The Inter-Faith Bridging project is about opening dialogue, not about converting from one faith to another.
Developed by the Vernon and District Immigrant Services Society (VDISS), the project’s purpose is to develop in-depth friendships and dialogue between inter-faith groups as well as rediscover ways that different faiths can unite people and help to overcome stereotypes.
Maytée Ferrigno is with employment assistance services at VDISS and she said a number of plans are in the works to support the project.
“There are 14 different groups throughout B.C. working on this project, and we are the only one in the Okanagan,” she said.
Supported by the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan, The First Nations Friendship Centre, the Punjabi Heritage Society, Trinity United Church and Saint James Catholic Church, the project is organized by a steering committee made up of a number of community leaders from a number of faith traditions.
“It’s made up of individuals who want to be hands-on, such as those from the Baha’i faith, Hindi, different Christian denominations,” said Ferrigno. “We’re not doing too badly in Vernon, but there are still many things we could improve.
“There are many people who are still afraid to be open about their faith and their practices and many people still don’t discuss their faith. We want to provide more knowledge of different faiths, we want to get to know different people, and be able to ask those questions, such as ‘why do you wear a cross,’ ‘why do you wear a turban,’ and that kind of thing.”
Some of the projects in the works so far include a new inter-faith brochure, art dialogue workshops led by inter-faith facilitators and an all-day celebration with the larger community.
For mother-of-three Ferrigno, working on this type of project has special meaning for her. She left her native Guatemala 25 years ago, arriving in Winnipeg, Man. with her husband and expecting their first child.
“I left my family and my culture and my career as an electrical engineer and I work with many people here who have had that same experience of not being able to work in their chosen profession.”
The Inter-Faith Bridging project is funded by Embrace B.C., a provincial government initiative to promote multiculturalism and eliminate racism by providing funding opportunities for community-based anti-racism and multiculturalism projects.
“If we could at least make some friendships, that would be a big start,” said Ferrigno. “This is not about converting people, it’s about understanding where they’re coming from, so our goal is to foster new relationships and friendship, to foster understanding, dispelling myths, and also to awaken a desire to continue this growth, so that even if funding stops, we have got the ball rolling.”
She said the process will begin with a series of art workshops in January and February led by people from different faith communities who are willing to share their talents.
“It’s a way to get people talking, to promote dialogue, so once we have people who are willing to give the workshops, someone with a passion for opening the lines of communication and if someone has a special talent they want to share.
“We’re still working out the art workshops, but it looks like we’ll have drumming, as we’re getting lots of help from the Friendship Centre, perhaps dance, a drama workshop and maybe some wood carving.”
Once the series of art workshops has wrapped up, a festival for the wider community will take place, featuring the completed art projects, music, dancing and food.
“One of the workshops will be about culinary art because food is so important to all faiths.”
For more information on the project, or if you have an idea for an art workshop, please call Ferrigno at 250-542-4612 or e-mail email@example.com.