Service Opp: Faiths Act Fellows Combat Malaria

A cohort of 30 young people, representing many faiths, raise awareness and resources to fight deaths caused by malaria.


Recognizing that religious pluralism can either be a source of conflict or cause for cooperation, many groups around the world strive to bring young people of diverse faiths together—to act on the values their faiths hold in common. Serving together deepens the faith commitment of each person, while also enabling each to see another perspective.

A project launched by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and coordinated by Malaria No More and the Interfaith Youth Core, the Faiths Act Fellows work towards achieving the United Nation’s Millenium Development Goals regarding malaria. From the Tony Blair Faith Foundation website:

The disease kills over a million vulnerable people every year, mainly young children and women in Africa. It costs Africa over $12 billion a year in health costs and lost productivity, making poor countries even poorer. Worldwide, there are more than 350 million malaria infections each year. More than 1 million of these cases end in death; others scar their victims for life with permanent brain damage.

Fellows come from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. They train for two months in London, Chicago, and with primary health care partners in Africa — and then return to their home countries for 8 months of full-time, stipended service.

Fellows serve in faith-based organizations that also work on malaria-related issues. From the website:

Fellows will accomplish this primarily by doing outreach presentations and workshops for young people and their allies in local faith communities, including congregations, faith-based schools and religious or inter-religious student groups at local universities. Following their initial presentations and workshops, the Fellows will provide counsel and additional training to each active group as they enact their ideas, helping to ensure collective success in inter-religious partnerships and in raising awareness and life-saving funds.

The application is due January 15.


If you are interested in helping out but can’t apply to become a fellow, here are some other ways to get involved with the Faiths Act Campaign. Also check out the interfaith social network Bridge Builders on Ning, operated by the Interfaith Youth Core.

To learn more about the interfaith youth movement, check out the work of the Interfaith Youth Core based in Chicago, and read its founder Eboo Patel’s memoir Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

* Photo above taken from the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and copyright Lucas Foglia.

Tolerance and Service

Today the New York Times reports findings that “Mutual trust between members of different races can catch on just as quickly, and spread just as fast, as suspicion.” The study has a few implications for service corps.

Working together with a person of another race increases your ease around others of that race. In the article “Tolerance Over Race Can Spread, Study Finds,” author Benedict Carey describes a study that shows that

In some new studies, psychologists have been able to establish a close relationship between diverse pairs — black and white, Latino and Asian, black and Latino — in a matter of hours.

The study involves pairs of people from different races in a variety of activities for four hours.

First they answer a series of questions, designed to get to the bottom of some big issues quickly (like “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?”). Next they play on the same team, competing against another pair in “timed parlor games.” In the third section, they talk about issues like what it means to be a part of their ethnic or racial group. And finally they work together in a classic trust exercise, where one person, blindfolded, is led through a maze by the other person.

By the end of their time together, the pair’s relationship “is as close as any relationship the person has,” according to the social psychologist who developed the exercises, Art Aron.

That relationship immediately reduces conscious and unconscious bias in both people, and also significantly reduces prejudice toward the other group in each individual’s close friends.

This extended-contact effect, as it is called, travels like a benign virus through an entire peer group, counteracting subtle or not so subtle mistrust.

Similar increases in tolerance are seen when people of mixed races are working or talking together in a room — others in the room ease up around members of the race group that is different from them.

One reason for the swift increases in tolerance is that we are all motivated to be part of the in-group, whether the in-group includes people of our own race or not.

The study has immediate and diverse implications for service corps.

For service corps programs engaging participants of different races, the activities outlined in the tolerance study may serve as a blue-print for team-building and cross-cultural engagement, where no one person is singled out as “different” but where everyone’s differences are expressed and put to work. The importance of building trust and confidence across race is crucial, for getting things done, as well as for team building.

Further, the study may explain why people who engage in international service have a tendency to come home with a bit of an identity crisis (e.g., I still feel Chinese on the inside though I am not Chinese ethnically) — and why they often express tolerance for racial and cultural differences once they have returned home. Other members of service corps who serve constituents across race or in mixed-race communities tend to experience similar growth in perspective.

Many service corps value diversity and offer opportunities for corps members to dialogue about race and culture.

One resource that groups turn to is books, like that of Eboo Patel, founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Youth Corps. He writes about tolerance and intolerance in his book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim and the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

When I attended a professional development conference called Northwest Leader Corps in 2004-05, we watched and talked about the film The Color of Fear, a very powerful, honest documentary about the role of race in the lives of nine men.

Relationship-building exercises described above would take such a workshop to the next level — it’d be not just educational but also transformational.

Watch the Color of Fear trailer:

Also check out this Lesson Plans blog post by Christina Shunnarah, a teacher in a cross-cultural learning environment.

The tolerance study sounds like great news to me, and I look forward to more good news on race relations to come out over the next several years now that people are paying attention to race in a different way than ever before.

Transforming Your World through Service and Faith

The world over, people of faith — every faith — are called to action, to answer the plea of a neighbor in need, or to make the world a more just place. Some people volunteer through their place of worship, others through community and grassroots organizations.

For people who want to live out their beliefs through service, and to commit to full-time service in the United States or abroad, participating in a faith-based service program offers training, a connection to people in need, and a team for reflecting with on issues of religious and moral importance.

The Jewish Coalition for Service is a coalition of faith-based organizations whose mission is to inspire Jewish people to take part in a full-time term of volunteer service and to mobilize the alumni of service. JCS connects people with over 75 full-time service opportunities some of which are also AmeriCorps programs, including Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps.

Avodah engages young adults in direct service at in Chicago, New York, Washington, and New Orleans.

Watch this video about Avodah:

Another Jewish service group, the American Jewish World Service, offers committed citizens the opportunity to serve abroad in community organizations.

Next week, the Catholic Network of Volunteer Service will gather its program directors for a multi-day conference in Portland, OR. I’ll be there, partly because I am offering a workshop on supporting volunteer career transitions, but also because I am an alumni of one of CNVS’s member programs, Notre Dame Mission AmeriCorps Volunteers AmeriCorps (NDMVA).

CNVS is a national membership association of 200 faith-based domestic and international volunteer programs, some of which are either AmeriCorps-funded, or which offer the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to its members upon completion of service. It publishes a directory of its programs called The Response Directory in print, and as a searchable directory on its web site. Regardless of your faith, you should check out this list of questions you should ask before joining a service program.

I joined the Notre Dame AmeriCorps program in 2000, immediately after finishing out my term of Peace Corps service.  In Peace Corps, I had taught English to Chinese college students, and the Notre Dame program allowed me to come back to the States and teach English and citizenship skills to Asian immigrants and refugees living in Lowell, MA. I couldn’t have found a better way to transition back to the States. (Plus I met my future husband through the program.)

Another prominent Catholic service program is the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, including Jesuit Volunteers International.

If you are seeking a faith-based program to join, you may not need to be an adherent of the faith — be sure to ask. And your service may or may not include missionary activities. AmeriCorps-funded programs are open to people regardless of faith and members do not proselytize during their service.

I have looked for Muslim term of service programs (AmeriCorps-funded or not) and haven’t found anything — if you have heard of one, or a service program run by any other religion, I’d love to hear about it.

Oct. 20 update: Also at the CNVS Conference I heard about Eboo Patel‘s Interfaith Youth Core Faiths Act Fellows, a group of young people from the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, who serve to meet Millenium Development Goals.