Interfaith harmony is a concept that many adults find challenging. But at a recent workshop in Morocco, 55 young men and women representing 33 countries displayed a maturity beyond their years — a credit to their common experience in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program. They took on a subject that's very relevant today while building relationships despite vastly different backgrounds and beliefs.
The YES Alumni Interfaith Harmony Workshop (IHW) took place in Rabat from March 7–9, 2016, and included YES alumni from Morocco and most of the other countries that this popular high school exchange program has served since the U.S. Congress established it in 2004 to foster mutual understanding between Americans and countries with mainly Muslim populations.
Also present were eight American exchange students currently on the YES Abroad and National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) programs, both of which are funded by the U.S. Department of State. The participants, who ranged in age from 17 to 28, were selected based on their interest and experience in interfaith dialogue, as well as their enthusiasm for preparing future interfaith events in their home communities.
The workshop, which aimed at building skills and best practices around interfaith dialogue and peace building, was inspired by the UN-supported World Interfaith Harmony Week, which takes place in February every year. By the end of the three-day gathering, which included a day trip to Fez, a UNESCO World Heritage Site considered to be Morocco’s “spiritual capital,” the youths were inspired and excited about the prospect of bringing the skills they learned back to their home countries.
Ahmed Nasri, a YES alumnus from Tunisia, noted, “I liked this workshop [because it] is very practical and not just theoretical.” Tracey Rogers of AMIDEAST, who was one of the workshop’s facilitators, reflected, “There is something to be said about sitting in a room with 55 young people from all over the world, discussing faith, spirituality, and the shared goal of peace amongst all religious traditions and denominations. I was moved and inspired throughout the entire workshop.”