We will only end world poverty by working with people who have faiths other than our own – so let’s do it right,” said Christian Aid’s Inter-Community Initiatives Manager, Nigel Varndell, following a major conference on inter-faith humanitarian work this week.
Varndell was one of the key initiators of the Keeping Faith in Development conference in Cambridge, which brought together Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and World Jewish Relief among other faith charities to debate how faith-based charities should work with people of other religions.
The issue came to prominence after the murder of Christian charity worker Gayle Williams in Afghanistan in October. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it had executed her for spreading the Christian faith.
“We wanted to dispel the myths that we only work with people of our faith. We also wanted to convince people of all faiths of the value of inter-faith work, and to share examples of best practice,” Varndell stressed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Development, Ivan Lewis, told the 60 delegates he believed faith-based charities had a distinctive contribution to make in international development work. Their identity as people of faith could, he argued, actually help them to win the trust of local communities with religious beliefs.
He also urged faith-based development organizations to do more to keep the need for aid to poor countries high on the public agenda, but warned that the effectiveness of aid was going to come increasingly under the spotlight of critics.
“We have a responsibility to demonstrate maximum effectiveness,” said Lewis.
Participants were encouraged to share their aid plans with local religious leaders and listen to their responses. They were also advised to be open with the community about the faith-based identity of their organization as well as ensure ahead of time that they understood the culture and customs of the community they planned to work in.
The conference included presentations on the aid work of each of the participating charities, including a Christian Aid-funded peace-building project by the Muslim organization Ummah fi Salaam in partnership with a Catholic NGO in the troubled region of Mindanao in the Philippines.