United Nation’s World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW) is an annual celebration around the world from 1st to the 7th day of February to promote unity among the diverse culture and belief system of every nation. This year, Soka Gakkai International of the Philippines – Southern Mindanao once again took the lead to commemorate this event by holding the very first “World Interfaith Harmony Week Youth Forum” last February 7, 2017 which started at 2pm at the SGI Davao Culture Center, Davao City.

The forum which adopted WIHW slogan “Love of the Good, Love of the Neighbour” as its theme, was spearheaded by the SGI Southern Mindanao PR Youth representative and in partnership with Davao Peace Council Partners; Young Men Christian Association (YMCA), Global Impact, Al Qalam Institute Salaam Movement, Brahma Kumaris, Soroptimist and 10th ID CMO Philippine Army. The objective of the event is to present brief history and core values of the 4 major religion in the region namely, Christians, Islam, Lumad or Indigenous People (IP) and SGI Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. In addition, the forum also aims to answer queries of the invited youth participants from different schools pertaining on how the different religious groups view happiness, sufferings, and life as a whole focusing not on the differences but more on how similar each religious systems are in their views and how they overcome daily life challenges to be victorious and happy in life.

The forum started with the traditional Harmony Prayer where the representatives of the Christian, Muslim, IP and SGI Buddhist community offered peace and harmony prayer respectively. The Harmony prayer was succeeded by the Opening remarks of SGI PR representative Erique Mendoza, which he gracefully welcomed honorable guest speakers, representatives of each participating Davao Council Organizations, School guests such EMAR Human and Environmental College and Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School. He also gave a brief synopsis of the WIHW and introduced the first speaker representing the Christian Community, Mrs. Hope Fernandez of Global Impact. Mrs. Fernandez discussed about their views and faith as an Evangelical Christian and showed us how they integrate it with their advocacy to nurture the youth to be better individuals. The next speaker was the Islam representative, Mr. Ustadh Abulkhayr Carcuaga of Al Qalam Salaam Movement. Mr. Carcuaga discussed mostly the basic core values and belief system of the Muslim community reiterating that Islam is actually a religion of peace and love. The third speaker is the Indigenous People representative Mr. Rudy Mande of the Office for the Indigenous people of Davao City hall. Mr. Mande discussed how similar the Lumad faith to Christian and he showed videos of the rich culture and tradition of his tribe. Furthermore, he also shared how he struggled to be the first in their tribe to finish college and how he is paying grate gratitude to the people who helped him by helping his tribe to have more children to be educated at school. The last speaker is the SGI PR representative Mr. Justino Figuracion, who had a very comprehensive presentation about the history of Buddhism and he also showed a short film of SGI such as the “History of SGI” and “SGI Buddhist Movement” (Short Version). After the presentations, SGI PR representative Erique Mendoza showcased the SGI Song entitled “Harmony in Diversity”, a song written and arranged by Renaissance Youth group of Soka Gakkai Malaysia, which the lyrics was show in the big screen. Audience and the Davao Peace Council Members loved the song so much, thus, unanimously declaring the song as the official DAVAO PEACE & INTERFAITH UNIVERSITY CARAVAN theme song.

The highlight of the event was the Open Forum session, where Brahma Kumaris representative Ms. Arlene Lozano Broke the ice by asking what is the views of each religious group about why people have to experience suffering. Each religious group representative gave enlightening views with a common point that sufferings are there for people to view them as challenges to be overcome.  Views from the students was shared, and a student form EMAR Human and Environmental College also asked about how to overcome challenges and how each of the religious group deal with the LGBT community and Gender equality. The exchange of views and ideas on the matter was both enlightening and challenging yet all representative gave the students a common answer that life is precious and must be respected no matter what the raise, belief and gender preferences that we all must strive to love the good and our neighbors for a harmonious future.

After the open forum, a special number was given by Davao local talent Jef Fresco of Association of Creative Artist Inc. singing inspirational songs such as “One day” by Matishyahu and “I Lived” by OneRepubic. Tokens and Certificates of appreciation was awarded to all participating organization, guest schools, guest performer, and honorable speakers was done, before the closing remarks was given by SMGHQ WD Chief Flor Asturias. The event was concluded by a commemorative photo and harmony snacks sponsored by Soportimist’s Alternative Catering.