PEACE, DIALOGUE, AND EDUCATION
Greetings of peace to you from Ghana.
My name is Issah Toha Shamsoo, the Executive Director of African Students For Interfaith Tolerance, a youth-led peacebuilding organization operating in Ghana since 2019. I am so pleased and excited to be with you for this important discussion.
I would like to express my recondite gratitude to the organizers of today’s program; United Nations Institute for Training and Research and King Hamad Global Center for Peaceful Co-existence for convening this high-level conference and also for the kind invitation. I also appreciate all the previous speakers for their insights and great contributions.
African Students For Interfaith Tolerance or ASFIT was founded as a result of young people’s passion and dissatisfaction with rising intolerance, and violence at home and abroad. While I was at teacher training College, the world witnessed two major manifestations of hate in 2019 – the first attack occurred in New Zealand and then in Sri Lanka. For days I was wondering what I could do in my capacity to bring people of different faiths together to foster peaceful co-existence and unity.
My research and self-introspection resulted in the creation of a dialogue platform on WhatsApp in May 2019 for my fellow students and me to learn about the faith of other people. We subsequently grew out of the WhatsApp group into a registered organization in a later year. We also adopted a mission, which is to build sustainable peace, interfaith harmony and development by empowering Africa’s youth and engaging religious actors for sustainable development.
Indeed, “Ignorance is the enemy of Peace, it is, therefore, our duty to learn, to share, and to live together, by the Tenets of Faith in the spirit of mutual respect and love.” these are the wise words of His Majesty King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa – King of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The reason for starting with this quote is simple. Our ignorance of others, their beliefs, struggles, aspirations, and culture usually leads us into conflict with them. If not managed properly, this conflict then progresses into a violent or armed conflict.
Ignorance is not only a big challenge in my context alone, it applies almost everywhere. Our world today is sadly marred with incidents of violent conflicts and countries deemed to be relatively peaceful are not left out of hate-driven attacks (both internal and external).
Ghana for example faces human security issues such as human rights abuses, high youth unemployment, children living on the streets instead of being enrolled in school, women head potters locally referred to as kayaaye, etc. to issues of prolonged unresolved chieftaincy, land and intermittent intra and interfaith disputes. And more recently the high threat of extremist infiltration and attacks.
Therefore, through interfaith and intergenerational dialogues, we have been working collaboratively with young people and religious and traditional leaders in communities. But also with the police, local assemblies, government institutions, local youth groups, etc. to promote trust building and open lines of communication through stakeholder dialogues.
We have learned repeatedly that dialogue remains the pathway to resolving our conflicts when our interests seem to conflict. It is fundamental and critical for long-lasting peace and enhanced cooperation in our pluralistic communities.
We use dialogue as a tool to get to know one another. Our first interfaith dialogue was designed for students to know about other people’s religions.
They were thrilled to know why their friends carry out some of their religious rituals and practices. This encouraged them to share their views freely. Since then, we have been hosting dialogues of different kinds. Our recent community-based dialogue which was held in February this year under the theme: ‘Building Bridges Through Interfaith Dialogue Amidst Covid-19’ in commemoration of the world interfaith harmony week as we have been doing for the past years focused on knowing an Enemy, Stranger, Neigbour, and finally a Friend drawing inspiration from religious scriptures and traditions.
Over 70 people participated in the interfaith dialogue including the Chief of the community (Walewale), elders, religious leaders, students, and community members. The dialogue was held with the understanding that religion plays an important role in how we see other members of society and can be a powerful tool for peace or violence.
We also looked at how to see people beyond the lens of ‘othering’, instead with compassion and love.
In addition, as part of our training program for young people known as the ‘ASFIT Young Peacebuilders Fellowship Program’, we introduce participants to dialogue for practice in both their personal and interpersonal lives.
Ours and the work of many other young people out there is a clear testament to the impactful role young people play in conflict prevention and the maintenance of peace and security through dialogue and understanding.
But as you may be aware, our work as young people like our colleagues across the globe is confronted with many challenges. And that is why we wholeheartedly welcomed United Nations Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace, and Security which recognizes that “young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security” and the subsequent YPS resolutions. And quite recently, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on the establishment of a UN Youth Office.
On education, there is an urgent need to invest in the education, capacity and future of young people to enterprise, innovate and discover solutions to our complex problems not a rise in military budgets. A cedi, dollar, or pound spent on funding military aggression anywhere on this planet has an opportunity cost. And this opportunity cost is enormous. Similarly, it is time to see us young people as partners, a resource and stakeholders not a problem to be solved or a threat.
We welcome friends and partners to join hands with us to scale up and sustain our work. Thank you very much for your audience and I am truly pleased to be with you.