The Tony Blair Faith Foundation is seeking to reach out to children in Indian schools to expand its “Face to Faith” programme, encouraged by the positive response to the project it has received from other countries.

The programme, aimed at building understanding among children of different faiths through video-conferencing and other technological tools has, according Annika Small, Director of Education at the foundation, evoked an “exciting response.”

Hundred schools are already being covered in India, Pakistan, Palestine, Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

The foundation now plans to expand the programme. “By the end of this year more than 130 schools will be covered,” Ms. Small told The Hindu here.

Interaction

Children in various schools in these lead countries directly interacted with their peers in the U.K. and the U.S. Ms. Small agreed that the target children did not always possess the requisite level of understanding needed for a discussion of issues of faith. “But we want to catch ’em young so that they’re put in a direction in which they become sensitive to these issues,” she said. “We do not start the conversation directly with the [subject of] religion.”

India, according to Ian Jamison, a programme facilitator, is the next major destination on which “we’re going to concentrate.” He said: “India is a huge country with diverse cultures and religion. The potential to see people benefitting from our programme is very much visible there.”

One in Delhi

The foundation has already done a programme at Anugrah, a non-formal education school for underprivileged children from a disadvantaged area in Bharat Vihar in Delhi. The school is located amid a deprived community that typically includes sweepers, rickshaw-pullers, daily labourers and street-hawkers. The students here spoke to children at West Houghton, Bolton, in the U.K.

“It was a great starting point for us to take up the inter-faith programme,” said Simmi Kher, the India coordinator for the project. The children in Delhi talked about how they celebrated Holi. Those in the U.K. described how they celebrated Christmas. Both sides sang for each other and it “kick-started a new relationship.”

According to Ms. Kher, more programmes were being organised in Dehra Dun and in eight Kendriya Vidyalayas, or Central Schools. The objective, foundation officials said, was to expose children to different faiths. “Religion, when lived through experience, is joyful and gives a different feeling,” said Ms. Small.

She said the programme was linked to the situation that emerged after the September 11, 2001 and July 7, 2005 terror attacks which put religious identities at a crossroads. “It’s a sensitive area but still there’s a great [deal of] space to feel comfortable,” she said.

In India the programme is likely to push forward a useful process of reconciliation among faiths. In this era of the digital revolution, the programme is better than Orkut and Facebook, Ms. Small said.

Faith as a discipline

The foundation is working on developing a new discipline at the university-level that deals exclusively with faith. Mr. Jamison said the National University of Singapore, Yale University and two universities in the U.K. and Canada are working on developing the new discipline. “We’re in touch with various institutions,” he said. The foundation plays a key role in training teachers as well.