Guest blog by Tracy Herrick, a student from the University of Western Australia , about an interfaith dinner hosted by the university and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (TBFF)
On Monday, the 21st of May, an unlikely mix of students and faculty from the University of Western Australia community gathered around a simple meal with a single question in mind. What can we do about global poverty? Organised by the UWA Religion and Globalisation Initiative, this was a group of student leaders and select staff and community members representing a wide range of different religious and non religious ideologies coming together in defiance of the traditional notion that religion is divisive. We wanted to know if inter-religious dialogue could be a force for good in the world, specifically in the area of resolving global poverty. The answer was a resounding yes and an emphatic demand for a legitimate plan of action.
The meal itself was an important symbol and centrepiece of discussion. It was a very simple Four Bean Dahl that was prepared on a meagre budget of less than a dollar per person in order to fit with the Live Below the Line campaign and to get participants reflecting on the plight of those living in extreme poverty. We were immediately struck by the fact that as simple as our meal was, we were still eating like royalty in comparison. We had what amounted to less than a dollar for one meal. Those who live in extreme poverty have to get by on less than two dollars a day not just for all of their meals, but for everything else as well: clothes, health care, education, transportation- everything.
From this sobering thought grew an ardent desire for change that transcended religious barriers. As we casually chatted during dinner, and then engaged in a heartfelt dialogue session, facilitated by university chaplain Michael Wood, it became clear that while some of us were Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim or even Atheist or Agnostic, when it came to poverty, we were all of a single mind. It’s just not right. Every human being, no matter their background, deserves to go to sleep at night with a full stomach. At least for this cause, we could, for now, agree to disagree on whether or not God exists or what specific doctrines say about gender roles or gay marriage. We can set centuries old arguments aside just long enough to make sure children are kept sheltered, clothed and can experience life without hunger and without disease.
While this interfaith dinner was itself unprecedented in the university’s history, it became clear very quickly that it was not enough. None of the participants were satisfied with just dialogue anymore. They didn’t just want to talk about what could be done. They wanted to do it. They wanted action and they wanted to know how we were going to achieve it.
Many of our participants were eager to stay after the event to talk about the next phase. The energy in the room was truly inspiring. The groundwork has been laid for a student run organisation and we hope that, with the guidance of organisations already hard at work on this issue, such as the Global Poverty Project, we will be able to make a real difference and set a new standard for religious cooperation for Perth, for Australia, and for the world.