Eid Al-Fitr.

Eid Mubarak! America’s Unofficial Ambassadors wishes our colleagues, friends and partners both overseas and in the US a peaceful Eid Al-Fitr.  We have included a photo essay of traditional foods served in the four countries our unofficial ambassadors were placed.  Thank you to the volunteers who took pictures of the dishes and thank you to our partners who opened up your tables.

Countries: Morocco, Indonesia, Zanzibar and Tajikistan.

 

The New Jersey Spark Plug at Al-Akhwayan.

Joe Sgroi from Ewing, NJ, is volunteering at a Summer Day Camp in Ifrane, Morocco.  Not only is Joe thrilled to coach these young children in basketball, soccer and swimming lessons, but he is also excited to share the cross-cultural experiences gained in Morocco.

17 days in and I have discovered myself. My identity, my inner peace and my will to serve others have all been found within two weeks into my service internship with America’s Unofficial Ambassadors. Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI) has become my home and the children at the summer camp have also become an extension of the community that I have been so graciously welcomed.

My first assignment for my internship was at Atlas Summer Camp; the campers were mostly local kids from Ifrane all ranging from ages 5-16. With Al-Akhawayn being an American-style university, the camp structure was reminiscent of an American suburban day camp, with a Moroccan twist. What set apart the Atlas camp from your average American day camp was the Moroccan culture festivals. The festivals included: language lessons, traditional singing and dancing, cooking, and Moroccan arts and crafts.

I was one of the counselors that became a “spark plug”, meaning I was placed wherever I was needed. Therefore, our relationships with individual campers were limited due to our role at the camp. My main assignment was being a lifeguard and teaching kids how to swim, or helping to facilitate activities; counselors were always on call. Being the one to administer aid to a child’s first swimming experience without flotation devices is something that forever changes the life of both the teacher and student. While I was not assigned to a particular group, being a “sparkplug” and being able to teach dozens of children how to swim was a great experience.

AUI soccer camp group.

AUI soccer camp group.

What made this internship was the language factor. In addition to studying French in my free time and conversing with campers and counselors alike I was encouraged to learn more Arabic both in and out of the classroom. I have never participated or enrolled in a French or Arabic language class and was essentially thrown into the water without my “swimmies”, just like the beginner swimmers at the Atlas camp. I speak Spanish fluently and have working proficiency in Italian and Portuguese, so this experience was new for me language-wise. However, because of the language classes offered through AUA and speaking both French and Arabic at the camps, my proficiency has improved drastically as a result.

I have come to realize that this internship has enabled me to learn from the campers and the culture around me, challenging and exposing me to a new world as I hope to do the same for them. While I have learned numerous lessons about the lives and backgrounds of campers back in the United States, the

After a tiring day of sports, the three of use decide to take a picture.

After a tiring day of sports, all three of use decide to take a picture.

camps here are a different story. Here in Morocco, my internship at the three separate camps has enabled me to transcend ethnicity, culture, religion, and language. The New Jersey camps from my past and the Morocco camps from the present have given me a well-rounded perception of International Development from a grassroots level and relations between the US and the Muslim World.

This sentiment holds true at the Summer Soccer Camp here at AUI, which I started four days ago. AUI Soccer Coach, Adil Kamane runs very disciplined and organized summer camps for boys and girls ranging from 6 to 12. I am a co-head coach for the six and seven year-old boys group, along with a Moroccan coach named Mustafa. Mustafa and I are both experienced soccer players and earned the respect of the roughly 12 kids we dealt with for the two-week long camp. Adil Kamane had two full jerseys for each camper in addition to a white camp hat, which gives the kids some appreciation for the instruction they are receiving from us coaches. Being a tri-athlete and avid sports fan my entire life, this placement catered to my professional and personal life. The children love interacting with the counselors and playing the sport their country adores. Seeing their competiveness during the soccer matches at the end of the day, which matched their lively personalities, shone through with perfect clarity. When goals were scored, kids screamed “Wayyy” which is the Moroccan version of “Yay”. Conversely, this competiveness mixed with their youth and led to many emotional breakdowns during matches, as well as campers who would wander to play in the nearby sand or grass. I have enjoyed my group of boys at the soccer camp, and have seen drastic improvement in social skills and their proficiency in the sport from the beginning.

Me lifting up 6 year-old Rim for an alley-oop from AIESEC intern Wael Chaoui from Tunisia. For the Al-Akhawayn University Summer Camp, director Adil Kamane asked for an activity for an American culture day.

Me lifting up 6 year-old Rim for an alley-oop from AIESEC intern Wael Chaoui from Tunisia. For the Al-Akhawayn University Summer Camp, director Adil Kamane asked for an activity for an American culture day.

In addition to being a co-head coach at the soccer camp, I led a basketball activity day at the camp two days ago, which received a lot of positive feedback from the campers. We practiced lay-ups, jump shots, passing, and did dribbling relay races in a circuit format. Basketball is fairly popular in Morocco, but is no comparison to soccer. However, the campers were all interested in playing and learning the game, which was a pleasant surprise and reward for me as a previous college basketball player and youth basketball coach.

This experience has been humbling from an athletic and teaching perspective, as well as a cultural and linguistic perspective. With every interaction, different religions and languages are being thrust upon each other at this soccer camp, and is in turn translated into peace, camaraderie, and knowledge through the world’s game. My experience was very unique, given that my stay has coincided with both Ramadan and the World Cup.

I got to witness Morocco’s two holy months in one month abroad which taught me about Moroccan history, politics, sports, and religion; these opportunities have exceeded beyond my wildest expectations. In retrospect, I can revert back to my lifetime identity as an athlete and recognize and appreciate this opportunity that athletics has granted me. This beautiful game of soccer has brought me halfway across the world to where I can use my best attributes to help others to find themselves, like I have found myself here in Morocco.

Traditional Weddings in Zanzibar.

After interning with the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) in Stone Town, unofficial ambassador Margaret Lamb explores Zanzibari culture and customs at a traditional wedding. 

It is terrifying to admit that I have now been in Zanzibar for three and half weeks, meaning that I am now closer to the end of the program.  I have said this before, but I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. I wish more than anything that I had more time here… I feel like I have only scratched the surface of this culture.  Last weekend, however, I had a chance to delve into Zanzibari culture in the most real way possible: through parties. So, what exactly does it mean to “party like a Zanzibari?”  That’s a more difficult question to answer.  In some ways, Zanzibar is a thorough contradiction: despite being a genuinely foreign and African community, it is also a top tourist attraction.  The culture cannot be fully explained without understanding both of these aspects.  I was fortunate enough in the past few days to attend parties for both groups: a traditional, Zanzibari wedding and the epitome of a European beach party.

When I left for Zanzibar, the last place I expected to find myself was a wedding.  I think I was fifteen the last time I went to a wedding in the States; it’s not something to which you expect a last minute invitation! But, like everything else in Zanzibar, weddings are much more low-key and welcoming here.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when I came home to learn that we had all been invited to the wedding of – wait for it – a cousin of a distant work connection of one of my roommates’ mother’s.

I chose to wear the traditional clothing style to the wedding.

I chose to wear the traditional clothing style to the wedding.

I soon learned that the fluidity of the guest list is the smallest of the differences between American and Zanzibari weddings.  Even getting ready was exciting! The woman who invited us, Miriam, was eager for us to fit in.  She brought friends to help us with our henna and make up (a lot of eye-liner!) and brought us appropriate dresses.  For the actual ceremony, we didn’t need to wear a hijab, but simply wore our scarves as a somewhat decorative headpiece.  The dresses and the make up were all so colorful… all the women at the wedding wore beautiful, multi-colored and often sparkly dresses.  In some ways, I feel as though Limited Too would probably have been a big hit over here.  The “ceremony” itself was only a few moments long and only in the presence of the immediate family. There was a big moment when the groom arrived, with an entourage of all the other men.  The men waited in one area while the couple signed their vows, then all the men left again.  The groom was probably at the wedding for about fifteen minutes.  For the rest of the party all of the women sat on mats, simply dancing and chatting.

The bride came and joined the party for an even shorter amount of time than her husband.  She wore a beautiful, green dress (the traditional Zanzibari wedding color).  For most of the wedding, she sat inside while guests came in to take pictures with her.  We took a picture, even though we never learned her name.  Here, it is unusual to bring a wedding gift; instead, you contribute some small amount of cash after you take the picture.  Afterwards, she processed through the crowd briefly and went back inside.  With that, the wedding ceremony was over.

The reception, however, took place several days later.  It was supposed to start at eight… we arrived at 8:30 and, in the typical hakuna matata style, were among the first to arrive.  Again, only the women were there and there was a lot of music and dancing.  People were dressed much more elegantly for the reception, and we all were asked to wear hijabs. The dresses varied greatly, but I was personally surprised to see how flashy most of them were.  One woman who wore a somewhat backless and low-cut dress with only a piece of tulle covering her back and shoulders especially intrigued me.  She looked beautiful, but I doubt her outfit would have been approved for the Villa Walsh fashion show!   Again, the bride and groom were present only briefly.  Their arrival (at about 11:00) was the most “western” part of the wedding… two little girls in white dresses led the bride who wore a beautiful gown that could have looked like a typical American wedding dress but for the fact that it was bright blue.  The groom and best man processed in just afterwards.  They took pictures, and everyone left.  I have to say if I were the bride I would have been utterly bored by the whole event.

Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party.

Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party.

There are no specific points of comparison between the wedding and the full moon party.  Both were fun but appealed to entirely different emotions and senses.  We rounded out our time watching football in a Stone Town bar… needless to say, it was quite a weekend!

All in all, a Zanzibari wedding was one of welcome and kindness.  Everyone was tolerant of the clueless mzungu and the party favors from both parties were food.  The women, however, usually rather reserved when met on the street, were loud, boisterous, skillful dancers at these weddings.

To compare this to the other party of the weekend, however, seems almost impossible.  The Kendwa Rocks Full Moon Party is ranked one of the top five full moon parties in the world.  It takes place every month throughout the year and is basically a massive beach party.  Theoretically, it should have been just like Barcelona… a nightclub on the beach.  However, Zanzibari tourists are very different from Spanish tourists.  Almost no two partiers at the full moon party were dressed in the same way.  Some were very dressed up and could easily have fit in at Barcelona while others were still wearing backpacks.  Still others, the Masai warriors, were dressed in their traditional clothing.  Before the party started in full swing, there were several performances that embodied East African culture, including one that involved a large, terrifying snake.  The party was also the only thing in Zanzibar that was expensive.  I saw every American I have met in Stone Town at the party and encountered Americans and Europeans from all over Tanzania, in town for the weekend.  In short, the full moon party was fun, transient, and designed perfectly for tourist appeal.

Pictures, Preparations, and Poetry at Azrou.

Amidst organizing the end of the year ceremony at the Azrou Community Center in Morocco, unofficial ambassador Neethi Vasudevan has encouraged her students to explore poetry, songs, and theatre as a means to grow in their English skills and in their overall confidence.  The students will present to their friends, family and community.

It’s been two weeks since my last blog post. I am now on my last full week teaching English at the Azrou Community Center in Morocco and I often wonder where all the time has gone. It seems to have passed by very quickly.

Midway through our first week, my partner Alessandra and I spent a lot of time getting to know the students and figuring out the best ways to teach them and ensuring that they are able to understand what is being taught to them. Now, towards the end of our six weeks here, I feel like we have established a good sort of relationship with them. We have gotten to know them, learnt what topics interest them and what don’t, how to gain their attention despite the language barrier (while learning a few phrases of darija in the process) and building our students’ creativity. We’ve had many good days and a few bad, all of which have contributed towards the overall experience we have had thus far, enabling us to further encourage the students to embrace their capabilities, come out of their shell and grow.

With both the final exam and the final program celebration coming up, we have all been quite busy with preparations. Despite the amount of work and effort they have had to put into studying, the students have taken it upon themselves to come up with many innovative ideas as to how to present the English skills they have learnt from us thus far. They have come up with ideas ranging from singing a song to writing a skit or doing individual presentations.

It is this very process of coming up with new ideas that has not only helped our students come out of their shells, but has also helped them interact with each other much more and learn to apply the English skills they have learnt thus far into practice. A prime example of this is our students in the intermediate level. They not only came up with the idea of singing “Forgotten Promises” by Sami Yusuf for the celebration, but also were able to utilize all that they had learnt in the past weeks to understand the true meaning of the song. When in doubt they turned to us, and I was filled with joy, just seeing them try their hardest, learning to work in groups and most of all no longer being afraid of asking us many questions however simple they may have been.

The students in the advanced class also got very involved in the process of coming up with ideas for the end of the program celebration. When we first had told them that they had free reign to use their creativity and come up with their own ideas, they immediately came up with the idea of writing their own skit and performing it for the program. In addition to that, they had also come up with the idea of each of them doing there own presentation, so as to display all that they have learnt and how much they have improved in these few weeks. Since the beginning of classes here, both Alessandra and I have tailored most of their lessons around improving their writing and speaking skills. We have given them packets on how to write properly and have also shown them multiple videos on how to speak fluently and exude confidence while giving a speech or presenting something. We have given them multiple homework assignments which have involved them doing some research and presenting it to the class. Due to the amount of time and effort we have spent on the improvement of such skills, I became excited when they told me that they wanted to show off all their skills through doing individual presentations in addition to the skit. Using their imagination, they came up with a multitude of presentation ideas for themselves.

For their individual presentations, the students will be singing songs, giving a presentation on mythical creatures, reciting poetry, discussing the importance of change in a person’s life; finally, presenting on insightful world facts.

Just watching all our students come up with these ideas on their own and watching them work hard to make it a reality makes me realize how lucky of a person I am to be able to have the opportunity to experience this in person. I am very proud of all the hard work the students have put into these classes and I am very excited to see them display to their friends and family all that they have learnt from us thus far. I can only hope that they are as proud of their accomplishments as we are of them.

Fête in Morocco and Teaching French.

Teaching French to children in Tarmilaat, Morocco is an exciting opportunity that Andradene, alongside Phoebe, fill with fun activities and interactive games.  Andradene is excited to share the trip the volunteers took to Fes, photos she included of her classroom and a video showing a graduation ceremony at the Al-Akhawayn University.

Though the room is crowded due to the size of the school the children are full of energy and are never bored.

This weekend the adventure was in Fes. Fes is one if the largest city here in Morocco.  It is known for old Medinas and home to one of the oldest and first university. The university was built by the prophet Mohammed’s daughter, Fatima. We left Ifrane to Fes early Saturday morning for our first cooking class at caféCLOCK. There the six interns would prepare a Moroccan style meal. But first we had to go get the ingredients at the marché or souq. On the Menu: savory chicken, salad,  and macaroons. First we went to select or chicken from the butcher, the bread from the baker, and the  vegetables. We got all our ingredients and headed back to our restaurant to start our meal. With all the seasons we started to make a marinade for the chicken; cilantro, ginger, cumin, turmeric,  garlic, onions, and, oil. Then, we moved to the macaroons; coconut,  lemon zest, sugar, eggs; flour, oil, baking powder,  and orange blossoms. Finally,  the salad, roasted eggplant,  roasted peppers, lemon juice, chili, and cumin. After we finished our cooking class we were able to devour our handy work! Next stop: tour through the city of Fes. We did a hour tour through the city visited burial grounds, tanneries, and the oldest university. Later that afternoon, we were paired up with our homestay families.  There we took part in the traditional Iftar, breaking of the fast meal during Ramadan.

Changing gears I got to record footage of the exciting celebrations surrounding the Al-Akhawayn University

Traditional dancers and singers came to the campus to congratulate graduates of their accomplishments.  The excitement was without a doubt the most joyous moment that quickly spread like a wild fire throughout the campus. I was welcomed into the festivities regardless of me speaking the Arabic dialect.

First weekend in Ifrane, the Al Akhawayn University's graduation.

First weekend in Ifrane, the Al Akhawayn University’s graduation.

This weekend was one of the best experience here in Morocco.  I do enjoy this cultural and service packed journey.

The Importance of Talking with Your Students.

Teaching abroad is a challenging, but rewarding experience and for Unofficial Ambassador Tomoko Ishikawa it is equally both parts.  At the Tumekuja School in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Tomoko is thrilled to teach her students mathematics from a one-on-one teaching approach.  

Even after a month of teaching and living in Zanzibar I feel that I am still learning and experiencing new things everyday. I am consistently curious and surprised by the Zanzibari living and teaching style.

During my teaching experience at Tumekuja School, I encountered a problem regarding the students’ learning and studying habits and initially struggled to solve the issue. The students’ minimum participation in the class was an issue for me. As I mentioned in the last blog, some non-western cultures tend to prefer hierarchical and collectivist ideas, and from my own personal experiences I consider the culture here in Zanzibar one of them. Students in the classes did not seem to feel comfortable with asking questions; whenever I asked if they understood what was explained on the board, or if they had any questions regarding the lesson materials, almost none or very few responded.

It was hard for me to continue teaching the class because I wanted to make sure that all the students understood what was being taught and could move onto the next lesson. As much as I understood the difference in cultures and the fact that they are not used to being asked to speak in front of the class, as a person whose background is non-western I wanted them to participate.  In order to motivate them and make the seventy-minute class more fun I thought to be more engaged with the students since I also come from a non-western background.

Here I am getting ready to teach math to my students.

Here I am getting ready to teach math to my students.

To improve the situation, first I talked to Mrs. Bim, a math teacher who had previously taught the same classes as I did and asked her if there were possible solutions. She responded that the situation in the class was the same even when she taught and I had to get used to teaching in a quiet classroom.  I decided to ask the same question to the other teachers, but the responses were all the same. Not that I blame the teachers, but I was astonished by the fact that other teachers including Mrs. Bim accepted the lack of an engaged classroom and just continued with the lessons. I tried to come up with a solution and thought what may motivate the student to speak up more. I found that the students might have not realized the importance of expressing their opinions. One day I decided to individually talk to the students, if they understood the materials covered.  Some students told me that they are not quite sure what I was teaching and others told me that they don’t understand why they have to raise their hands, etc.

I realized that whether they understood the lessons or not they were shy and chose not raise their hands.  I told them the necessity of participating in the class and that’s what they need to do. The day after I talked them, I came into the classroom and started the class. When I asked them questions, I saw a few students raising their hands – which never happened before! It was pleasantly surprised because I actually got to see a change in the student’s mind.

In the beginning my teaching experience was tougher than I expected because of the different culture and different teaching system, but I think because it is challenging, the effort is worth it.

A Blending of Two Worlds.

Shana Brouder is excited to show the work she has completed as the Communications Intern at the Bactria Cultural Center in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.  Shana shares a variety of photos showcasing the biggest event at Bactria, World Music Day, held at the Serena Hotel.

Through this internship, I have been so lucky to work with such an amazing organization. One of our biggest events before Ramadan is World Music Day – a day dedicated to the bringing together of both modern and traditional music and other art forms. The event started at 3 pm with a Handicraft fair, then continued into a fashion show and ended with performances from one traditional group and four single artists representing the wide variety in music taste here. As an intern, I was able to play a vital role in the planning and execution of this amazing event! Here are some photos to document my experience:

Shana nametag

Before the press conference which I attended. My name tag is to the left.

As a part of the communication for World Music Day, myself along with Kirill, the project manager, took part in a press conference. Various news, radio, and TV stations came down to ask us questions about the event. This is a picture of my name card alongside Kirill’s. What’s cool is that since the lingua franca here is Russia, they translated my name into Russian for the press conference! – Shana Brouder = Шана Брудер

World Music Day performers

Paddia Dance Group preforming a tradition Tajik dance!

Part of my job in helping plan World Music Day was learning about our performers. This picture is of the Padida Dance Theater group. They preformed a traditional Tajik dance and easily stole the show with their beautiful outfits and incredible dance moves!

Kirill project manager and supervisor at Bactria

From left to right: Timothee, Rusam, and Kirill (my supervisor at Bactria).

Here is a picture of the people in charge of this event form Bactria. On the left is Timothee, the director of Bactria Cultural Centre. On the right is Kirill, the project manager and my supervisor at Bactria. And finally in the middle is Rusam, the assistant project manager who will be taking over as project manager on July 1st when Kirill’s assignment is up. These three have taught me so much during my stay at Bactria not only about Tajikistan, but also about how these types of organizations function and what is needed to keep them successful.

Shana taking pics

Taking as many photos as apart of my duties as a communications intern.

 

My job on World Music Day was to take photographs of all of the performances so we could send them to our partners and donors as thank yous. I was also able to wear one of the traditional outfits on this day, which definitely kept me cool and in style.

Serena Hotel

Serena Hotel, the venue for World Music Day.

This is a picture of the Serena Hotel, the venue for World Music Day. We came many days to check the space and start making plans for the overall layout for the event. Finally, on the day of the event, we arrived at 11 am to start setting up in about 90 degree (F) heat. It was certainly an experience, but definitely worth it!

Communications event

The poster that I designed which was quite exciting!

One of my main tasks as an intern at Bactria is to handle the communication for our upcoming events. For World Music Day, since it is our biggest event in the summer, I was in charge of designing and translating various forms of communication. This is a picture the poster I designed that was blow up to a massive size and served as information for the patrons of the event. I was especially proud of this assignment because both the design program and the computer itself were all in Russian!

And finally, to keep you up to date on what I’m doing with the rest of my internship, I was lucky enough to be able to propose my own event at Bactria, which was accepted! So I will be hosting a Fourth of July Event at Bactria in order to help teach the people a bit more about American culture through songs, crafts, informational panels, and (of course) food! This is a photo of a map I hand drew of the United States then outlined to show the different regions. This map, along with various other things, will be placed on the informational panels to help teach the people in attendance more about America. I had to free-hand the map so I apologize is your home state is a bit distorted! Trying to draw a large-scale map of the US is not as easy as one may think!

Project

A hand-free drawn map on my approved project!

 

In Morocco, Unofficial Ambassadors Visited By U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer.

J.J. Harder, Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Morocco, made a surprise visit to our six volunteers in Ifrane, Morocco Friday, and got a first-hand look at the work of our Summer Service interns in action.

A team of unofficial ambassadors were on hand for the exciting visit and got to have one-on-one conversations with Mr. Harder about careers in international service and development, as well as their service work. During the summer, the six unofficial ambassadors are volunteering as teachers and summer camp leaders at the Al-Akhwayan University Azrou Center for Community Development and a nearby school in the small shepherding village of Tarmilaat.

We would like to thank Mr. Harder and everyone at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat for the visit. All of our volunteers were grateful for the opportunity. Many thanks as well to Country Coordinator Salaheddine Zekri for sending us these photos.

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Pluralism, Peril, and Purpose.

Winona Vaitekunas has just finished her six weeks of service at an interfaith organization in order to build religious tolerance within Indonesia.  Winona shares her experiences working in Yogyakarta alongside the staff at Dian Interfidei.   

A few days ago I was at a going away party for a friend’s housemate when I introduced myself to an expat here in Yogyakarta. He immediately took interest as to why a young American student was working in Yogyakarta and inquired into my field of work. It was going well until I explained that Dian Interfidei is an interfaith non-governmental organization. His reaction was less than pleasant.

The other interns and I responded to his verbal attack, trying to explain that interfaith work is neither useless nor proselytizing. However, it made me realize just how little the international community knows about the significance of religion and it’s diversity in Indonesia.

Dian Interfidei has given me an opportunity to dive into this field in a way that would never be possible on my own. The religious culture here is hard to understand without being a local, but being able to work alongside an organization that actively engages the need for religious pluralism and promotes tolerance everyday has allowed me to gain a unique perspective where I can personally glimpse some of the culture despite my foreign status. By no means would I consider myself an expert, or even well versed, but I’ve been able to experience an interesting period of time in Yogyakarta that makes me a hundred percent certain that interfaith work is not only useful, but necessary.

The group photo that we took with our lovely staff. I'm wearing the blue skirt and Suraiya, my co-worker, is standing beside me in the pink blouse.

The group photo that we took with our lovely staff. I’m wearing the blue skirt and Suraiya, my co-worker, is standing beside me in the pink blouse.

Probably unbeknownst to everyone at home, in an eerily correlating time frame to my presence in Yogyakarta there has been a sharp rise in acts of religious intolerance.  The first attack occurred on May 30th. I sum up the event with a quote from the AsiaNews.it article: “[It took place] when Catholics held their weekly meeting to pray the Rosary and practice their Sunday hymns. Local witnesses report that, suddenly, a group of Islamic fundamentalists raided the private house owned by a local Catholic leader, throwing stones and rocks. The assailants brutally beat him and then fled in haste.”

On June 1st, the anniversary of the Pancasila, another group attacked a Pentecostal church in Yogyakarta. (You can read more about it here.) The Pancasila are the five principles which are the official philosophical foundation of Indonesia and they include “just and civilized humanity” and “social justice for all people of Indonesia”. Apparently, the groups thought that stoning a church was the appropriate way to celebrate the anniversary of those principles.

Finally, this past Sunday cleric Ja’far Umar Thalib gave a message at a local mosque where “he repeatedly called on Muslims to wage jihad against so-called infidels and [religious] pluralism. He said pluralism had the potential to cause conflict as it taught that all religions were equally right and that was not the case” (source).

However, on a bright note, yesterday Dian Interfidei hosted Benedict Rogers, the East Asia Team Leader at the international human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, who presented his report “Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril, The Rise of Religious Intolerance across the Archipelago”. His presentation could not have come at a better time and he even commented on Ja’far Umar Thalib’s preaching, reminding the crowd that pluralism does not teach that all religions are equally right. Pluralism is realizing that everyone deserves the freedom to believe that their religion is right, but also the freedom to express the fears they have of other religions, but in a context where other religions can do the same and promote understanding of each other and peace. In other words, we all just need a little more interfaith dialogue.

Welcome to Dian Interfidei’s purpose. And to the purpose that I am so blessed to be able to experience and take part in during my brief but significant window into Indonesian life.

Re: I won’t Hesitate to Take Steps Forward.

Everyday Ambassador
Summer Service returned volunteer, Gabriela Guerrero was featured on Everyday Ambassador in their Wednesday Wisdom column.  Gabriela talks about her service and the impact she gained.  Congratulations, Gabriela.
Group photo with Noureen, myself, and a few of our students on the last week of class with us before they left back home for the summer.

Group photo with Noureen, myself, and a few of our students on the last week of class with us before they left back home for the summer.

This trip that I spent months preparing for has come to an end. It’s my last night in Dushanbe. I’ve contributed what I could to my placement at Tajik State University of Commerce and tried my best to make a lasting and positive impact. I didn’t go into this with any premeditated expectations and I think that helped make the experience more fulfilling. I received some advice from AUA Program Coordinator, Stefan Cornibert, that this would be a “learn as you go” type of experience. A part of me liked that nothing was too concrete. Allowing for flexibility provided Noureen, my incredible teaching partner at the university, and I with opportunities to both represent our country and its beliefs while opening up the floor to the Tajik perspective.
Follow the link to read more.