The Peace Project 2017, organized by Equality Actions, was an Erasmus+ training that gathered 30 young volunteers from different parts of Europe to discuss themes related to local, community-level work for peace. During these eight days in a small English town Loughborough, we learned about cultural and religious diversity, root causes of extremist thinking among youth, and ways to improve intercultural, interfaith dialogue in communities. The trainers highlighted non-formal learning as the most effective and in the end, most common way to gain knowledge and competencies. It showed in practice in different plays and games, workshops, group discussions, lectures and visits. On top of learning about the key themes and methods, we got chance to make friends across Europe, familiarize ourselves with different cultures and worldviews from Latvia to Macedonia or from Hungary to Italy, to spend time together, go out, tourist around in the medieval city of Nottingham, share some thoughts, experiences and ideas for the future projects.
Robin’s thoughts: To note, Loughborough became LOVEborough in our minds. The plays and the games (also known as energizers) were massively important and fun! In order for the group to loosen up and work more efficiently together we needed those. It was a fun way to get to know each other, to keep the brain sharp and focused for the different tasks in hand. About the learning of different cultures. Even knowing, which countries would participate, I did not expect that we would be so different. In fact, after the experience, I think all of us who participated share in some core sense the same culture. #WellDuh The differences in my mind were superficial but enjoyed learning about these differences still! Tasting eachothers culinary wonders (also in liquid form) is a fun and good way to bond! I think, personally, the real experiencing of different cultures came when we got to familiarize with asian religions, places of worship, rituals/traditions, and different asian food dishes.
It was not a coincidence that a training emphasizing the idea of peaceful, multicultural communities was held in the neighboring town to Leicester that was elected the most ’ethnically diverse city’ in the whole UK. Half of the population of Leicester describe themselves as white British, whereas nationally the percentage is 80. Religious diversity of Leicester is striking. They have the highest rate of hindus in UK outside London. It has 55 mosques, 18 Hindu temples, nine Sikh gurdwaras, two synagogues, two Buddhist centres and one Jain centre. Atheists represent 23 per cent of the population.
The cultural and religious diversity is declared as the city’s strength by the mayor. Yet again, there has been a lot of effort by the community leaders – hindus, sikhs, muslims, christians, atheists – to engage in an interfaith dialogue and cooperation. In times of conflict or expression of extremist thoughts, representatives of different faiths talk together out in the public, side by side, to weaken the polarization. During our training, we got to meet the Loughborough Council of Faiths (the Interfaith Network).
Robin: I was very much fascinated by the Loughborough Council of Faiths. A lot of the time I was thinking.. what do we not have in Finland? What do we lack? Finland is getting more multicultural in an increasing tempo and different cultural and religious groups immigrate to Finland. My small home town of origin, (Jakobstad, 20 000 people), is very much religiously diverse and I think this is the perfect model to look up to and implement. This model builds bridges between different groups of people, generates trust or social capital to use some fancy words.
We also committed one day to visit different religious sites of Leicester: a mosque, a Sikh temple, and the Jain centre. The goal of the day was to see, listen, learn, taste, finally, to understand worldviews behind different faiths. One could see how diversity was welcomed in the streets of Leicester and Loughborough by the various decorative symbols indicating festivities of different religious groups.
Robin: These visits lowered the threshold to just go and visit one place of worship. A coworker of mine said that I should go and check out this Buddhist temple in Turku where I live. Now after the course, I feel that.. why not! Would be interesting to see how it looks like and just sit and observe. Hopefully meet some people and have a respectful conversation.
The eight training days brought us new experiences, new friends, more understanding of cultural variety of Europe, and above all, the lesson from Leicester: through the dialogue across cultural, political and religious boundaries we make the most out of cultural diversity, and reach for more peaceful communities.
Robin’s thoughts concluded: What Mari mentioned above. FRIENDS. We bonded incredibly well (#Goku #MagicMan), and we all have places to stay in Europe if we want to travel.
For all my finnish and european brothers and sisters reading this.. I hear Macedonia is INCREDIBLE… buuuuuut I will go to Sardinia (#NoPothoReposare #HeavenOnEarth #ItsTrue). I am going to miss every single person I met during the course and I will cherish these memories forever. To all of you who live in Finland, feeling interested and intrigued, LOOK INTO WHAT STEPEUROPE HAS TO OFFER. Fantastic ORGANIZATION OFFERING YOU GREAT OPPORTUNITIES TO DEVELOP AND GROW! #XOXO #SneakyCommercial #Mwhaha
Photos by Yasser Ait Rais and Hiron Miah (thank you for sharing those)