"Bridging the gap between religious and cultural differences” was the motto which brought twenty young people from different cultures and faiths together in Utrecht, The Netherlands, for an interfaith service project beginning July 28, 2007. The ten-day project was organized by Youth Service Initiative, a youth volunteer group, and Religious Youth Service, an international interfaith organization. It was carried out in partnership with the city of Utrecht and supported by Kerk en Wereld [Church and World].
The project aimed at providing an opportunity for young people from different faiths to serve the local community and, in doing so, to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the faiths of the other participants. The participants worked with the local Social Center, Doenja Dienstverlening, to create a peace mosaic at a playground in Kanaleneiland, a neighborhood with a bad reputation in Utrecht, and also at De Paraplu, a center for handicapped people. These projects gave the group an opportunity to connect with the local neighborhood, working with children, youth, and handicapped adults at the project site.
Working together for one week on these artistic projects brought everyone closer together and engendered deep friendships among the participants and local residents. After six days of investment and effort, the participants and the local community gathered for an intercultural evening, offering performances from their own cultures for each other. This became a special bonding experience that served to harmonize and inspire all attending.
Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment, which ranged from national children’s songs to national anthems, from plays to an intercultural cooking show, and from classical piano to rock ‘n’ roll dancing! It was an evening of uniting through diversity, and everyone truly experienced what every culture enjoys the most—happiness, laughter, and joy.
The other aspects of the program also focused on fulfilling the motto of gaining deeper interfaith understanding and appreciation. Each day began with morning meditation on a spiritual or religious quote, with each participating youth then sharing how the quote related to his or her own faith. The group also visited several places of worship, including the Domkerk [Cathedral] and Mosque Al Farouq in Utrecht, a Hindu temple in Den Haag, and a Buddhist temple in Amsterdam. By participating in a Buddhist meditation and dialoguing with other youth at the mosque, the young people deepened their understanding of these different traditions and beliefs.
To further encourage dialogue, the group traveled using the “FORUM Discussion Bus,” which allowed the group to discuss some burning topics regarding faith and life in a multicultural society. These discussions continued throughout the daily educational activities, which were focused on conflict management, communication skills, and character development.
All of these experiences served to provide the young people with tools to enable them to become agents of constructive change in their respective communities. To close the project, the youth spent the last day in the peaceful surroundings of Reeuwijk. This reflection day incorporated a long boat ride on a beautiful lake, an interlude conducive to digesting the varied experiences and appreciating the relationships developed with the community.
This project was made possible thanks to the Paraplu, Doenja, Kerk en Wereld, the Gemeente of Utrecht, the Moskee Al Farouq in Overvecht, FORUM, the Sewa Dham community, and the Fgs He Hua Temple.