Skip to main content

A Transformative Experience for KAICIID Fellows in Sri Lanka

16 May 2016

The 2016 KAICIID international Fellows concluded their second training from 12 to 16 May in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where they took part in advanced dialogue training, religious site visits and planned their individual Fellows projects. This meeting was part of a series of trainings that will equip the Fellows to be active interreligious practitioners and give them the tools to teach their students how to conduct their own dialogues.

Their training included intercultural communication, dialogue techniques, visual storytelling and an in-depth workshop on developing dialogue projects. The Fellows also had the opportunity to discuss local interreligious dialogue (IRD) initiatives with a panel of interreligious dialogue practitioners from Sri Lanka. They learned a great deal from the training and through interacting with other practitioners, and many of the Fellows underwent transformation themselves.

“Every aspect of the KAICIID training has been a moment of transformation for me as an individual because the perception I used to have on certain things or believes or societies has changed,” said Justina Mike, a Christian peacebuilder from Nigeria who is planning to do a project in women’s empowerment. “Now I should be able to go back to my community and translate all of my experiences that I’ve had here.”

Based on the new knowledge from this training, the Fellows will conduct micro-funded dialogue projects to teach dialogue to young people or promote social cohesion in their communities, as well as to promote IRD in their respective institutions. The Fellows will now be moving forward in finalising their Fellows project proposals and will begin project implementation over the course of the next six months.

A key part of the training were the visits to local houses of worship, which included Colombo’s Red Mosque, the Old Kathiresan Hindu Kovil, St. Lawrence Church and the Bellanwila Buddhist Temple. The site visits are a key part of the group training, and are often incorporated as part of the individual Fellows’ self-designed training initiatives as well. It was a first-time experience for many Fellows in which they learned about the sacred sites of other religions, and in addition acquired a new appreciation for the houses of worship of the other Fellows.

“People in a house of worship feel a sense of sanctity,” said Rabbi Jeff Berger, a Jewish rabbi who is based in the United Kingdom. “That sanctity is what is perceived by us to be an experience with the divine. It’s different than what happens outside in daily life, and we go there because we are seeking some form of refreshment or retreat so we can remind ourselves that we’re sacred beings, and not just the people we are pressured to be by everyday realities, so there’s something special about finding that moment of sanctity in a holy space and being able to share that with someone else.”

It was also a formative experience for the Fellows who bonded through sharing their faith while they sought shelter from the seasonal monsoon rains.

“It made me understand how joyful, safe and deeply profound it can feel when [the Fellows] are visiting,” said Nang Loung Hom, a Buddhist from Myanmar who works in IRD in Sri Lanka and welcomed the Fellows to a Buddhist temple.

“It was good for us to embody respect for the various traditions and the forms of worship and to recognise all forms of worship as valid,” said Swamini Brahmaprajnananda Saraswati. “We may not understand them, but we should respect the tradition and embody mutual respect and religious freedom.”

The diverse group departed from Colombo full of hope and good feelings, exchanging gifts and photos and plans to collaborate in the coming months. This training was a key bonding experience for the Fellows and they reiterated their commitment to their new international, interreligious support network.

“I feel recharged,” said Amanah Nurish, a Muslim from Indonesia who is researching interreligious dialogue as part of her PhD work. “I am so happy to see all of our sisters and brothers. We are connected spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. It is amazing. It was an unpredictable situation, but we all connected naturally, and maybe because of the key issue that we have a similar understanding of IRD and the role of diversity.”

The next Fellows training for the International Fellows will take place in November in Vienna where they will conclude their dialogue training, share their Fellows projects and welcome the incoming 2017 class of the International Fellows Programme. In the meantime they will be taking part in online modules and implementing their initiatives. The first and second training of the Southeast Asia Regional Fellows Programme will take place in the Philippines in late May.