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The ‘Learning to live in a multicultural world’ conference opened Sunday, July 1 with a panel discussion, hosted by Peter Riddell, which featured two Swiss citizens who had to flee their countries of origin, Burundi and Sri Lanka, because of conflict.
This year’s theme, ‘Tapping into civil society’s potential’, aims to explore initiatives that both diaspora and host communities can take to deal with the challenges of diversity. The goal of this week is to focus on four priority areas, which are an outgrowth of the previous conference: ‘rethinking our personal attitudes and motivations’, ‘challenging and transforming power imbalances’, ‘exploring the transformative role of education and learning’, and ‘strengthening and expanding relationships between communities’.
At the opening session, four panelists, Evi Lichtblau (Germany), Peter Riddell (UK), Tanuja Thurairajah (Switzerland/Sri Lanka [Photo]), and Angelo Barampama (Burundi/Switzerland), shared their answers to the question: ‘where do we come from’?
Thurairajah shared the unique perspective of the Sri Lankan refugee, who comes from a land where ‘the white man showed up with a bible in one hand and a gun in the other’. She spoke of the lack of trust amongst the approximate 47,000 Tamils that live in Switzerland today, and her idea to create a unifying narrative through stories. This was her inspiration for ‘PROJECT Belonging’. A series of photomontages shares personal stories of the Sri Lankan diaspora in Switzerland in order to highlight the similarities of a narrative that is often splintered by politics, heritage, and conflict. PROJECT Belonging empowers the individual to record their own history, and forges a link between the teller and listener alike, which builds trust and relationships not only within the diaspora, but also between the diaspora and host community. Quoting Chimamanda Adichie, Thurairajah said, ‘Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize.’
Barampama shared a unique history that has been written by thousands of years of migration and movement within Southern and Central Africa, and the experience of identifying as both African and Swiss. Barampama said, ‘First of all we need to turn to one another, realize they exist and talk to them. Only then can we maintain multiculturalism.’
As the following days unfold, participants will engage in a conversation about multiculturalism through further panels, presentations, and workshops.
Who we are: Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.
Purpose: We work to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves, in the areas of trustbuilding, ethical leadership and sustainable living.
Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International
'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'