A Culture of Encounter: EU

The Creating a Culture of Encounter is a GHFP partnership initiative in collaboration with Aga Khan International, Arigatou International, European Wergeland Centre, and Scholas Occurrentes.

The one-year pilot began in September 2021. The main objectives were to bring together European nationals, and migrant and refugee youths living in Europe, through a culture of encounter to promote mutual understanding, foster inclusion and solidarity, and support young people to engage as active citizens through collective actions.

The project emerged in response to concerns identified by project partners around the rise of discrimination and hate speech across Europe. By creating shared spaces for young people to further develop their knowledge, attitudes and skills, and to actively question and transform narratives of discrimination and hate, the Project aims contribute to peacefulness in Europe and prevention of violence. Project activities aimed to equip youth with the competencies to be ‘agents of transformation’ in their communities, by influencing and training others, multiplying the reach of this initiative to a wider community of young people through positive social actions and campaigns.

As a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) partner, from September 2021 to July 2022, the GHFP conducted an evaluation of the pilot to draw out initial findings from the project activities. The purpose of the evaluation was to investigate progress against the intended aims and identify key outcomes of the project.

The MEL took a mixed-methods approach informed by quantitative and qualitative data from activity monitoring, youth baseline, teacher questionnaire and focus groups with young people and teachers.  


Participants

Across three youth hubs in Spain, Portugal and Italy, 72 young people were engaged through citizenship and intercultural learning encounters and 48 teachers received training in intercultural and interfaith dialogue processes. Each hub successfully recruited youth from across several schools and localities that provided a broad range of participant backgrounds. Due to organisational constraints and covid-19 restrictions the programme did not engage as widely with refugee and migrant communities as intended; in future iterations, a greater focus on identifying relevant settings in advance and ensuring uptake would be advantageous.


Activities 

Project partners collaborated to identify three key types of activity of the pilot project:

  • Educator workshops aimed at strengthening the capacity of teachers and equipping them with intercultural and interfaith dialogue skills to work with youth on issues of discrimination and violence to foster inclusion and pluralism.
  • Youth workshops for young people aged 16-18 years old in Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, through both online and in-person participatory workshops intended to provide opportunities for youth to experience active citizenship and learn to integrate intercultural and interfaith dialogue for creating a culture of encounter in their communities.
  • Youth-led projects facilitated in schools and communities to advance new narratives of mutual understanding, belongingness and respect, including a youth-led social media campaign to mobilise a wider network of young people in Europe, raise awareness, share their experiences, and influence positive change.

Pilot Outcomes

Teachers and young people reported a high level of need for and desire for spaces to examine issues of identity, discrimination, and inclusion. Learners valued the culture of encounter as a safe space for them to learn about themselves, get to know each other and consider their contribution to building more inclusive communities.

Learners most appreciated the participatory nature of activities and how they were encouraged to share their own thoughts and ideas.

The model of teachers participating and interacting equally with young people proved transformative for both teachers and youth.

Storytelling and mural activities were also effective for opening up discussion with young people. Young people reported an increased confidence and openness to express themselves and that activities had reduced inhibitions when engaging in group situations.

The programme had clear benefits on improving participants’ awareness and experience of active citizenship. The programme supported young people to recognise themselves as agents of inclusion, recognise commonalities and gain new perspectives. Young people felt that they had increased understanding and awareness of prejudice and discrimination, and increased confidence in combating discrimination and exclusion.

All young people interviewed during focus groups recognised the importance of youth as agents of change, felt more confident that they could make a positive difference and had been motivated to take a more active role in their communities. The project has had a positive impact on social interactions of young people in both the classroom and beyond, with examples of youth-led initiatives being disseminated in their schools and communities.

‘I have learned that, at least in my experience, between different people there are more similarities than differences, and that, different tastes aside, we work better together.’ — Young person from Greece

Teachers were highly impressed by the training and ability of facilitators to develop a strong level of openness and encounter with youth. Teachers appreciated learning about new innovative and participatory tools to engage students, recognising the value of these as helpful launching off points to introduce difficult topics around identity and exclusion. Teachers were inspired to take a more learner-centred participatory approach to citizenship education and prioritise youth encounters in future. Teachers valued having the space to hear and exchange ideas around inclusion and identity from colleagues in different schools and across different subject areas. They reported that they were likely to apply the learning in the classroom and were inspired to support youth-led change. As a result of the project, teachers were committed to supporting youth-led projects and had an overall sense of pride around the potential of young people and the sense of empowerment unleashed amongst learners.

This way of understanding education is encouraging many teachers to open the windows of our schools, weave networks and multiply the spaces for play, art and critical reflection because we have seen  the transformative force they contain.’ — Teacher, Spain

Despite the positive experiences in creating a culture of encounter across participating settings, teachers noted that COVID-19 impacted project delivery and the practicalities of delivering face to face workshops led to delays and complications. The use of online spaces for youth engagement was also limited and could be further utilised in future programming through better understanding of how youth can best make use of these platforms.

An added value of the partnership model has been the sharing and cross fertilization of youth pedagogies across the delivery partners with youth hubs, this has led to rich and diverse workshops and an ever evolving and responsive programme. 

The three youth hubs continue to be engaged in the project as they continue to roll-out youth initiatives. Funding is being sort for the next stage of the Culture of Encounter project which will build upon the successes of the first-year pilot in 2023.

Hijas de la Paz Project in Amanecer, Colombia

On Sunday the 15th August, the Project Hijas de la Paz was inaugurated in Amanecer, Colombia, with a ceremony that included the local Mayor and other local dignitaries and the chairperson of Subud Colombia.

45 young women took part in a four-month residential programme, most of who are from indigenous and Afro-communities who are living in terrible conditions of poverty and violence. 11 children who came with the young women joined Amanecer Kindergarten and received International Child Development Project (ICDP) support.

The entire community was involved and provided 900 hours of training and formation. There were 16 tutors on the Programme (academic, personal, entrepreneurial, cooking, gardening), and 10 of them are residents of Amanecer. Other Subud members were acting as ‘helpers’ to the participants, supporting them in processing and addressing the deep traumas.

The Hijas de la Paz Project has enabled these vulnerable young women to feel their intrinsic value as persons, and from a place of deep quiet, they learned and worked harmoniously with the Subud community of mentors. This is how they can be nurtured into future leaders and peacemakers.

Prof Scherto Gill Awarded Luxembourg Peace Prize, June 2022


Upon receiving the award, Prof Gill said:

“Today is a day to celebrate peace. This award recognises that positive peace can be expressed in many ways, such as a spiritual presence, a serene psychological state, a relational consciousness, a loving community, a caring institution, an economy centred on human well-being, and a way of inter-being on the planet with all that is.

These diverse aspects of peace are united by a common ethical core – the search for the global good and the flourishing of all. It is this ethical core that invites our imagination of structural peace, co-construct a culture of well-being, and support pillars for positive peace.

I am most grateful for this award which gives so much meaning to our work for peace. More importantly, it draws our attention to those who are pioneering positive peace – who have shown us that so long as we see humanity as embodiment of dignity, love as the promise of mutual belonging, community as the commitment to our deep relatedness, peace is already within reach.”

Prof Gill and her colleagues at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David are working to develop Masters in Peace Studies. This is a programme that uniquely focuses on positive peace.

21 September 2020: International Day of Peace

How to Understand Peace?

At the GHFP, we conceptualise peace as an inner spiritual state that has implications for our worldly processes. Here Dr Scherto Gill, our Senior Fellow, draws on the GHFP’s book entitled Understanding Peace Holistically, and offers three interconnected ideas:

First, peace is a spiritual value. As an inner state, peace is a special kind of tranquillity where we identify with the self as the essence of the ‘I’, the soul. Hence the expression: “I am a Soul.”  The ‘I’ connects well with that which is peaceful, such as the Divine, the Sacred, the Spirit. When our spiritual self-identification is primary, it can generate a blissful serenity that defuses the potentially violent nature of inner conflict. The peaceful ‘I’ can transcend the lived psychological tensions and calm their non-peaceful tendencies. This inner state is then experienced in our relationship with our self, other people and other beings in the world. In this way, inner peace denotes our intention and capacity to be in the right relationship, including living harmoniously with others near and far. When we are in such a state of peace, we can be ethical in our thoughts, attitudes, and acts – these are spontaneous expressions of spirituality.

Second, peace is a potential feature of all aspects of human life that involve conflict. Our world is characterised by diversity, and where there is difference, inevitably there is conflict, tension, and contradiction. These are normal ebbs and flows of life and they should not be equated with violence. Hence, conflict is not the opposite of peace, and peace does not require eliminating conflict. Often, the presence of conflict can invite us to encounter, to dialogue, to engage our humanness, to recognise each other as human beings, as part of a ‘WE’. With this mutual recognition, we can transform conflict towards innovation and positive change. With this mutual recognition, we can resolve violence – not only because violence dehumanises and therefore we reject it, but also because if others are violated and hurt, one is equally hurting – that is precisely the nature of being part of a WE. Therefore non-violence is always part of peace-making in the world – It is an active striving towards love, friendship, respect and justice that denounces all forms of antagonism, violence, and enemy-making.

Third, peace is constituted in human life itself, our well-being and flourishing. Peacefulness as a spiritual value is rooted in the intrinsically valuable nature of our being. Being human is itself valuable, regardless who we are, where we are from, nor what we are, what we do. This self-perception is a fundamental form of dignity, self-respect, or self-love. Seeing human beings (and other beings on the planet) in this way allows us to recognise that all lives, well-being and flourishing are likewise valuable. Similarly, the contents of our lives, including our experiences, activities, processes, relationships, also have intrinsic value. Peace as a spiritual state directs our appreciative awareness to these values.

For peacefulness to pertain to our spiritual and non-violent ways of being, and constitute our personal well-being, and collective flourishing, it requires that our institutions be underpinned by a culture that embodies the values of respect and compassion, our public practices to be humanising and forgiving. Equally, our global socio-economic and political systems need to reflect this respect for the inherent non-instrumental value of human being, human life, and all lives on the planet.

Bringing these three ideas together, we can see that peace is simultaneously spiritual, ethical, cultural and political. Peacefulness as an inner spiritual state has bearings on our worldly processes, and vice versa.

On this International Day of Peace, when we are invited to join millions around the planet to meditate together, by quietening our minds, widening our hearts, we also open a collective space for our spirits to speak to us about what it means to make peace, build peace, and above all, to be peace.

WE can build peace, live peace, and BE PEACE

On Monday 21st September, the GHFP joins European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO) in celebrating the International Day of Peace.

At our present time of uncertainty, many people and communities are experiencing powerlessness, and even despair. This short EPLO video message below is powerful, and empowering. The GHFP believes that WE can build peace, live peace, and be peace together.

GHFP Paperback: Understanding Peace Holistically

gillthomson2019_understanding-peace_holistically

Understanding Peace Holistically: From the Spiritual to the Political

This GHFP book argues that spiritually rooted and morally oriented peacefulness is relevant to the socio-economic–political structures that provide the conditions for a culture of peace. As the authors build up a theory of peace from the spiritual to the relational and communal towards the socio-political, this book also identifies key principles that characterise international and institutional processes that nurture peace. The holistic conception of peace developed in this book may guide and inspire individuals, institutions, and international organisations with regards to how to make peace.

This book is now available on Peter Lang’s website, and on Amazon.

Webinar: Impact of COVID-19 on Religious and Faith Communities

International Webinar: The impact of COVID-19 on religious and faith communities

On 27 May at 4pm CET, the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute partnered with the GHFP Research Institute, the Spirit of Humanity Forum, the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD) and the United Religions Initiative, and held a webinar examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on religious and faith communities around the world.

Questions discussed during the webinar were:

  • What are the pandemic’s major impact on religious and faith communities? How might religious leaders and their followers help embrace the challenges brought by the pandemic?
  • How might we reduce social tension stemming from religious factors at this unique time? How can we do to foster solidarity within and between different religious and faith communities and improve mental and physical well-being during the pandemic?
  • What religious, faith and spiritual practices could become part of the new normal in a post-COVID-19 world? What could be the part of religion, faith and spirituality in future of our society?

The event featured the following speakers:

Katherine Marshall, Senior Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University / Executive Director, World Faiths Development Dialogue

Victor Kazanjian, Executive Director, United Religions Initiative

Patrice Brodeur, Professor, Institute of Religious Studies, University of Montreal & Senior Adviser, KAICIID

The Webinar was facilitated by Scherto Gill, Senior Research Fellow and Executive Secretary, GHFP Research Institute.

To view the event:

On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCXMYNkGKho

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DOCResearchInstitute/videos/832214357304217/UzpfSTEwNTA2NTU0NTgzNTIyNjY6MzAyMzMyMTA1MTA4NTY4Nw/

International Seminar on Trustbuilding and Collective Healing, 30th October at IofC London

Hosted by IofCI’s Trustbuilding Program in partnership with the GHFP Research Institute, this international seminar offers a unique opportunity to meet, share and discuss the process of building trust.

At a time of increasing fragmentation, trust is diminishing around the world. Communities face racial, ethnic and religious divides, intergenerational conflict, and the rise of extremist attitudes, as well as social divisions and the legacy of war. The Seminar poses a critical question: “How can we address these challenges?”

Among the discussants will be Letlapa Mphahlele, commander of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army during apartheid times. His anger was such that he ordered retaliatory massacres of white civilians. After a radical transformation he now sees the whole of humanity as ‘my people’. Letlapa, who, until 2013, was President of the Pan Africanist Congress and a Member of the South African Parliament, is a protagonist in the award-winning film, Beyond Forgiving, which depicts a profound story of tragedy, forgiveness and hope.

This is by invitation-only event. For further information and interest to contribute, please contact events@ghfp.org.