The newly quarterly blog by EIFA Executive Director, Iain Stewart.
I remember being stopped in the past by people who ask, ‘what does your job involve?’ I realise that for some people they may only come into contact with one or two EIFA programmes. Then they might wonder what does the Director do for the rest of his time. I thought it would be useful for people to gain an insight into the workings of EIFA.
We generally meet as a board once every 3 months and I will try to blog around this time.
With EIFA you could generally put our work under 4 different streams and in future blogs I will update you on all of them;
Consultancy & Training
In early January much of my time was spent on education activities. Education is at the root of everything that EIFA does and it could be argued that it underpins everything else. Our core aim is to raise awareness and understanding of and between faith communities. We also want our young people to be educated against the stereotypes that drive religious prejudice and fuel hate crime.
One of our key events which seeks to learn the lessons from the past in order to stamping out hate crime today is Holocaust Memorial Day. This is the main holocaust event for the city. This event takes a lot of planning and organising. Over the year we work with a team of students, who are the driving force of the event. Each year the Holocaust Memorial Day event is hosted by a different school in the city, this year we were hosted by Liberton High School. Students are involved in every aspect of the programme from researching the holocaust and past genocides to selecting appropriate content including poems and readings. This year’s we were fortunate to have two very inspiring speakers Martin Stern a Holocaust survivor and Marie Clare a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. The evening was very moving for everyone involved.
I enjoy planning and putting together our educational programme and was fortunate in January to also host a very interesting Interfaith panel at Trinity Academy on the theme of Hate Speech versus Freedom of Speech with input from Police Scotland and Rabbi David Rose and Imam Yahya Barry. One to one engagement between students and faith representatives are key to breaking down barriers. This event was very important in helping students to understand when speech becomes hate speech and to consider how groups might be deeply offended by speech. For example, it was fitting close to Holocaust Memorial Day that much of the discussion centred around the case of Mark Meechan who trained his dog to give a Nazi salute when shouting statements such as, ‘gas the Jews.’ In recent times we have heard of many cases of people spraying graffiti or making statements targeting a protected group. It is really essential that young people are sensitive to how a group might be offended by comments that hatefully target one group with the intention to cause harm to that group. These talks are to raise awareness but to encourage young people to speak out and report hate crimes.
Part of my working day is responding to the many emails that come in from the Ground We Share site (https://www.thegroundweshare.com) an interactive site where young people have the opportunity to ask questions related to ‘faith and belief’ and to receive responses from our team of representatives. On any given day we could receive 5-10 questions on far ranging topics from which require detailed responses from our team of representatives ranging from, ‘does religious oppress women?’ Can you be a woman of faith and a feminist? To views on ‘freedom of speech’ ‘crime and punishment’ and ‘embryo research’. Going forward I hope the questions we receive only increase as I believe through interaction is important to breaking down misconceptions and encouraging respect for the diverse views of faith communities.
Part of January was also spent in preparing the programme for our forthcoming, ‘Capital Cities Interfaith Network’ which was launched by the Lord Provost on the 4th of February. The network has been designed to promote mutual learning, co-operation and provide a voice to capital city interfaith networks. For more info please go to https://www.capitalcitiesinterfaith.net
On the 27th of February EIFA held a community meal and talk with our guest speaker the Eco Congregation Chaplain David Coleman and who helped us think of our responsibilities as people of faith both to care for and take action in and individual and collective basis to tackle ‘climate change.’
In February we were also busy planning our International Women’ Day programme for March the 9th. The theme revolved around removing barriers to equality in faith communities and we were fortunate to have some great speakers including Madinah Javed, Trishna Singh and Clare Levy.
At the end of March, we welcomed Scout groups on the 20th and 27th as they came to learn about the beliefs of four different religions from our guest speakers to achieve their, ‘World Faith Activity’ badge.
In January I also had meetings with our 'Interfaith befriending’ project manager of ‘Faithful Friends’ Pall Singh as we look to monitor and evaluate the service and plan the activities of the project going forward. With the increasing problem of loneliness and isolation, which recent studies identify as a greater health risk than obesity and smoking, it is great to be working with faith community volunteers to be able to provide a vital service to people.
On the 13th of February I chaired a, ‘Climate Change’ meeting with religious representatives as we look to identify actions that we can take individually and collectively to address, ‘Climate Change’. This was following up from a conference with ‘Religious Leaders’ on this theme in November 2018. I am currently working on developing an application for a future ‘Climate Change’ project.
Mental Health is a growing problem in Scotland with suicide being the biggest killer in men under 45. Faith communities are often at the front line of offering support and EIFA was delighted to work with Penumbra to deliver training to religious representatives on how to respond to people support people with mental health problems. Going forward EIFA is looking to find ways to further support faith communities to respond to people’s needs.
Hate Crime Awareness Course.
EIFA has been developing a ‘hate crime awareness course’ for schools to increase awareness and encourage reporting and in March I met with our project officer Sebastian and RME teacher Carrie Thomson from our partner school, ‘Liberton High School.’
Consultancy & Training
On the 7th of January and 25th of January I intended meetings at Dundas Castle and Kircaldy Galleries looking to address the respective issues of ‘human traffiking’ and ‘hate crime’ with the ‘Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland (SOHTIS)’ charity and the SCOTTISH ALLIANCE AGAINST PREJUDICE AND HATE CRIME cluster group for which EIFA is a member.
In January I was also fortunate to be invited to be part of a planning group looking to bring the Parliament of World Religions to Edinburgh and Glasgow. More on this initiative at a later stage. Suffice to say at this stage it would be great to bring the Parliament here. The Parliament brings over 10,000 delegates from across the world to promote interreligious harmony in tune with the aspirations of EIFA. https://parliamentofreligions.org
In late March I also delivered training to the, ‘Skills Development Scotland Equality Champions’ around faith and equality and the work of Edinburgh Interfaith Association.
This is just a small window into the life of an Interfaith Director. Often we have to be ready to respond to other events such as the tragedy in New Zealand. Such events make all of our work in promoting peace and understanding between communities all the more important.