Interfaith exchanges and inter-religious dialogue to promote peace and coexistence were key aspects of the iDove in Sri Lanka programme. Over 300 youth across the country participated in this process, which encouraged youth leadership and creative means to promote harmony. “Only when we relate to one another beyond the differences of religion and ethnicity or race, do we embrace our humanity”, remarked an iDove Youth Ambassador, as she and 80 other youth and civil society stakeholders gathered in Negombo, at the Goldi Sands Hotel, for the iDove Hybrid International Conference from 15-17 November. Young people from across 23 districts in Sri Lanka as well as from Uganda, the Philippines and Kenya, who are part of the iDove global network came together over two days to learn from each other and raise awareness on this important issue. Creative arts, a strategy for mediating complex topics and finding common ground, was also a primary feature at the conference, with guest performances from Power of Play, Ravibandhu Vidyapathi’s troupe and Naach Colombo.
During the conference, the Guest of Honour, the Deputy Head of Mission of the German Embassy in Sri Lanka, Olaf Malchow, stressed the need for youth initiatives for change, especially as global conflicts were increasing around the world. He observed how youth are often undermined and neglected and iDove in that way offered them the potential to be informed, stay actively engaged and share lessons learned and best practices and amplify each other’s voice for change.
The Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDove) approach was developed in 2017, to empower youth to promote inter-religious and cultural values and understanding in their communities. iDove was launched by the African Union Commission’s Directorate of Citizens and Diaspora Organizations (AUC-CIDO) and the Deutsche Geselleschaft für Internationale Zussamenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, and was commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation with a view to foster innovative youth-based interventions using dialogue and soft skills to create agents of change for inter-religious coexistence and harmony in society. In Sri Lanka, this programme was implemented in partnership with National Fisheries Solidarity (NAFSO), National Peace Council (NPC) and Viluthu, three civil society organizations.
Since its inception in Sri Lanka from March 2022, iDove Ambassadors in the three civil society organizations have encouraged and motivated youth in 23 districts to engage in promoting harmony and coexistence with their wider communities, such as religious clergy, and government and non-government actors representing different faiths to come together and promote an appreciation for diversity and pluralism.
What began with 25 “iDovers” in a Training-of-Trainers programme on preventing violent extremism has grown to 300 iDove ambassadors. With new innovative ideas to prevent violent extremism in mind, the ambassadors designed creative interventions to foster community coexistence at the grassroots level such as charity drives, community mobilizing events, activities promoting intercultural understanding, intercultural exposure, and creative and gamified activities in 15 districts. Their community efforts engaged more than 3,000 people and the social media campaigns have reached an audience of 30,000 online.
The potential of iDove is significant. It has a unique way of focusing on peer-exchange and utilizes dialogue between people from different age, linguistic, ethnic and religious groups. This dialogue has helped youth share how many aspects of violence and exclusion affect our societies across continents in similar ways. In iDove, the particular emphasis on interfaith dialogue to bridge the gap between diverse communities is an attempt to, while promoting rights-based principles, recognize and appreciate pluralistic identities and provide effective tools with which people can engage with each other through peaceful means. “I had not thought extremist groups as different from religious groups before this. To me they were just an extension of the religion or race they fought in the name of- before being involved in iDove Sri Lanka. It is only after that I saw them as a distinct group that embraced violence and realized how I wrong I was in my thinking” explained a youth participant, “this needs to be understood more in our society- that is what we are working towards”.
The iDove Hybrid International Youth Conference platform is the start of more joint learning and exchange opportunities among young iDove Ambassadors from Asia, Africa and Europe. Many of the youth had already initiated many community initiatives and awareness programmes in their respective districts and hope to continue these efforts with the support of the civil society partners.