Phnom Penh – Amidst the current conflicts threatening the future of humanity as a result of wars declared in the name of religion, an event in an effort of peace-building organized by Buddhist representatives in Cambodia and an international NGO for youth from different religious backgrounds was held to commit to building a network of cooperation by youth for peace.
HWPL Religious Youth Peace Camp was co-hosted by HWPL, IPYG and a group of Buddhist monks from April 1st to 4th in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. More than 40 international youth from Australia, Cambodia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and the United States discussed causes and resolutions of religious conflicts.
As a main organizer of the camp, Ven. Oeun Sam Art, Secretariat of Supreme Sangha Council / Head Office of Protocol and International Relations, explained the objective by saying, “In order to build peace, it is important to bring the peace message to all people all over the world for understanding. When people understand and accept different faiths, it will ultimately help build peace and happiness.”
During the four days of HWPL Religious Youth Peace Camp, the youth participants engaged in lectures, group discussions, and presentations to understand different religions and cultures. Also, they participated in various activities, such as candle lighting, meditation, and peace walk.
Day 1: April 1, 2017, Wat Ounalom, Phnom Penh
On the first day, the camp program was held on the topic of “General History of World Religions” at Wat Ounalom, a Buddhist temple in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. Without understanding world religions, it would be difficult to discuss peace. This is why on the first day of the camp, beliefs, practices, and cultures of the world’s major religions were introduced to the participants so that they could better understand each other, who came from different national and religious backgrounds. A guest speaker, Ven. Penh Vibol (Lecturer at Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University and Panna Sastra University of Cambodia), spoke on the topic of “The Importance of Religious Gathering in Religious Peace” and delivered the message that now is the time to not just talk about peace but take action for peace in religion.
Day 2: April 1, 2017, Al-Serkal Mosque, Phnom Penh
On the second day, the camp program was held on the topic of “Causes of Religious Conflicts & Disputes” at Al-Serkal Mosque. It was quite exceptional for such a program to be held at Al-Serkal Mosque. Tarence Song, one of the organizers of the camp, remarked, “Opening this religious peace camp for youth was only possible because there was a profound partnership between Buddhism and Islam in Cambodia. Difficulties existed when religious practices must be respected and the mosque as a venue for the camp can be used at the same time. It was the result of a long, trust-based communication in the principle of co-existence and tremendous efforts by the Cambodian organizers.”
The youths, who visited Al-Serkal Mosque to participate in the program, wore hijabs and had time to learn Islamic culture and experience a religion that is not their own. One participant confessed that she was unfamiliar and even frightened to wear the hijab at first, but from discussing and experiencing different religions and their cultures through the camp program, she felt all people are one global family hoping for peace and dialogue is most important in achieving peace.
Day 3-4: April 2, 2017, Picnic Campsite, Kompong Seila
The camp program of the third day took place at a picnic campsite located in Kompong Seila, which is about a three-hour drive from Phnom Penh. On the topic of “Resolution to Religious Conflicts & Disputes and the Religious Community’s Role for Peace,” the participants discussed the current situation of conflicts between religions and ways to resolve them. Although it is a tough challenge facing the international community, the participants approached it from a youth perspective that respects diversity and came up with some innovative and interesting ideas. Regarding the effort to settle religious conflicts, Ven. Ken Horn said, “Different interpretation of religious scripture can cause conflict. We don't know what the real teaching is. We got lost. We have moved so far from the original. People use their own reasons to interpret differently and claim that it is the words of God. The UN alone is not effective. We have to focus on the local level, especially young people need to take actions for peace."
On the third and fourth day of the camp, the youths took part in not only group discussions but also various peace activities such as the peace walk. The participants introduced their own cultures and histories, and got actively involved in learning folk songs of different countries.
“To me, the most memorable part of the camp,” said Ven. Chhon Bun Thoeun, “was that I could spend the whole day with youths from different nations to cooperate and share experiences together. We all have different blood mothers, but I realized that we are one family building a house of peace together. Also, this camp helped me to seek the proper way of living in peace. I can stand with a stronger belief in this world with hearty people by mutually understanding each other.”
Ms. Va Srey Deth, a student of pannasastra university of Cambodia, sent a letter to the IPYG headquarter office to express her impressions of the camp. In the letter, she said, “It was my pleasure to have an opportunity to participate in this camp, spending three days with Korean people and Cambodian people as well as monks to raise awareness of religious issues. As a youth, I lost attention to religion which promotes peace and connects people under one roof of eliminating war. After joining the camp, I realized that religions have different philosophies and principles, but they work for the same purpose—peace. I would like to express my appreciation for your religious peace camp and HWPL. Your team (IPYG) has worked very hard. It was very effective for the youth and myself. I have figured out the role of religion in this society, and of myself in development and creating peace in mind. I hope I can join or organize this kind of amazing camp or event.”
The 1st HWPL Religious Youth Peace Camp in Cambodia showed the potential of the youth who transcend nationality, race, religion, and culture to bridge the world and peace. The Cambodian monks making sincere efforts to understand the cultures of youths who participated in the camp showed that world peace is the responsibility of not just leaders of one religious group but everyone, especially the youth who are the leaders of the future. Like this camp, the IPYG will continue to organize events in which youth around the world can discuss peace by overcoming misunderstanding and prejudice among religions, cultures, and ideologies and respecting diversity.