A blog by Michelle Callander, Faith in the Commonwealth project manager
In a remote community in Mandera, Northern Kenya, a young leader is on a mission to promote peace, tolerance and cohesion. 23-year-old Abshir Issack Ibrahim has built his campaign on the premise that education has the power to transform lives. He has already changed the attitudes and life chances of students, parents, teachers, education officials, chiefs, women, elders, youth and religious leaders.
In December last year, Abshir attended our first-ever Faith in the Commonwealth training of trainer’s workshop in Nairobi. The initiative is a partnership between the Commonwealth and the Khalili Foundation. It uses the principles of global citizenship education to promote interfaith and intercultural respect and understanding.
After taking part in our workshop, Abshir returned home and began working with his community to improve the education and leadership prospects for children and young Muslim women. He recruited a female friend from his community and taught her the facilitation skills he had learned in our programme, so they can work together to create positive change for young girls and boys. They collaborated with county education officers to survey 14 local primary schools and research the causes of poor education outcomes. Through community engagement they have identified the strengths and opportunities within their own community to redress these causes, and created a platform to improve education systems.
Abshir’s success testifies to Nelson Mandela’s assertion that education is ‘the most powerful weapon we have to change the world’. In an increasingly complex global community, it is education - and citizenship education in particular - that stands as a profound resource countering extremism and the forces that threaten social cohesion.
The Sustainable Development Goals emphasise the role of education in promoting peace and tolerance through citizenship studies. This type of education aims to develop learners’ capacities to participate in the civic sphere: to understand and defend their own rights and the rights of others. In doing so it develops several essential qualities: critical self-examination; world citizenship; a sense of one’s place in the world; and empathy towards others. Together, these elements create an environment for promoting a world underpinned by the core values of respect and understanding.
It is this respect and understanding for self and others, across boundaries of faith, culture and nation, that is at the heart of Faith in the Commonwealth. The project is introducing global citizenship and religious literacy education modules into Commonwealth universities that do not currently offer them. It also engages young people in Youth Training of Trainers workshops that teach practical facilitation skills to a new generation of leaders.
Faith in the Commonwealth is proving to be so much more than teaching young people about respect and understanding. It is about having faith that the Commonwealth, in its diversity of beliefs, cultures, and nations, to meet the challenges of contemporary life because its citizens continue to believe in and advocate for the power of education.