This week our Center at USAID hosted a convening with an interfaith delegation from Nigeria. They were comprised of ten community and religious leaders that included both Christians and Muslims, educators and journalists who focus on building religious peace and understanding within their country. The group was invited to the U.S. through the Department of State’s International Visitor’s Leadership Program and will travel to four cities to learn about religious freedom in the US. They will meet with faith and civil society leaders in open dialogue about how the interfaith community works together in this country to address the critical social problems of our time and to foster understanding.
Dana Alzouma, USAID's Nigeria Desk Officer, and I shared with the delegation an overview of USAID’s mission and work in Nigeria and around the world. I spoke on President Obama’s vision for engaging faith-based organizations and provided an update on the actions that had taken place following the President’s well-known speech in Cairo. I also highlighted the efforts of USAID’s Center to partner with local community organizations of all religions to achieve optimal development outcomes and provided the broader framework for our network of Centers.
A vibrant discussion followed as the Nigerian delegation had many questions for Ms. Alzouma and me about the nature of USAID’s work in their country. The leaders also offered insight into the challenges that their country is experiencing and made suggestions about how to most effectively address these challenges through USAID’s work. The conversation reflected these leaders’ deep knowledge and passion for fostering peace and unity within their country. For example, a delegate representing the National Mosque in Abuja, Nigeria called attention to the issue of family planning and discussed the need for convenings to to bring together religious leaders and scholars to help foster religious guidance to congregations in service of common objectives. Many members of the delegation shared the sense that religious leaders often have more influence within their communities than political leaders.
As the dialogue came to an end, the Nigerian leaders expressed their gratitude and excitement to have been invited to the US to visit our cities and talk with interfaith leaders in our own communities. They concluded the conversation by stating their commitment to helping their countrymen live peacefully, respectful of many religions, so that they can set an example for other countries to follow and capitalize on Nigeria’s promising potential.
It was an honor for our Center to have the chance to share in such a robust dialogue with prominent Nigerian members of Nigerian civil society. We look forward to continuing the discussion with the delegation about their interest in creating an interfaith community service center in Nigeria.
Ari Alexander is the Deputy Director at the Center for Faith-based & Community Initiatives and the Coordinator of Global Engagement at the United States Agency for International Development.