The day after the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and just hours after a U.S. ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff were reported killed by protestors of an American-made video denigrating the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, students gathered at Brighton High School to help build international bridges of understanding.
About 20 Brighton students met in a video conference with a dozen students from Xavier, a Jesuit school in Manila, Philippines, to discuss the role of faith and belief in today’s world and issues of identity from different cultural and faith perspectives. The Sept. 12, 2012 video conference was part of a demonstration of the global education program Face to Faith, which aims to help build understanding between students of different faiths and cultures by providing opportunities for dialogue via video-conferencing. The demonstration was held as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2012 Back-To-School Bus Tour.
“I think one of the greatest ways to serve each other is to take the time to learn about one another and take the time to respect one another,” Brighton student Sally Goodger said in response to the video conference.
“I was interested in seeing how similar we are as communities across the world,” Brighton student Dan Hopkins said. “I feel that across the world there is more of a global connection because of this.”
Face to Faith is a global education program of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation US. It helps students to learn more about students of differing faiths in direct encounters to help them to see beyond stereotypes, build understanding between different religions, and address ignorance and hate the root causes of intolerance, prejudice and conflict. Canyons School District was the first in Utah, and one of the first in the country, to implement Face to Faith, beginning in the 2010-2011 school year at Brighton and Hillcrest High Schools. Canyons District was invited to showcase the program for the Education Department’s Bus Tour.
The demonstration was attended by U.S. Department of Education representatives, including the Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Center for Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships, and Senior Advisor Kenneth Bedell; David Bergeron, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education; and Teaching Ambassadors from Arizona, Washington, New Mexico, and Virginia. Other attendees included Marcia Beauchamp, U.S. Education Manager for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation US; members of the Canyons Board of Education; and officials from the Utah State Office of Education and Granite School District.
The video conference began with introductions and basic explanations of the beliefs of the participants, which ranged from those participating in world religions to those who are unaffiliated with any religion. The students talked about traditions, ethics, service projects Xavier’s flood relief service project had garnered attention from their nation’s president and why they serve their communities.
“Maybe my faith is a byproduct of my community,” one Xavier student said. “Maybe I do things because of the people around me. That is one thing I took away from the video conference.”
The Rev. Girton-Mitchell thanked the students for their openness and for striving to understand the context under which people of differing cultures and beliefs make decisions, “understanding we are all products of our environment,” she said.
“This has been rich for me.”