Peacebuilding Through Dialogue: A Journey from Theory to Practice

Jannatul MoaI was feeling so lost and depressed these days. The consecutive killings of writers and the aftermath in my country made me want to escape what was going on around me. I found everything meaningless. Every day we were hearing news of explosions, killings and so on from various corners of the world. The whole world seemed to be on top of a volcano waiting to explode. No one knew who would be next?

It was during this time that I heard about the one-year International Fellows Programme on interreligious dialogue of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID).

I have been participating in Interfaith Dialogue programs since I was 20. Now, I am 29, and over these past nine years, I have participated in several kinds of dialogue programs; including service projects, conferences, seminars and trainings. But, it seems to me dialogue is not working effectively here; in fact, nowhere! So, I was not very interested in joining yet another program on dialogue. For the first time in my life, I tried to ignore anything related to interfaith dialogue! I was almost done ignoring; with only a few hours left to submit the application. Suddenly, I felt I might be going to miss something—something very special! I need to apply, I really need to apply! Finally, I did apply and was selected.

We were told that the first part of the series of three trainings of the fellowship would be held in the Philippines in association with Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute Foundation, Inc. (MPI). My email inbox was becoming full with one email after the other from the officials of KAICIID and MPI. They made me feel excited about attending the program with their cordial, responsible and courteous cooperation. I was eagerly waiting for May 23.

Before starting the training, my learning process began with the visa office of the Philippines. I was not very worried about the visa. Up until then, I had never faced any problem in getting visas. But in this case, I learned not to be over confident about anything. I was informed that due to some “unavoidable circumstances” the embassy had stopped giving visas. Wow! How did they know that I had not even wanted to apply for the program at first; and why did they not understand that now I was feeling with every part of my body that I wanted to fly to the Philippines to join the others! I emailed Christine (MPI Director) about the “unavoidable” problem. She started emailing and calling every single person she knows to request assistance with the visa. I felt, I must go to Davao to at least meet this wonderful lady!

Finally, I (read Christine) managed to get the visa. Even the people at the visa office were so happy for me because they got almost 50 emails from Christine. They thought I must be someone very special for the Philippines. A few hours after getting the visa, I was on the flight to the Philippines; the land of islands. Instead of May 22, I reached there on the afternoon of May 24. After a long 12-hour journey, I entered into the classroom directly from the airport. Thus, I started one of my most memorable and valuable journeys towards dialogue.

The first week was mostly theoretical training. Throughout the week, we explored a range of different interreligious models of dialogue and peacebuilding, and basic principles and skills of peacebuilding in the context of interreligious conflict. The course focused on dialogue and facilitation, communication and presentation skills, as well as monitoring and evaluation techniques. We learned the importance and methods of constantly moving people from their comfort zone and panic zone to the stretch zone in dialogue.

During the training days, I became the subject of my own experiments! I played with myself, dragging myself from comfort zone to panic zone and then into stretch zone. And I did it frequently.

“Writers are smarter in print than in person.” To be fair to this stereotype (and maybe to prove myself a writer), I usually feel more comfortable backstage! But this time I decided to speak, I decided to come in front of people! For the first time in my life, I danced before an audience! I jumped into the sea, though I did not know how to swim. I did not know how to manage the waves, but I jumped. A friend came to save me. That was the first time I met her! Meeting a new friend in the water! Isn't it amazing? I spoke whenever I felt that I needed to speak! That's how I learned to move myself from comfort zone to panic zone and then to stretch myself! It happened because I had a wonderful set of teammates and amazing facilitators. They always appreciated me and never let me feel down!

The second week was practical learning. The training included visits to religious sites of different religious traditions in Davao.

The final sessions were spent developing peacebuilding projects with support and feedback from experts from KAICIID. There I found how diversely peacebuilders can think and work; how much details we have to think about for a project plan.

Along with the classes, the training days were enriched with the amazing and well planned activities of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. The magnificent cultural nights during MPI’s Annual Peacebuilding Training provided us the opportunity to travel around the world sitting in a room. The place was a melting pot of a variety of cultures. It was like I was sitting in a roller coaster wearing a Jamdani Saree (signature of Bengal) and travelling around the world and enjoying the cultural dynamics. We were learning to respect cultural diversity, and during the cultural nights we discovered that diversity is splendid.

The whole training was a package of theory and practice. Before applying, I thought it would just be “another” training, but this was really a special one. Here, for the first time, I got the chance to apply my knowledge and ability to plan a project on dialogue. It was a process of learning from theory to practice.

Now, while the whole world is trembling due to terrorism, poor leadership and other crises, these peacebuilders are busy implementing projects to promote social cohesion, dialogue and interreligious dialogue education in their communities and institutions. I believe these projects will be followed by others and peace will be ours. Even when there is distrust, frustration and agony everywhere, some people are tirelessly trying to fix the situation. Amidst all the dismay and darkness, there are some people standing with the light of hope. Maybe they are few in number, but soon many people will join with them. Dialogue is a lifestyle. To make it effective, we have to include dialogue in our everyday life. It cannot be only a framed task, a meeting or a discussion. It is a process; a never ending process towards a peaceful world.

Profile of Jannatul Maoa:
M. Phil Researcher, Department of World Religions & Culture, Dhaka University
Fellow, Interreligious Dialogue Training, KAICIID
Freelance Writer, Canvas Magazine
Former Editorial Assistant, WhatsOn Magazine
Author of the book ‘Nari O dharma’ a Shucheepotro Prokashoni Publication.

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