BACKGROUND INFORMATION The Annual International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Dialogue has been held annually since 2009, in the City of Jos, the Plateau State Capital and Nigeria's "Home of Peace and Tourism". The Inaugural International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Communication was held in October 2009 at the National Library of Nigeria, beside the Plateau State Polytechnic, Jos, with over 250 participants. This was then followed by the 2nd Annual International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Communication in October 2010 at the Leadership Institute, Tudun Wada GRA, Jos, with tremendous support and facilitation from the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group. The 3rd Annual International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Communication was held in October 2011 at the Rockfield Motel, Rayfield, Jos, in collaboration with the California USA-based The Voices of Angels Foundation, United Religions Initiative, Interfaith Peace-Building Initiative (IPI) and Global Educators for All Initiative. At the 3rd Annual Conference, the 120 participants made a very passionate Appeal to End Religiously-motivated Violence in Nigeria Youth - with international adult mentors - successfully engage face to face applying new tools of communication and creativity to then take back home to their schools, communities, and nations. Challenging, practical workshops provide the "how-to" for citizens to create and sustain our collective social existence beginning with youth and faith that works in real life. Experiences in youth form the adult human being. Young adults are a major force in the contemporary world. Today's youth make new intellectual contributions and excel in mobilizing social networks and cooperation. A new breed of young adults insists on engaging, refusing to be enemies. Today's youth need and deserve appreciation and positive engagement, to help release their unprecedented social growth, creativity, and leadership that includes everyone, excludes nobody. CONFERENCE THEME: The theme of the 4th International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Dialogue was "Harnessing the Creative and Innovative Capacities of Youth and Women for Peacebuilding". As in previous years, the 4th International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Dialogue engaged participants in a dynamic experience of faith development as well as challenged them to positively respond to the universal call to holiness. The conference created and promoted interfaith collaboration as well as built bridges of trust, friendship and partnership among religiously diverse youth and provided a platform for local, national, regional and international collaboration. The various sessions were very practical -- rich with inspiration, international experience, and how-to, face-to-face workshops. Conference Participants practiced a new quality of listening-to-learn, to heal and create a new life among diverse groups in Nigeria, Africa and elsewhere. Above all, we all discovered that "an enemy is one whose story we have not heard." At the end, the participants returned home stronger with new partners and modern tools of communication for their homes, schools, and neighborhoods -- to heal their cities, Nigeria, Africa, all humankind. PARTICIPATION AND CONTENT The 4th International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Dialogue was attended by 156 participants, representing Government Ministries and Agencies, Civil Society Groups, NGOs, Faith-based Organizations within Nigeria and around the world. In the evening of 24th October, 2012, Participants arrived the Rockfield Motel, Rayfield, Jos and the RURCON Guest House, located along the Old Airport Road, beside Nigeria Airforce Base, Jos, respectively, where accommodation was reserved for them. Dinner was served from 7pm after which participants took time to rest after several hours of travelling. The Conference started formally on 25th October, 2012 at about 9am, at the Conference Hall of the Rockfield Motel, Rayfield, Jos, Nigeria. After the welcome address by the Conference Coordinator and Executive Director of New Era Educational and Charitable Support Foundation, Emmanuel Ande Ivorgba, PhD, the Conference was officially declared open by the Plateau State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, Hon. Barrister Olivia Dazem. The Keynote Address was delivered by Hon. Elisha Buba Yero, URI Global Council Trustee and Board Member, Interfaith Mediation Center, Kaduna, Nigeria, Retired Permanent Secretary and former Special Adviser to the Kaduna State Governor on Religious Affairs. Goodwill messages and remarks were also presented Dr. Raphael Ogar Oko, International Coordinator, Global Educators for All Initiative (GEFAI), Abuja, Hajia Lantana B. Abdullahi, Programs Officer, Search for Commons Grounds and Mr. Salika Dasa Adhikari, Temple President, International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Jos, Nigeria. Other dignitaries and facilitators included Chief Thomas H. Gofwen, Special Adviser to the Plateau State Government on NGOs/CSOs, Barrister Timothy B. Parlong, Special Adviser on Peacebuilding, Monica H. Gwom from the Office of the Secretary to the State Government, Elder Dodo Chrisantus, Director in the Plateau State Ministry of Women Affairs, Amb. Chris Matur Ngyang from the State Ministry of Finance, Mr. Maji Peterx, Anchor Person, Carefronting-Nigeria, Africa Regional Coordinator and Lead Facilitator, Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Rev. Father James Vonti, Director of Religious Education, Catholic Diocese of Jalingo, Taraba State, Nigeria, Bartholomew Shepkong, M.A, Research and Outreach, Council For a Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago-USA, Hannington Wako, Coordinator, United Religions Initiative Africa Youth Network, from the URI Great Lakes Regions Office in Kampala, Uganda, Mr. Godwin Okoko, Country Representative, APURIMAC ONLUS-Nigeria and President, Plateau Peace Practitioners Network (PPPN), Mallam Dauda Saleh, Coordinator, Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Jos South & Islamic Teacher, Creative Minds International Academy, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria and Gad Shamaki Peter, Executive Director of the Centre for Advocacy on Justice and Rights, Mr. Ben Obge represented Youngstars Foundation, Abuja, among several others. A total of five Paper presentations were made at the conference, generating much discussions and contributions from participants. The Papers presented included: a. Christian Religious Education for a Culture of Peace by Rev. Father James Vonti, Director of Religious Education, Catholic Diocese of Jalingo, Taraba State, Nigeria b. Islamic Perspective on Peacebuilding in Nigeria by Mallam Dauda Saleh, Coordinator, Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Jos South & Islamic Teacher, Creative Minds International Academy, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria c. "The Role of Nigerian Youth in Peacebuilding", by Bartholomew Shepkong, M.A, Research and Outreach, Council For a Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago-USA d. "Reflections on Peace Efforts by Youths in East Africa" by Hannington Wako, Coordinator, URI Africa Youth Network, URI Great Lakes Region, Kampala, Uganda. e. Introduction to The Moral Imagination, by Emmanuel Ivorgba, Ph.D, Executive Director, New Era Educational and Charitable Support Foundation While Dr. Raphael Ogar Oko chaired the Plenary Session, the Global Listening Campaign (GLC) was facilitated by Bartholomew Shepkong, M.A, Research and Outreach, Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago-USA and Maji Peterx, Anchor Person, Carefronting-Nigeria, Africa Regional Coordinator and Lead Facilitator, Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), during which Conference participants broke into several Focus Groups of ten (10) participants each. Three (3) Organizations were recognized and honoured with the Exclusive Leadership Integrity Award for their outstanding commitments and efforts in peacebuilding in Nigeria, and around the world. These Organizations included: a. Plateau State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, in appreciation and acknowledgement of the Ministry's outstanding efforts in peacebuilding in Plateau State, women capacity building and empowerment, mediation and dialogue facilitation, healing and reconciliation. The Commissioner, Hon. Olivia Dazem received the Award in Person, on behalf of her Ministry. b. Search for Common Grounds, in appreciation and acknowledgement of the Organization's outstanding efforts in global peacebuilding, good governance and work with local partners to find culturally appropriate means to strengthen societies' capacity to deal with conflicts constructively: to understand the differences and act on the commonalities. Hajia Lantana B. Abdullahi, Programs Officer, received the Award on behalf of her Organization. c. Youngstars Foundation-Abuja, Nigeria, in appreciation and acknowledgement of the Organization's outstanding efforts in peacebuilding, democracy and good governance, leadership development and Youth Entrepreneurship. DISCUSSIONS AND OBSERVATIONS Conference Participants expressed profound optimism, hope and faith in current peacebuilding efforts and the commitment to building a better future. Discussions centered on developing the human potential to respond to the challenges emerging from misunderstandings in religions, regions and the world's resources, and on seeking ways to reconciling our relationship with our Common Creator, with fellow human beings and with the resources in our environment. As one Participant put it, "Our differences should not be mistaken to be inequality which makes some feel more valuable than others. Let us grow beyond a focus on our religions as points of identity and our regions as places of origins and the resources as our own wealth only". The important role of youth and women as indispensable primary actors in grassroots community development, peacebuilding and social transformation was emphasized. As the Plateau State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development noted at the conference, "Women are amongst the most vulnerable victims in war and conflict situations, yet they are also often the ones that trigger peace mechanisms. Hence, mobilization of women to participate in peace process is central to realizing peaceful co-existence. Once a woman is empowered, she is properly positioned to support her children to grow up into great contributors to development and will not be easy tools in the hands of mischief makers". Echoing this sentiment, Dr. Raphael Ogar Oko, mentioned rather comically that it was women who took peace out of the Garden of Eden, and so women must be empowered and supported to return peace to Eden and on Earth. The conference considered the great efforts of women participation and contribution to peacebuilding, such as Khadija, Aisha, Hannah and Esther, from Islamic and Christian records, while the Late Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Gambo Sawaba, and the actions of Liberian women who came together to end the civil war and find peace in their country, were some of the contemporary examples cited. The Conference also considered the significant role of religious education in building and promoting a culture of peace. Religious education's goal, according to Rev. Fr. James Vontih, Director of Religious Education of the Catholic Diocese of Jalingo, focuses on the "formation of the whole person, so that all may attain eternal salvation and at the same time promote the common good of the society". The conference then made practical suggestions and recommendations for fostering peace. The conference increased awareness and understanding of the nature, causes and impact of violence on families and communities, particularly those with ethnic or religious diversity, as well as provided knowledge and understanding of successful prevention strategies. Conference participants were engaged in developing implementable communications and public outreach strategy to promote peacebuilding, including a common action plan on the role of women, youth and educators in peacebuilding, including the process of building and accumulating capacities and empowerment to develop individuals and communities so that they are converted from perpetrators of violence to peacemakers and peacebuilders. As one Conference participant emphasized, "our world today, more than ever before is faced with the challenge of overcoming the faith divide and the global citizenship divide in order to build the bridge of all bridges; the interreligious and international bridge that connects all humanity to God". The conference inspired, supported and encouraged participants to accept and embrace the "Other" as potential co-creators of our collective future, as well as provided opportunities for networking and collaboration as we deliberately seek to serve and promote systemic change for the common good, including the provision of a model for interfaith cooperation and the breaking down of barriers, as we work together for right human relationships, justice, and an end to religiously-motivated violence, and care for the earth that we have all inherited. Participants at the Conference express their commitment to embracing our common humanity, respecting our differences and transforming the world we have inherited. Together, Conference participants visited religious sites in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, to draw from the rich spiritual and cultural heritage of humanity to become "Interfaith Ambassadors for Peace". The Conference explored religion as a source of conflict and as a resource for peace, focusing on how each of the faith traditions promote inclusion, peace, tolerance, or exclusion, prejudice or violence against others. Participants made a commitment to establishing a network of peace builders, and of keeping in touch, understanding and accepting others, sharing knowledge, building relationships with neighbors, peers and promoting friendship with others. This way, participants agreed will eliminate the predictable backbiting, gossip, mistrust and bigotry that flourish when interfaith dialogue is absent. RECOMMENDATIONS The women and men at the conference provided recommendations to decision-makers, institutions and individuals for dignifying everyone and our shared values. In a safe space, the Conference created a living model for prosperity, coexistence beyond war, and restoring friendships and trust. Key conference recommendations included: a. That Religious Organizations (Churches, Mosques, Temples, Shrines, etc) and policy makers must accept the responsibility of shaping the future and therefore work on a functional education that would enhance the people's commitment to peace and non-violence, education for critical social analysis and justice, education for reconciliation and social integration, entrepreneurship, self-reliance, wholesome spiritual, moral and material existence. b. That the society must return to true religion and spirituality, which transcends affiliation with one religion or another, but the positive transformation of the heart, transformation of greed into generosity, arrogance into humility, envy into appreciation of others, transforming hate into love, darkness into light, anxiety and stress into deep fulfilment, etc, being an instrument of the Inner Grace and the development of the universal human character of compassion, kindness and empathy. c. Policy makers must be encouraged and supported to create and provide a legal framework for the inclusion of Ethics and Morality, Religion and Peace Studies at all levels of the School curriculum, beginning at the Primary School level. d. Deliberate investment must be made towards the intellectual and character formation of the world's Youth, including the establishment of an Interreligious or Interfaith Youth Service Program, to encourage peace through service projects and education among youths of different faith traditions. This will help participants to socialize across boundaries of culture and faith and to experience volunteerism from a faith-based community of youths, educators and experts. e. That Inter-religious, interfaith and inter-cultural marriages should be encouraged and supported, as a way of seeking to close the ever widening religio-political and cultural divide threatening the nations of the world. This will also help build up and encourage youths and families to live a life of strong moral value, recognizing that the peace of our communities, our nation and the world begins with the peace of the individual. f. That each participant, where possible, return to the October 2013 Conference with detailed reports of what they have done as a result of their participation in this year's conference. This will help us to measure in concrete terms, the level of progress made in our collective peacebuilding efforts. IMPORTANT NEXT STEP ACTIONS In the next six (6) months, New Era Educational and Charitable Support Foundation shall conduct an evaluation activity by sending out questionnaires to all those who participated in the 4th International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Dialogue to assess how knowledge and skills learnt have been deployed and how this has impacted and transformed our communities. New Era Educational and Charitable Support Foundation shall also create an interactive website where participants can log on to share ideas, lessons, challenges and successes. APPRECIATION New Era Educational and Charitable Support Foundation greatly appreciates the generous financial and technical support of the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group of San Mateo, California, USA, which made it possible for us to conduct this year's conference. We remain ever grateful to Len and Libby Traubman for their faith, confidence and trust in us and our very modest efforts. We are also deeply grateful to the Plateau State Government, fully represented by the Hon. Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, along with Special Advisers to the Governor on NGOs/CSOs and that of Peacebuilding, United Religions Initiative (URI)-Africa Region, represented by Hon. Elisha Buba Yero, Global Council Trustee, Dr. Raphael Ogar Oko of the Global Educators for All Initiative, Abuja, Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago, USA, represented by Bartholomew Shepkong, Maji Peterx, Africa Regional Coordinator of the Alternative to Violence Projects, Rev. Fr. James Vontih, Director of Religious Education of the Catholic Diocese of Jalingo, Taraba State, Nigeria. Hajia Lantana Abdullahi of the Search for Common Grounds, Salika Dasa, President of the ISKCON Temple, Jos, Nigeria, Hannington Wako, Coordinator of URI Africa Youth Network from Kampala, Uganda, the Media, especially those from the Plateau Radio and Television Corporation (PRTVC), the Leadership Newspapers and Radio FM, Kano, and everyone who participated directly or indirectly at the conference. We sincerely appreciate the partnership and support of Mr. Godwin Okoko, Country Representative of APURIMAC Onlus-Nigeria, and Gad Peter Shamaki of the Center for Advocacy of Justice and Rights (CAJR) and members of the Plateau Peace Practitioners Network (PPPN) and the Civil Society Coalition towards the success of this conference. Special thanks also to the Guest House attendants who took good care of the participants and also provided good food for our nourishment. Full details of this report with photos are also available at: http://www.needcsi.org/2012/11/4th-international-interfaith-conference-report/ CONTACT US: New Era Educational and Charitable Support Foundation, RABO HOUSE, #1 Mazaram Road, Rayfield, P.0.B0X 6451, Jos Plateau State, Nigeria Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com Tel: +234-8052627310 Website: www.needcsi.org
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