Looking Back on this year’s Better Together Campaign

May 13, 2011

My parents converted from Judaism to the Indian religion of Sikhism before I was born, so I self-identify as a Sikh. Though I do not practice as rigorously as I once did, I still hold the Sikh faith in my heart. There is a huge amount of Sikh scripture, theology and personal leadership encouraging service to others. One of the core concepts of Sikhism is Seva, or selfless service to others as a way of serving the Lord. Sikhs throughout the world are famous for hosting frequent and generous free meal programs (langar).

I, along with the rest of the Interfaith Steering Committee, partnered with United Campus Ministry to spearhead the interfaith movement on Ohio University’s campus this past year. We selected the issue of local and international water pollution to organize around, as we believe access to clean water is a fundamental human right.

I worked with these interfaith leaders on campus—Muslims, Jews, Christians, Agnostics—to combat water pollution in the local Athens community and in Haiti. I was  deeply and continually inspired by their determination to serve others. And I realized that many of them, like me, draw their inspiration to serve from their varied faith and philosophical traditions.

What if religion was used as a force to unite us and not divide us? This past fall, we asked that very question.

Over 70 students, faculty and local religious leaders came to the “What If? Speak In” held at Alden Library this past fall. Students heard from a multidisciplinary faculty panel that included Sikh, Muslim and Christian professors from diverse academic departments—all discussed the importance of interfaith cooperation, at Ohio University and in the world.

Students left the event inspired to come together to create a climate of religious pluralism at Ohio University, and to tackle the issue of water pollution on both a local and international level. Students discussed personal “faith heroes” such as Gandhi who inspire them, and their vision of what changes they would like to see regarding the interaction of different faith communities on campus.

Rachel Whitman, a senior at Ohio University on the interfaith steering committee who identifies with the Jewish faith, said: “Each religious group at Ohio University I have been part of has been isolated from the others. That needs to change.”

In March, over 50 Ohio University students, faculty and community members of all and no faith background gathered at United Campus Ministry for an interfaith fundraiser for Haiti.

Dr. Marc Scarcelli of the Political Science department discussed post-earthquake Haiti. He said that the number one cause of death among children in Haiti is diarrhea, a disease that is 100 percent preventable with access to filtered water.

Contributions totaled about $250. This was enough to send 50 LifeStraws (personal water filters) to Haiti, thereby providing about 50 Haitian citizens with clean water for one year.

In late April, Ohio University students and faculty partnered with the non-profit organization Rural Action to remove trash, old mattresses and used car tires from local water sources in Perry County in the interfaith Better Together Stream Clean Up. Students removed hundreds of pounds of trash from the water in the daylong event.

Mike Steinmas, the Watershed Coordinator for the Monday Creek Restoration Project, commented on the work of the interfaith team: “Thanks for your help in organizing the clean up of Monday Creek. Having a clean embankment is a definite improvement, both environmentally and aesthetically.”

In mid-April, over 30 Ohio University students, faculty and local religious leaders gathered in the library once more, this time to celebrate the power of interfaith cooperation, and the impact of interfaith service projects in the OU community at the “Better Together Bash.”

Brian Bridges, Provost for Diversity, Access and Equity, gave an opening address, urging students to participate in President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge and discussing the importance of interfaith cooperation at in the campus community and in the world.

“Interfaith cooperation serves as a catalyst for promoting peace through shared values while mitigating conflict in the community and in the world at large” he said.

Bridges continued, stating that emphasizing the importance of racial diversity is a mainstay at most college campuses, but that the vital topic of religious diversity is too often missing from such conversations.

I am excited to announce that Ohio University plans to build on our work this year through participation in President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge. The Office of Diversity, Access and Equity will be essential partners in this effort, and we are honored to be working with them and continuing our work with United Campus Ministry on this important initiative through the 2011-2012 academic year.

This can be our moment. The work of interfaith leaders at campuses across the country has inspired the president of the United States to show his support for interfaith action. We’ve proved what’s possible this year, and it seems clear that we are indeed better together.

Guru Amrit Khalsa is a senior at Ohio University majoring in journalism, with a concentration in world religions and global leadership. She is the treasurer of Interfaith Impact, and recently completed a fellowship with the Interfaith Youth Core, where she coordinated and executed IFYC’s signature ‘Better Together Campaign.’ 


Interfaith Fundraiser for Haiti

March 12, 2011

Over 60 Ohio University students, faculty and community members of all and no faith background gathered at United Campus Ministry on Sunday March 6 to rally around a good cause in the “Ice Cream for Life” event. The event was designed as a fundraiser, with proceeds spent on LifeStraws (personal water filters) to be sent to Haiti. The Interfaith Youth Core steering committee members kicked off the event, explaining how their diverse faith backgrounds, from Judaism to Unitarian Universalism to Islam, inspired them to serve others.

Afterward, Dr. Marc Scarcelli of the Political Science department discussed post-earthquake Haiti. He showed pictures illustrating the extent of the human suffering, and said that the number one cause of death among children in Haiti is diarrhea, a disease that is 100 percent preventable with access to filtered water. He talked about the tendency toward “amnesia” after disasters like the earthquake in Haiti in the mind of U.S. citizens as time goes on
, and the need for continued assistance along with long-term development goals.

Students also enjoyed performances from Section 8 (male a cappella group), OU Improv (student comedy troupe) and the Environmental Theater Brigade (guerrilla theater group designed to raise students awareness about environmental issues).

In the end, contributions totaled about $250. This will be enough to send 50 LifeStraws to Haiti, thereby providing about 50 Haitian citizens with clean water for one year. Interfaith action at Ohio University has proven so far that we are indeed Better Together.


February 26, 2011

 

Melissa Cohen is a senior at Ohio University studying political science and history, with a certificate from the Global Leadership Center. She identifies with the Jewish faith, and here shares her experiences in Israel and how they led her to believe that interfaith cooperation and dialogue are vital.


Interfaith Action Strengthens My Commitment to My Faith

February 24, 2011

The Kara is a steel bangle worn by male and female Sikhs. It is one of the five external articles of faith that identify Sikhs to the outside world. It is in the shape of a circle because, like the eternal Lord, it has no beginning or end. The Kara is a constant reminder to me to do God’s work as a Sikh disciple, and it keeps the mission of performing righteous actions as advocated by the Guru (spiritual teacher/saint) in the forefront of my mind each day.

On the way home from the Interfaith Youth Core winter training I attended for fellows alliance members, I lost my Kara in the airport. Though it may sound silly, this got me thinking about one of the main ‘fears’ I have encountered doing my interfaith work: is my commitment to interfaith action chipping away at my faith identity and watering it down?

I contemplated this on the plane ride home. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in fact the opposite is occurring: my commitment to interfaith work has greatly strengthened my relationship to my own faith of Sikhism. I thought back to the times this year when I served others, and how much more inspired I was to serve others after thinking of service as an interfaith experience. One of the central tenets of Sikhism is the importance of serving others, and Sikhs throughout the world are famous for hosting frequent and generous free meal programs (langar). Interacting with members of other faiths and acting as spokesperson for the interfaith movement on my campus, has forced me to become more familiar with aspects of my faith I had forgotten or lost touch with in the course of my college years, as others have inquired about my personal faith beliefs constantly since I began my fellowship.

Anxiety slowly turned into a deep contentment. A smile came to my face as my thoughts turned to interfaith Sikh leaders such as Guru Nanak and the Siri Singh Sahib. Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh religion, was famous for building bridges between Hindus and Muslims in India. He incorporated the writings of famous Muslim and Hindu theologians in the primary scripture of Sikhism, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The Siri Singh Sahib (1929-2004) was the first to spread Sikh teachings to the West, and my parents were some of his many followers during the counterculture movement in the 1960s. He served on countless interfaith panels throughout his lifetime, and even met with Pope Paul VI and urged him to take the lead in creating an intentionally interfaith space where leaders of the major faiths could meet to convene on important issues. At that moment, I felt the peaceful and beautiful presence of these saints smiling down upon me.

Interfaith action does not necessitate compromising one’s values. It does not mean that we must become a “melting pot” of religious watered-down religious values in order to reach a consensus. Instead, we can maintain the beautiful diversity of our unique faith traditions, while engaging with members of all and no faith backgrounds over common values of service to others, greatly enhancing our global impact for good and lessening violence and conflict between adherents of different faith communities.

Guru Amrit Khalsa is a senior at Ohio University majoring in journalism, with a concentration in world religions and global leadership. She is the treasurer of Interfaith Impact, and is completing a fellowship with the Interfaith Youth Core this year, where she organizes large-scale interfaith events and service projects at Ohio University, and promotes a climate of religious pluralism via social media outreach and engagement with the press.

 


January 25, 2011

MaryBeth Bognar is a senior majoring in communication studies with a focus on public advocacy. She serves as Programming Chair of the Interfaith Steering Committee at OU, and participates in Invisible Children, UNICEF, Amnesty International, and Good Works’ Walk for the Homeless.


“People of all faiths should work to assure that everyone on every corner of the globe has clean water”

January 24, 2011

This year, the Interfaith Impact Steering Committee at Ohio University has decided to tackle the issue of water pollution. Water affects everyone. It makes up 80% of the human body and is necessary for life. No matter what religion you practice, language you speak, or country you live in, you need to have safe water. Ironically, as essential as water is for life, it can carry thousands of viruses, parasites, bacterium, and protozoa that can cause disease and, in some cases, even death. These diseases include cholera, dysentery, E. coli, typhoid, hepatitis A, polio, and botulism. While all of these can be treated by modern medicine, 1.8 million people die of waterborne pathogens each year (according to the World Health Organization).
Anyone who drinks unclean water and does not have access to modern medicine is vulnerable to these diseases. As we have seen from the aftermath of the disaster in Haiti, this is a problem throughout the third world, but it also affects people in the Western World. Right here in Athens, our water can be contaminated with chemicals from coal mine runoff. Some Indian reservations in the southwest are supplied with water that has been contaminated with nuclear reactive runoff from uranium mines. This is not just something that happens elsewhere, in those poor countries where people get sick all the time. Water pollution and waterborne diseases affect people living right here, in the US and in our own community.

I believe that water pollution is an issue that is particularly predisposed to interfaith work. As I stated before, water affects everyone. Waterborne pathogens do not discriminate. Being a Christian or a Buddhist or a Pagan will make no difference to a disease. They are blind to these things. Because of this, all people of all faiths should be working to assure that everyone on every corner of the world has clean water. I have personally seen the affect that bad water can have on children in India and Botswana. Nothing is more difficult than watching a child suffer from a disease that could be cured and could have been prevented. If the only way I can help to prevent these diseases from occurring is to work with people of different faith backgrounds, that is exactly what I will do.

Megan Casebolt is a senior at Ohio University majoring in World Religions, African Studies and Women’s studies. She is a part of the Honors Tutorial College, and a member of the Interfaith Steering Committee at Ohio University. She is also a social work intern with UCM: Center for Spiritual Growth and Social Justice.


December 4, 2010

Rachel Whitman, a global studies major active in both Hillel and Jewish Women of Ohio, speaks out about the need for interfaith cooperation at Ohio University.


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