Humanitarian and Youth Programs


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Religious Youth Service

Religious Youth Service Launched in Pakistan

Multan, Pakistan - From October 12 to 19, 2012, around 80 youth leaders including staff, volunteers, and participants from all provinces of Pakistan assembled in Multan, Punjab Province, to spend time together as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural community. They engaged in various service-learning activities including visiting religious sites and working to provide a safe drinking water system and toilets for the Hindu slum dwellers in Multan. This first Religious Youth Service project in Pakistan offered education, training, and opportunities for the participants to develop their capacities as peacebuilders through reciprocal processes of learning and sharing.


An steering committee was formed on August 25 and was responsible for recruiting Pakistani participants. Members of the steering committee represented diverse faith traditions and were also carefully selected from the three main faith traditions in Pakistan: Muslims {Shiite and Sunni}, Christians, and Hindus. It was chaired by a representative of Society for the Promotion of Education and Awareness (SEAP-Pakistan) and met four times from August 25 to October 20.

The committee made four advocacy visits to government authorities in Southern Punjab, leaders of the traditional council, religious communities, youth organizations, and the media in the state. It also reached out academic institutions to mobilize support and encourage students to participate in the program.

Much publicity was created to raise public awareness about the event. SEAP-Pakistan printed and distributed 2000 flyers and handbills, spread advertisements on facebook and other social websites, and made presentations about the event in other networking meetings in Pakistan and abroad.

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Leadership training

The program started on October 12 with an introductory session that included prayers and recitations from the holy books of Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. The participants then introduced themselves and shared briefly about themselves. They also thanked Mr. Piya Ratna, Director of Religious Youth Service-Nepal, for coming to Pakistan to guide this first RYS project in Pakistan.

A three-day training workshop for youth leaders on the theme Struggle for Sustainable Peace and Interfaith Harmony began the following day. Mr. Marcus Younas, Executive Director of SEAP-Pakistan, introduced this first Religious Youth Service Project in Pakistan with a briefing about the history and background of RYS around the world. The participants showed great interest and inquisitiveness. Since they were participating for the first time in such an event, the participants asked several questions, and Mr. Ratna and Mr. Younas entertained their queries and addressed them to their satisfaction.

Afterwards, Mr. Ratna gave a PowerPoint introduction to UPF, detailing aspects of UPF's work in different countries around the world promoting interfaith peacebuilding, marriage and family, peace and security, service and a culture of peace, and relations with the UN and NGOs, which are core areas of focus of UPF. He further shared that UPF is a global alliance of individuals and organizations dedicated to building a world of peace, a world where everyone can live together in freedom, harmony, and cooperation and with prosperity for all. Later Mr. Ratna shared about spiritual values as a foundation for leadership. He stressed that religion and spirituality draw people to a higher reality, promote universal principles, encourage people to live for others, and teach values that transcend wealth, power, and earthly fame. As people are both physical and spiritual beings, they therefore have responsibility for their personal spiritual development, and life on the physical plane is the opportunity to develop one's spiritual potential.

Mr. Irfan Ali elaborated on the dialectics of social justice in Pakistan, stressing the need for raising awareness in society. "Only by changing people's way of thinking can we empower the marginalized communities in Pakistan," he said. He further said that empowerment enables people to change policy in their favor and paves the way for a democratic, just, and tolerant society.

To introduce the unsung stories of interfaith harmony and peace Mr. Ayub Sajid and Mr. Robindar Singh shared about their experiences, trials, and tribulations in their struggle to restore peace and harmony. They reminisced about the once peaceful Pakistan and expressed regret that Pakistan's peace was shattered by the forces who are bereft of reason and resort to violence instead of logic. However, they were of the opinion that peace is a lengthy process. In order to ensure sustainable peace it is imperative to resolve to continue to struggle and never succumb to militants who are hell-bent upon killing innocent lives.

At the end of the training workshop, an interfaith dialogue session facilitated by Mr. Sajid provided a rich opportunity for reflection by the religiously diverse youth and an invitation to dialogue with one another about the ways their traditions inspire them to serve and to partner in projects that improve their local communities. The distinctive aspect of the dialogue session was its focus on “dialogue and service” in a culturally neutral atmosphere of trust and cooperative creativity.

Vigil for Malala

Participants joined other young people in Pakistan and other parts of the world in holding a candlelight prayer vigil for the recovery of Malala Yousuf Zai, the 14-year-old Pakistani student who was shot in the head and neck on October 9 as she was returning from school, defying a Taliban ban on education for girls. RYS-Pakistan participants expressed strong condemnation for the act of violence by the Taliban and demanded that the President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan take necessary and immediate action against the culprits.

Promoting interreligious tolerance

Religious scholars led a seminar on the Promotion of Religious Tolerance, Peacebuilding and Social Harmony in the context of religious teachings. Seminar described Multan as Madina tul Aulia (Land of the Saints) and home to numerous holy teachers who spread the message of religious tolerance, ethics, love, and peace without any discrimination based on caste or faith. Mohson Shaheen, Coordinator of Jamat Islami, addressed participants on themes of promoting tolerance, peacebuilding, social harmony, and social justice. Speakers emphasized tha tpolitical parties should be discouraged from sectarian politics, which has repeatedly marred law and order in the region. 

As part of the RYS project, SEAP also organized visits to religious sites to promote religious tolerance, peacebuilding, and social harmony in the context of religious teachings and the examples of saints.

Participants from different religions paid an exposure visit to the Roman Catholic Church of Khanewal City and the Christian village of Shanti Nagar (Chak No. 72/10-R) in the Khanewal District. Mr. Younas said he was working as English teacher at St. Joseph High School in the Catholic Church's compound in Khanewal in 1997 when Christian homes, shops, churches, and books were burned after Christians were accused of tearing pages from Holy Qur'an and throwing them into a mosque. The participants expressed sorrow for the victimized people, condemned the incident, and made a commitment to work to prevent similar incidents based on false accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan.

Participants also spent a day with school children at the Salvation Army School of Shanti Nagar in Khanewal, playing, singing, having fun, learning from each, and eating lunch together. A special session with children was organized by Mr. Ahmad Faraz, Field Coordinator of the Funkor Child Art Centre in Islamabad, with the collaboration of Asian Network of Trust in Hiroshima, Japan. He conducted a session with the children to help them better understand the concepts of protecting the environment and heritage, human rights, equality, tolerance, and peace through paintings and distributing notebooks with messages about environmental protection and hygiene. Both the children and the RYS participants enjoyed this educational activity.

Among the many shrines to saints in the mystical city of Multan is the famous shrine of Shah Shams Tabrez, the saint who came from Baghdad and died in 1276 AD at Multan. The shrine was built in 1330 AD. The tomb is square, 30 feet in height, and surrounded by a hemispherical dome. The participants visited the different areas of the tomb and also had detailed group discussion with Makhdom Syed Tariq Abbass Shamsi (Naib Matwali of the Tomb). Makhdom Syed Tariq Abbass Shamsi also presented garlands and did dastar bandi (a welcoming ceremony) of group leaders and guests.

Service-learning activities

The purpose of the service segment was to encourage peace through service projects and education, help participants socialize across boundaries of faith and culture, and offer an experience of volunteerism as a faith-based community of educators, experts, and youths. The service segment originally centered on the construction of two toilets and providing a safe drinking water supply system for a slum community in Multan. In addition, the youth leaders participated in cleaning a Hindu temple.

The participants keenly participated in the service project since it was their first such experience. The October 17 project lasted for about five hours, and most of the Muslim participants even missed their afternoon Zohar prayer in order to help the community. Most of the young people had never picked up a brick or touched a mason’s tool. Enduring the intense heat of 40 degrees Celsius, the participants worked on building walls with skilled laborers without stopping. During the evening reflections, the participants expressed the joy they felt during this service work.

They also visited the Hindu temple near the project site and learned about the Hindu faith from one of the participants, Mr. Preetam Dass. For a large number of the participants, it was their first time to visit any Hindu temple. They keenly observed the temple and asked questions so they could gain a better understanding. Later, they cleaned the temple to show solidarity with their Hindu brothers and sisters.

Student Peace Festival

On October 18, a Student Peace Festival was organized at the Shelton 4 Access Hall, where students from different educational institutions were invited to give cultural presentations including dramas, songs, and speeches and to display posters. More than 150 students participated in the festival, which was also an occasion to encourage and collect the recommendations of young people from across the country about addressing the challenges of countering extremism.

Certificates of participation were distributed at the construction site, to allow Mr. Ratna to participate before his return flight to Nepal, and the closing ceremony and cultural evening took place at Shelton Hotel in Multan. The program ended the following day, and participants returned home after breakfast.

Feedback from participants

Faheem Iqbal Shamsi (Muslim): I am greatly inspired from this event. It was a good opportunity for me to learn from participants of different religions and especially take to part in the service component of the activity. It is possible to live together with people of other faiths. I am very thankful to UPF and SEAP for organizing this event.

Ashok Kumar (Hindu): It was an excellent training. The exposure visit to Shanti Nagar, the church, and the shrine to the Muslim saint and especially the service work was a marvelous initiative of SEAP Pakistan and the Universal Peace Federation. I salute all organizers for providing us such wonderful opportunity.

Shams Naveed (Christian): The training on peacebuilding and all the sessions of the Religious Youth Service Project were very good. The session on interfaith harmony was very good and the first time in Pakistan. The residence was very good too. I will feel proud if I am accepted again by SEAP-Pakistan and the Universal Peace Federation for further Religious Youth Service projects in Pakistan.

Ch. Shahid Farooq (Muslim): I would like to congratulate SEAP-Pakistan and the UPF for organizing this remarkable event on this critical issue. Peace and interfaith harmony is the most desired component for society. Unfortunately, our society is lacking peace and religious harmony. The organizations (SEAP & UPF) have taken a bold step and managed it in a far better way. At the end, I would like to pay special thanks to Mr. Piya Ratna for his contribution by coming to Pakistan for this Religious Youth Service Project in Pakistan.

Organizers expressed gratitude to numerous staff, volunteers, and sponsors including:

  • Taraqee Passand Organization
  • —Women Emancipation and Poverty Reduction Organization
  •  Peace and Development Foundation
  • —Organization for Development & Peace
  • —Women Empowerment Organization
  • —Gender & Peace Network        

Technical and moral support were provided by the— Funkor Childart Centre in Islamabad, United Religions Initiative in Islamabad, the Asian Network of Trust of Hiroshima, Japan, and the  Asian Health Institute of Nagoya, Japan. 

Report compiled by Ejaz Ghulam, Program Manager, Society for the Promotion of Education and Awareness (SEAP–Pakistan)
For more background and a report about prayers for the recovery of Malala, click here.

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