Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nearly 200 from 30 countries took part in the Asia Pacific Youth Conference in Indonesia in July

Nearly 200 from 30 countries took part in the Asia Pacific Youth Conference in Indonesia in July

Nearly 200 youth leaders from 30 countries took part in a seven-day conference in July on the theme 'Healing the past, hope for the Future: Creating a culture of peace' organised by the Initiatives of Change team in Indonesia. The fragility of life for many in Asia was reflected in the conference planning process when earthquakes and a volcano forced a last-minute change of venue from Yogjakarta to Cipanas (near Jakarta) and conference patron, former President of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, had to forego giving a keynote address due to illness. Instead the conference was opened by Indonesia's Deputy Minister for Youth and Sport who expressed his appreciation for IofC's emphasis on the role of the individual in bringing about peace and social justice 'through change in motivation, attitudes and relationships'.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, so the theme Islam and universal peace drew a lot of interest. Rozy Munir, a Vice-Chair of Nahdlutal Ulama (NU - which with 50 million members is the largest Muslim organisation in the world) spoke on 'Diversity: a source of strength or conflict?' describing the unity which has developed in Indonesia which has led to the two biggest Muslim organisations, NU and Muhammadiya, promoting a secular State rather than an a narrowly Islamic State. Lily Munir (no relation), who runs an NGO in Jakarta, emphasised the dual meanings of the word 'Islam' - as 'peace' and 'complete surrender to the will of God'. On the last day, a young teacher from Cambodia confessed that he had come with a great prejudice against Islam which he had also passed on in his teaching. The experience of the conference had completely changed his perceptions and he committed himself to going back and teaching a more positive and respectful view of Muslims.

'Human security and social justice' was another 'hot' topic. Habib Chirzin, one of Indonesia's Human Rights Commissioners, talked of his experiences working in Aceh after the Tsunami. 'Human security is to secure everyone's wellbeing, survival and freedom,' he said. Haridas Nair from Malaysia challenged participants to look beyond the traditional nation-state to the concept of shared humanity, reminding participants of the human cost of conflict. Calling for leadership that values life and works for peace, he emphasised the need to put faith and conscience into action: 'Beliefs on their own do not say anything;- it is an integral approach to life and a commitment to live out your beliefs that makes the difference…. Listening, conscience-based actions and compassion - these are the needs of our societies.'

This was a theme further developed by Nobel Peace Prize-nominee Arjan Sulak Sivaraksa from Thailand who talked about listening to the 'inner voice' of truth which can lead to social action and transformation.

As well as plenary sessions there were practical workshops and times of silent inner reflection and sharing in small groups - often leading to personal decisions and fresh commitments.

The conference was the 12th in a series of Asia-Pacific Youth Conferences (APYC) convened by IofC since 1990 which have inspired many grass-roots initiatives in South-East Asia. The last APYC in Siem Reap, Cambodia sparked an on-going series of dialogues and exchanges between young Cambodians and Vietnamese to address the legacy of conflict and mistrust between their countries.

Mike Lowe