Highlights from Pakistan: U.S.-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium (UPIC)

Last month, Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Intersections International, a New York-based NGO, co-sponsored an event highlighting Intersection’s programs, chiefly the U.S-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium (UPIC). Since 2011, UPIC has brought   together religious leaders, community organizers, scholars and students from the US and Pakistan to build relationships, shatter stereotypes and implement an agenda to deepen mutual respect and understanding between the two nations. Recently, Intersections led its fifth UPIC trip to Pakistan which allowed leaders to engage with a broad range of local communities in settings from slums to universities.

UPIC currently has more than ten initiatives underway, including programs for youth (the Karachi and Lahore editorial boards of KidSpirit, an online magazine by and for children); scholarship programs (the Golra Sharif Scholars Project, initiated by American Rabbi Reuven Firestone and Pakistani scholar, Fayyaz Bakir); educational exchanges (University of Management and Technology (UMT) in Lahore and George Mason University in Virginia are exchanging 40 faculty members over the next five years); and development efforts (Serve Humanity Organization, founded by a single, young woman from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province uses sustainable agriculture to empower women—more than 150 to date—whose husbands have been killed by sectarian violence).

Intersections invited two youth UPIC delegates and alumni of Lahore University of Management Sciences to speak at the event about their student-led organization, HumAahang. The organization works towards interfaith peacebuilding by creating a counter-narrative against hate crimes and social exclusion in Pakistan. Their projects are diverse, ranging from community engagement in marginalized Christian neighborhoods, to documenting the the impact of the loss of life due to hate crimes, to exploring religious and spiritual cities across the country. HumAahang is a participant at the Drew Institute on Culture, Religion and Conflict, where the students will learn tools for conflict resolution and interfaith peacebuilding.

UPIC has long recognized that young people are a major resource for development and key agents for social change. Participation by American and Pakistani youth is a key priority of its  March 2017 gathering in Pakistan in partnership with UMT and International Islamic University. UPIC serves as an example of the power of dialogue and building positive relationships   leading to enduring outcomes.