by Matt Loper, Executive Director of Kids4Peace Boston
A Sunday in Boston without a snowstorm in what feels like forever and a youth interface conference! Could it get any better? More than thirty Muslim, Jewish, and Christian youth came together from all over the Boston area for team-building activities and interfaith dialogue. Peals of laughter and excited voices filled the interfaith chapel as K4PB youth met and became fast friends with other teenagers from local churches, synagogues, and mosques. And the conversations in dialogue groups and workshops were respectful, thoughtful, and inspiring–just what you’d expect from teenagers committed to peace and interfaith understanding! After all, this was the conference that K4PB youth proposed, organized, and ran.
The day started early for K4PB youth–they showed up, cheerful and excited, to host an interfaith youth conference on Daylight Savings Sunday. The K4PB high school participants took their conference and their responsibilities as hosts seriously. They proposed the idea last year and were involved in its development from inception to the turning off of the last lights in the evening. In preparation for leading workshops and dialogue, the high schoolers have been getting together on many Sundays over the past couple of months to create and practice their presentations and dialogue plans.
Bright smiles flashed everywhere today! K4PB youth welcomed our guests as soon as they arrived and they introduced each guest to his or her K4PB host or hostess or “peace buddy.” The interfaith pairs then participated in fun large group and smaller group activities and got to know each other over snacks and games. They were pals by the time they sat down to listen to our guest speaker, journalist and author Linda K. Wertheimer whose book, Faith Ed: Teaching about Religion in an Age of Intolerance, will be published in the summer of 2015. Linda presented one of her upcoming books’ chapters as a case study and then the youth pairs actively participated in dialogue groups of eight around the issues of intolerance and education and world religions in public school. How bright does our future seem when youth from different religious and socio-economic backgrounds come together and talk and listen so candidly and with such sensitivity!
After dialogue, the youth led or attended their chosen workshop. Some learned words in Hebrew and Arabic; some thought about points their three faiths have in common; others observed and heard about objects sacred in each of the three faiths; the rest considered the place of race, faith, and justice in our world today. Before anyone realized it, it was almost time to say good-bye. But not before a rousing and inspiring closing ceremony! As the youth said their goodbyes, it was evident that each participant would be leaving with a new friend from a religion other than their own and there was no doubt that they were taking home the message that distrust and fear tear us apart but that trust and friendship bring us closer together. Later that evening, when the K4PB hosts were asked “who made a friend today that they’d like to see again?” all of them raised their hands.
In the anonymous program evaluation form, 100% of the youth said that they would recommend the event to a friend. The three words they used most often to explain why were: fun, informative, educational. When asked what they enjoyed most, the youth responded that they loved meeting their peace buddies, leading workshops and dialogues, participating in games, and spending time with other K4PB participants. Kids were pleasantly surprised by their ability to lead workshops and delighted with the openness and enthusiasm with which other youths joined in and participated in the dialogue and conference. When asked to rank their experience, half the participants said that they enjoyed the event overall, the dialogue sessions, and the workshop in which they participated a lot. In a 1-to-5 scale, they gave it a 1.
“It was good to have an event that was for non-K4P kids. I was proud that K4P kids were leaders.” ~ Paris, K4PB teenager.