I was born and brought up in Kyrenia, Cyprus where you would hear the call of the muezzin from the minaret alongside the church bells of Archangelos Michael Church. The differences in religion weren't the problem – politics and the type of education children received played a far greater role in the eruption of conflict that is still dragging on in the island today.
I have long been interested in inter-faith/inter communal work – bringing people from different cultures together.
My husband and I were co-founders of the charity – Peace Child International back in 1981 at the height of the Cold War. We produced a children's musical, Peace Child, which premiered at the Royal Albert Hall. The music was by David Gordon (a Christian) who is the brother of Cat Stephens (Yusuf Islam, a Muslim). It was based on The Peace Book written by Bernard Benson (a Buddhist) so inter-faith themes were integral to our work. We went on to create exchange programmes between American youth and those from Soviet bloc countries to try and break down the Cold War prejudices. We also created inner city shows in major US cities where youth from different backgrounds came together to envision the type of city they would like to live in. It is often easier to make friends with people half way across the world than with those in your local community.
We produced an interfaith version of the Peace Child musical in Ely Cathedral in 2010 with subsequent performances in Tallinn and Istanbul. The script was developed through workshops involving young people with the leaders of different faiths. We produced a series of lesson plans that could be used by young people building on the themes from the show. Drama has always been a key component in our work. It provides a safe space to discuss and develop ideas. Working with Muslim youth in Peterborough, we used forum theatre as the focus for discussions with local youth clubs. We worked with Search for Common Ground in producing a children's TV series for Greek and Turkish Cypriot children emphasising what they had in common rather than what divided them. I facilitated "Our Island/Your Island", a book written by Greek and Turkish Cypriot teenagers – looking at the environment of Cyprus. Working on a project together is so much more productive than just discussing the problem. We have produced numerous books on key issues such as Human/Child Rights, Sustainability, Employability – always written by young people for young people. In UK schools, we run Ambassador programmes where VI formers are taught how to run workshops for their younger peers on how to build up their employability skills.
We run an annual Lenten Series of talks and discussions from our home in Hertfordshire where we invite people of different faiths and none to come and share their work.
Religion is... is the first course I have participated in with the Woolf Institute. I am sure it won't be the last!
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