Traditionally the KAICIID Fellows are leaders and educators selected from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim as well as other diverse religious backgrounds from around the world for training in dialogue facilitation, intercultural communication and promoting social cohesion by KAICIID experts. The programme equips Fellows with the skills to educate their students and communities about interreligious dialogue so they can become facilitators and leaders in the dialogue and active peace advocates in their communities. Traditionally the programme is conducted annually however for the 2020 Cohorts the training saw the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic and was the first cohort to be hit by these challenges, hence in turn their engagement with the programme lasted two years instead of the traditional one year.
However, after successful implementation of their interreligious dialogue projects these 61 KAICIID fellows from three Cohorts, the International Cohort, South East Asia and Africa Cohorts, hailed from 31 countries, 5 continents & 6 religions joined together for their last training and Graduation Ceremony in Lisbon, Portugal.
Ganga Nandini, Director of Projects & Communication for the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance was the only Hindu Indian American representative in the training. She was nominated for the programme in 2019 after senior members of KAICIID saw her exceptional leadership in interfaith dialogue and youth engagement during a large scale event held at Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh. With the blessings of HH Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji and Pujya Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji she applied and was selected for the programme.
In the same year, she also was recognised as a KAICIID Hero of Dialogue in 2020 wherein her inspiring story was shared amongst nearly a dozen international leaders who are creating positive change in their communities to be the solution they want to see in the world, bringing positive change with their dedicated actions in bridging gaps, bringing greater social cohesion and contributing to peaceful and just societies.
She represented her Cohort during the training in many of the training’s plenary panels this week and was selected by her peers to be one in four representatives to deliver the International Cohorts graduation address.
“It is a proud honour to be representing India and the Hindu faith tradition in the International Cohort of the KAICIID Fellows Programme for 2020. It has been an unprecedented journey during times that no one of us might have ever imagined but we have shown that our spirits and our togetherness cannot be broken by Corona or any virus. Yes, of course, there is still a virus in the air but Fellows we are getting ready to be part of the treatment for the even greater virus of hate and separation in our minds and our communities. Just like immunization, our Interreligious Dialogue skills will serve as an antidote for combating the prejudice and ignorance that plague our societies. And this truly is the need of the hour!” Ganga Nandini, KAICIID International Fellow 2020
Her initiative developed a unique, easy to use and fun guidebook that will train young people from faith communities through activities, games and exercises to explore interreligious dialogue and facilitation skills. A core component of the programme will be to implement a cross-cultural Dialogue for Action activity designed to bring faith communities together for the Sustainable Development Goals.
Collectively, the 2020 Fellows designed and introduced 61 different projects, including dialogue training sessions, conferences, lectures, and field visits. Several pieces of educational material were also produced, including artwork, written publications, and documentaries.
More than four fifths of the initiatives worked directly to promote interreligious dialogue, with 23 targeting intra-religious dialogue, 36 focusing on interfaith education and freedom of religion and belief, and 17 dedicated interreligious research.
The grassroots projects directly addressed problems facing over 13,000 people, and indirectly targeted more than 100,000 individuals in 31 countries. All of them raised awareness on the importance of interreligious and intercultural cooperation in addressing local, regional, and global issues.
The special Gala Dinner & graduation ceremony featured a welcome message from KAICIID Interim Deputy Secretary General Elham Alshejni, and a keynote speech by High Commissioner for Migration in Portugal, Ms. Sonia Pereira.
“Through education, capacity building, training and many other opportunities for innovation and creativity, KAICIID empowers the Fellows as powerful agents for social change, equipping them to address challenges both locally and regionally,” Alshejni said in her welcome message.
“What better place to have this ceremony than Lisbon, a city that for many centuries has witnessed, and is built upon the ongoing meeting and exchanges between cultures and religions and is also a strategic standpoint to promote dialogue between Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas,” Pereira said.
Prior to the ceremony, the 2020 Fellows underwent a final round of training focused on evaluation and sustainability, and visited three religious sites in the Portuguese capital: São Domingos Church, Saint Paul’s Cathedral and the Central Mosque of Lisbon.
Ganga Nandini also visited the largest Hindu Mandir in Portugal the Radha Krishna Temple and met with Portugal’s interfaith community to discuss future engagement and activities in the region especially to inspire and engage the youth.
After successful completion of the programme, she joins the 500+ strong network of the KAICIID Fellows Alumni who are supported by KAICIID with the tools, experience, networking opportunities, and knowledge they need to design and promote interreligious dialogue projects in their home countries, as well as train their own students to become facilitators of peace and leaders in interfaith collaboration.
The programme also endeavors to establish a sustainable and enduring global network of individuals from different faith traditions and cultural backgrounds, especially in areas where sectarian tensions are high and the threat of conflict is constant.
“The 2020 Fellows will enter the history of the KAICIID Fellows Programme as one of the most resilient, hopeful, determined, and creative cohorts,” said Kyfork Aghobjian, KAICIID Fellows Senior Project Manager. “Their constant engagement with the programme over the last 26 months reaffirmed the notion of when there is a will, there is a way,” he added.
Lisbon was a fitting location for the graduation ceremony as the city will soon be KAICIID’s new home. In October, it was announced that the Centre would relocate from its current base in Vienna, Austria to the Portuguese capital. The move will take place later this year.