VIENNA—Over the years, various groups have made strides in bridging the gaps between peoples, especially between Christians and Muslims, since Spanish colonizers used religion to divide and conquer Philippine “natives” centuries ago.
Interestingly, many people from both sides tend to equate “dialogue” with “debate”—trying to bring the other party to one’s side or at least to talk them down. The result is more mistrust, profiling, and a flight or fight reaction from both sides.
Enter KI Volunteers, which gently communicates its message through action: enhancing the employability of young Muslim professionals through training and voluntary placement with Christian and Muslim organizations. KI Volunteers, which won fourth place at The Intercultural Innovation Award co-organized in Vienna this week by the BMW Group and the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC).
Designed to contribute toward social stability and economic growth in multicultural societies, the award is given to innovative grassroots projects promoting intercultural dialogue and understanding. It sounds simple. Yet, the true depth and breadth of the award’s impact emerges as it encourages more action to uproot biases and allow inclusive growth to take root.
KI Volunteers’ project called Muslim Youth Volunteering for Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding won for being recognized as the first and only systematized Muslim volunteer sending program in the Philippines.
Under the program, KI Volunteers recruits young Muslim graduates from universities all over Mindanao and trains them over a four-week program.
The group has placed a total of 79 male and female volunteers who have contributed over 160,000 hours of voluntary work for peace and intercultural understanding. Former volunteers have become regular staff at local and international organizations.
This addresses three issues: anti-Muslim biases, poor governance and the threat of further conflict that results from unemployment and discrimination. This fits right in with several national targets: promoting lasting peace, curbing poverty, and improving living opportunities for marginalized groups for minorities, women, and children.
KI Volunteers executive director Mariam Barandia receives the award from Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), and BMW Group VP for corporate and market communications Bill Andrews. Barandia was accompanied to Vienna by KI Chair of the Board of Trustees, Rashid Bangcolongan. KI was the only project selected from the Southeast Asia region that made the finals.
Barandia, in receiving the award, says that volunteerism at the grassroots level truly bridges the gaps between cultures.
Rashid says this international award may help spread awareness and support for their work. Often in the Philippines, it takes recognition from abroad to gain local support.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon comments, “In Mindanao, the Alliance is addressing a long history of Muslim-Christian violence by forging communications, job creation, and promoting employment.”
Surely, complex and sensitive issues remain. Often, leaders at various levels exploit such challenges to pit the two sides and gain or maintain control whichever is more dominant among their constituents.
Sadly, it is often the average civilian and the rank and file fighter, not the politicians or leaders of warring groups, that suffer from inter-religious conflict and violence.
The effects are not always as dramatic as losing a loved one or friend to the fighting, though that has happened to many. The impact could be insidious: stigma in places where one is the minority, discrimination from prospective or current employers, and a general sense of distrust from others. While groups promoting Muslim-Christian dialogues are increasing and gaining ground, there is still much ground to cover when it comes to increasing grassroots involvement.
The top five winners were:
1st Place: Puerta Joven – Languages of Youth (Mexico)
2nd Place: Plain Ink – When Change Reads Like a Book (Italy)
3rd Place: Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group – Recycling
as Bridge and Binder (India)
4th Place: KI Volunteers – Muslim Youth Volunteering for Interfaith
Dialogue and Understanding (Philippines)
5th Place: TakingITGlobal (TIG) – TakingITGlobal Online Community (Canada)