Giving Peace a Chance


Giving Peace a Chance

Malibu-based A Peace Project promotes conversation

Can bringing children and young adults of different faiths together to learn about their various religions, cultures and beliefs be the path to peace? That’s the idea behind Malibu-based A Peace Project.

The program — open to high school aged kids from 14 to 18 — aims to teach participants an appreciation and understanding of different faiths, traditions, customs and cultures. Meets-ups and events where teenagers of different backgrounds can get together are organized throughout the year, which would normally never happen without the structure of the organization.

When teenagers from different backgrounds make friends they may not have understood before, it “forges a stronger community and removes intolerant stigmas and stereotypes,” according to A Peace Project’s Executive Director Michelle Droeger. She added that the group’s mission is to erase the friction created by fear and lack of knowledge.

“If kids get to know one another, then logically, their direct exposure to one another’s traditions overcomes the fear created from historical differences and hatred,” Droeger explained. “In turn, they will hopefully educate others — their peers, parents and even other adults — and spread the impact.”

Droeger, who also serves as school principal at the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, has reached out to the Islamic Center in Hollywood and the Pacifica Institute in Playa Del Rey to invite youths of Islamic, Christian, Jewish and other faiths to participate in events, like a recent one the organization hosted:  “Froyo and Getting to Know Yo.” The event took place on Feb. 28. Kids of various faiths and even some who professed to have no faith at all were invited to get to know each other while eating frozen yogurt.

It’s these types of relaxed atmospheres of socializing and eating together that allow A Peace Project to open a discussion and make a collaborative effort to break down stereotypes. Droeger said that at first, the teenagerss may look different to one another, with various dress like a hijab head covering worn by Muslim women and yarmulkes worn by Jewish men.

She said, “They are all aware of pop culture. They are all teenagers.”

Along with the frozen yogurt event, socializing takes place as A Peace Project unites teenagers to work together on community service projects, like feeding the hungry and participating in a walk against homelessness — projects that can benefit the community as a whole.

The program culminates with A Peace Project Leadership Camp, an interfaith summer camp scheduled to take place Aug. 8-12 at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu. Camp activities will include team and trust building exercises and interfaith dialogue, along with traditional camp fun such as singing, hiking, ropes courses and kayaking.

Droeger explained that it was a love of going to summer camp and bonding with friends there that planted the seed for creating the program. A Peace Project is run through the nonprofit, Interfaith Inventions, founded by the late Daniel Jacoby of Malibu. Jacoby, who died of brain cancer 12 years ago at the age of 38, made a fortune with a company that created Internet banking. During the last months of his life, he decided to give back. The entrepreneur used his resources to create an interfaith camp where Christian, Muslim, Jewish and teenagers of all belief systems can forge friendships and understandings.

The purpose of the camp, according to the President of the Board of Interfaith Inventions Richard Erkes, has never been to solidify a single doctrine of beliefs for the youth, but rather to build tolerance and understanding between the children and their separate faiths by learning and sharing with each other their own personal belief systems.

Droeger shared that teenagers at the interfaith camp sometimes bond with others through empathy when learning of their personal struggles due to their religious practices. She related how a Muslim girl told of a humiliating experience when a boy at public school ripped the hijab off her head and how the other teenagers seemed to identify with her due to similar experiences.

Droeger said she likes to share a quote with the teenagers often attributed to the late Fred Rogers of the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” television show, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you hear their story.”

For more information on upcoming events for A Peace Project and Interfaith Inventions, contact michelle.droeger@gmail.com.

Source: The Malibu Times

 



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