“Sikhs and Christians and even Hindus live here. They might be a minority, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t get the rights the Muslim citizens of Pakistan get.” — Camp Participant
LAHORE | Sixty Muslim, Christian and Sikh students attended the second Seeds of Peace Interfaith Harmony Camp at St. Anthony’s High School from December 28-30. The teenagers, aged 14-16, came together from 14 different area schools.
The program, run by Pakistani Graduate Seeds, aims to “promote a sense of harmony, tolerance, co-existence and respect in these young minds,” in the words of one of the Seeds.
To develop mutual understanding and trust, students separated into six diverse groups and participated in creative games and activities that required teamwork and cooperation, including sports, scavenger hunts, and group challenges. Each day began with an Interfaith Assembly in which students from each religion shared the teachings of their religions about peace, tolerance and humanity.
Participants particularly relished the talent show, during which campers performed skits and music in mixed group of Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. One participant said of the Sikhs in her group, “They started singing and everyone’s jaws dropped to the floor!”
Seeds-turned-counselors facilitated dialogue sessions each day to explore and discuss all three religions and confront stereotypes held of each. These discussions allowed participants insight to the basic customs, values, and traditions of each religion.
“We talked about discrimination, blasphemy laws, Christmas, Islamophobia, and related issues too,” said Malik, a participant. Identifying similarities in their religions, campers discovered they all share beliefs in one supreme power, the propagation of peace and tolerance, and the freedom to practice any religion.
Many students had never met a Sikh before, and were fascinated to learn about their religion, culture, and history.
Mishal, a Muslim participant, discovered of the non-Muslim Pakistanis she met, “They all loved Pakistan [and] they also want it to be a prosperous country just like every other Pakistani.”
Many participants are taught prejudice at home; one Muslim participant was forbidden by his parents to interact with non-Muslims. Attending the program in secret, he let his parents believe that he was attending preparatory classes for his O level exams. They eventually caught him in his lie, and he confronted their intolerance: “Now, I have convinced my mother to some extent and she has some acceptance and understanding that we should not behave like this,” he said, adding, “I have come to know that humanity is above all religions.”
Ted Gehr, acting Consulate General of the US Consulate in Lahore, and Public Affairs officer Brinille Ellis distributed certificates of participation among the campers. They spoke with the participants and applauded their efforts to promote peace.
Summing up the experience, one participant proudly stated that “we came together and tried to find common ground and love for each other, and we did!”