World Faith was honored to be selected as the Challenge the Gap beneficiary (Q3 2015) by Foundation Beyond Belief (FBB), and we were truly moved by the outpouring of support we received from FBB’s constituency. A significant portion of the almost $9000 grant went to fund the most recent class of our POWER program in Lahore, Pakistan. This month, the class graduated!

The Program of Women’s Empowerment and Reform (POWER) was created in 2011 to help women in underprivileged areas around Lahore build the skills needed for a sustainable livelihood. Over the course of the six-month program, a group of religiously diverse volunteer teachers instructs a cohort of 20-30 women in vocational skills, basic literacy, and business skills like bookkeeping. At the end of the program, we connect graduates to a microfinance institution to apply for funds to start their own businesses. In the last five years, we have trained more than 250 women in small business skills.

Not only are the women who participate in this program learning valuable skills that allow them to support their families, they’re also building vital relationships with people who are religiously different from themselves.  The participants’ experience in this program fundamentally changes the way they view religious others and disincentives violence against religious others.

We surveyed the last POWER class before and after the program, asking them to agree or disagree on a scale of 1-5 with statements like “I feel violence against people of faiths different than my own is acceptable.” Before they went through the program about 30% reported some agreement with that statement; they condoned violence against religious others to some degree. After the program, not a single respondent agreed that violence against people of a different faith is acceptable.*

We’re compiling the data now for the FBB-funded POWER cohort, and we’re excited to see if the results validate last year’s findings. But while we wait, we can’t help imagining a world where one million young people are involved in a World Faith program. The 300,000 (30%) whose attitudes might shift from condoning religious violence to denouncing it, from feeling disempowered to regaining agency over their lives. This scale could mean the difference between destabilizing violence and sustained peace in their communities.

There is something we can do about religious violence in this world. We’re doing it right now! And this year, FBB members made it possible. We cannot thank you enough.

Check out these photo from the graduation ceremony of this year’s FBB-funded graduating class. Their smiles are wonderfully infectious.
DSC_0137

*For more analysis of this POWER program class, visit the World Faith blog here.

More information about World Faith can also be found on the FBB blog: Webber, Wendy, “World Faith Counters Violence and Poverty Though Interfaith Engagement” FBB Blog, November 2, 2015