Sunday, February 25, 2024

Travelling the world to study interfaith initiatives

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Four French students and a rickshaw in Sri Lanka

They are on an epic InterFaith Tour spanning 20 countries and five continents.

I met four French students at Jamaliyeh’s and Stephen Drake’s home in Flat Bush as they partook in the inter faith celebration to celebrate 200 years of the birth of the founder of the Baha’i faith. They even offered to shoot pictures with their professional camera that we published last week.

Interestingly, the group of four that is mature beyond their years comprises students with different beliefs– Bettina Borgel, a 22-year-old of Jewish faith; Bénédicte Charrier, a 22-year-old atheist; Eloi Deschamps, a 22-year-old Catholic and Sami Trouchaud, a 21-year-old Muslim.

In the last four months they have travelled to Finland, Estonia, Albania, Lebanon, Cypress, Israel, Palestine, Tanzania, Madagascar and Sri Lanka before arriving in New Zealand.

With a pit stop of around 10 days in each country, the idea behind the InterFaith Tour is to address questions of identity and interfaith initiatives as they get an exciting global perspective on cultural and religious diversity.

Hungry for information that builds mutual understanding across cultures, they get involved in an array of activities in different countries and have interfaith dialogues on finding new ways of enabling social cohesion.

“We’ve met people from a multitude of cultural organisations, religious leaders, youth groups, members of the City Council and municipality and education institutes,” says Eloi who takes on the role of a programmer as he plans the group’s stay with host families and travel itinerary.

“We go into private spaces by living with host families all over the world and conduct interviews on the interfaith backgrounds of each country.”

In Auckland the group stayed with Jocelyn and George Armstrong. Jocelyn is the chairperson, of Religious Diversity Centre that has former Prime Minister Helen Clark as its patron.

The enterprising team of four who are documenting their journey on camera and on social media

now head for Peru, Costa Rica, Gautemala, Cuba, Mexico followed by Canada, the US, Iceland and Ireland.

“We produce different types of videos about what we’ve learnt,” says Bettina. “It could be the daily life in that county or the promotion of different interfaith initiatives.”

Talking about people and places that touched their hearts, Bénédicte and Eloi say it was Israel and Palestine.

The online videos shot by Sami reflects their personal relationships as they bond with families of different nationalities as well as personal sentiments of people wanting a peaceful existence as they live with conflict.

“There were so many small initiatives by Israeli and Palestinian groups that work towards a peaceful co-existence,” says Eloi.

“I was also very impressed with the way Sri Lanka and its people have coped after a 30-year civil war,” adds Bénédicte. “It’s just been nine years since the civil war is over but the people are so kind and friendly and helpful.”

For Sami it was the people of Lebanon that struck a chord. The short video tells a moving tale.

After a seven month InterFaith tour co-founded by Coexister, Sparknews and supported by Kaiciid (a knowledge hub interested in interfaith mapping), the team returns to France in February for a month to process all that they have learnt.

Following that they travel throughout France to share the InterFaith initiatives they’ve gathered on the tour with schools and educational institutes helping to shape young minds to combat existing attitudes and strive towards a peaceful coexistence.

  • Follow their journey on
  • Facebook: InterFaith Tour
  • Twitter: @iftour

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