I am honored to have served as an Office of the Secretary-General Intern at the Religions for Peace International during the last two semesters of my Master of Global Affairs degree at the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs. This enormous opportunity was made possible through my reception of the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion internship award in the summer of 2022 and Spring of 2023. This opportunity provided me with a substantial understanding of the interconnectedness, interdependence, and my appreciation of the role of religion through multi-religious and multi-faith engagements in addressing pressing global affairs and global health challenges.
Religions for Peace is a world-class organization that brings together religious leaders, interdisciplinary scholars, and practitioners to work towards peace and social justice guided by their six (6) priority strategic areas under the strong and compassionate leadership of Professor Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace. As an intern at Religions for Peace, I had the privilege of working with a team of dedicated professionals who are committed to promoting interfaith dialogue, cooperation, and understanding through various programs and initiatives. My experience as an intern at this organization was eye-opening and rewarding in many ways.
One of the most significant aspects of my internship was the opportunity to work with a diverse group of people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and the salient role of women in leading the organization’s mission. I was specifically involved in the Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families, and Communities (FPCC) initiative activities under the supervision of Jimmy Obuya, coordinator of the FPCC initiative. The Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families, and Communities (FPCC) initiative was jointly formed by the Religions for Peace, UNICEF, and the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities (JLI) with the overarching aim of strengthening interfaith efforts in influencing positive social and behavioral changes of the most marginalized children, families, and communities globally to improve child well-being. My active involvement in the project activities and scaling efforts from countries in South Asia and Africa to also the recent fostering opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean Regions have expanded my horizon and enhanced my learning goals on the project. One of the most fulfilling learning points in my role is the observation of the prioritization of multi-religious engagements in tackling health issues through partnerships and collaborations with highly respected global health institutions such as the World Health Organization, UNFPA-Africa, and UNICEF, alongside other emerging collaborators. In my role, I wrote the country feedback reports for the 2022 Annual FPCC webinar, facilitated the drafting and finalization of the Moldova logistics notes, and writing a one-page summary report of four country reports on FPCC National Preparatory Consultations in the Latin Americas and the Caribbean Region (LAC). This experience, amongst others, allowed me to broaden my perspectives and gain a deeper understanding of the issues facing various communities around the world that could be addressed through religious leaders engagements.
The world is in demand for salvation. Amid the several obstacles to human existence, and the intensity of how complex and deep- rooted most of the world’s unique needs are, our shared experiences and unique characteristics define us as an individual and collectively add to our sense of existence. This interconnectedness provides the basis for understanding and addressing unprecedented world complexities. Coming from The Gambia and having first-hand experiences of delivering primary public healthcare services to underprivileged and hard-to-reach communities, I knew and learned on my job that there is more to how we could better address existing and prepare for future health-related problems than we can ever imagine. Serving as an intern at the Religions for Peace through engagements with program officers on several aspects of the day-to-day operationalization of the organization in realizing its vision for peace through religion rekindled my reasoning. It expanded my horizons in perceiving complex global issues and envisaging solutions. I have learned enormously more than I imagined that fostering multi-religious collaborations and international partnerships can impact individuals’ and populations’ health, dignity, and well-being, thereby realizing a more peaceful, just, equitable, and inclusive society for all.
As an upcoming Master of Global Affairs graduate from the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, I hope to replicate the Religions for Peace missionary model of engaging and utilizing multi-religious leaders and inter-faith institutions in tacking one of the world’s most unprecedented tragedies yet highly preventable - ending preventable maternal and newborn morbidities and mortalities, especially in highly conservative, fragile, and underserved populations where most of these tragedies are highest. If anything, moving forward to my next career in advancing global health, I will utilize the understanding I acquired from this experience as an additional toolkit to my international health delivery mechanisms, and I wish to iterate the mantra of one of the most influential global health enthusiasts - Dr. Paul Farmer that “the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” There is no doubt that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with improving health outcomes, but perhaps to foster religion as a tool for health and peace, we must first understand and appreciate who the human is, and that reminds me of another salient quote from Dr. Paul Farmer’s book on Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, that “If access to health care is considered a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?”