently. Everyone is excited to see what this highly motivated group of interfaith volunteers comes up with around the world. In the words of one YES alumnus at the IHW, “We are getting to work straight after arriving home – you will hear from us soon!"