'Bridging the gaps' by Face to Faith India Coordinator Simmi Kher
Today one of the greatest challenges that the world faces is to allow people of different faiths, creeds, religions, beliefs to live together by celebrating the differences, which makes each individual unique. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, we see ourselves facing the new and unusual every day. What could be more exciting than exploring this diversity by connecting students from ‘Anugrah’ a slum school in India to students of Westhoughton school, UK.
Anugrah is a non formal school for underprivileged children from the Basti (Slum Area) of Bharat Vihar, New Delhi. The school is located in a deprived community, who belong to the lowest rung of society comprising of sweepers, rickshaw pullers, daily labourers, hawkers.
My joy knew no bounds when I saw these students’ eyes glued to the plasma screen television and speaking to their peers at Westhoughton, Bolton, UK. These students were eloquent, honest and curious - which is a great starting point for any successful intercultural and interfaith dialogue. They had obviously really taken in the messages about communicating honestly in a respectful way.
The Video Conference began with some general hellos and chit chat about the weather and so on. The students then asked one another questions about what a day in their life was like and what they enjoyed doing on a holiday.
There was good and equal participation from both sides. The conversation then moved on to celebrations of festivals in both countries. The Anugrah students talked about celebrating ‘Holi’ the festival of colours and how they celebrated Christmas as their school even though they were all Hindus. Joe from Westhoughton wanted to know why Holi is celebrated which was replied by Vinod. This showed that they were really listening to one another and probing deeper, clarifying further and reflecting more deeply.
I believe music is an expression of cultural identity that unites people all over the globe; it awakens emotions, moves, thrills and stimulates. This is what it did in this video conference too, the students of Anugrah sang for the students of Westhoughton. This was reciprocated by the students in UK who also sang for these kids in India hence strengthening the bond between the two schools.
The conversation was then steered onto the topic of faith. Students from Anugrah talked about the different gods they worship. To which a student from Westoughton replied that she did not believe in God and spontaneously a question was asked from the India side whether the concept of faith varies from person to person.
Westhoughton responses included – yes, it does, because there are people of different faiths in school.
The next question raised by the moderator was “What would you do if you were made the Prime Minister of your country for one day.” I was really touched when both the sides talked about eradicating poverty, violence against women and fighting against alcoholism. Jatinder from Anugrah was very keen to create a clean and beautiful Delhi which was void of crimes and where everyone lived happily. Sarvan wanted to provide the best health facilities to people of India.
For me it was one of the best and intense Video Conference I have witness and it makes me feel proud and satisfied that the young of today are involved in such meaningful dialogues. I think this is the beginning and I look forward to many more video conferences between the students of Anugrah and rest of the world. They are getting to know each other, they are discovering things they have in common and their differences too, and, by so doing, are gaining insight into the cultural diversity of our world.
Overall it was a mesmerizing experience and will be fondly etched forever in memory of everyone present there.
Face to Faith Progamme
Tony Blair Faith Foundation
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