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Athens residents join delegation to Indonesia for Ohio University project on inter-religious dialogue

ATHENS, Ohio (March 7, 2005) ? Two Athens residents will be part of a delegation of American civic and religious activists to visit Indonesia for two weeks beginning March 16 as part of an Ohio University project focusing on promoting and facilitating inter-religious dialogue in Indonesia. The delegation?s visit is intended to demonstrate solidarity with the Indonesian people in the wake of the recent disaster and promote better relations between the people of Indonesia and the United States. The project is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of State.

Mara Giglio, training and program coordinator for the Appalachian Peace and Justice Network, will provide training to Indonesian educators on peer mediation. Giglio is a conflict management trainer for the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management and has trained more than 300 teachers and administrators in peer mediation and other conflict management techniques. She also teaches a course on school conflict management at Ohio University.

Troy Johnson, a graduate student in International Development Studies at Ohio University, will also travel with the delegation. Johnson became interested in Islamic education while working with Muslim youth as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan.

The delegation will be led by project director Richard Kraince with assistance from Ohio University doctoral student Ann Shoemake. Both have extensive experience working in Indonesia.

The 10 Americans selected for the delegation include university professors, graduate students and representatives of non-profit organizations working on issues of conflict resolution, mediation, and peace and justice. A series of public forums will be implemented as well as visits to various non-government agencies, government agencies and religious institutions.

In Jakarta, members of the delegation will attend a conference on higher education partnerships at the University of Indonesia. They will also implement peer mediation trainings for the Indonesians who have participated in the Inter-religious Dialogue Project and for faculty and students from two local universities.

The group will visit a traditional Islamic boarding school in West Java, where they will participate in discussions on minority rights with local religious leaders. In Cirebon the group will visit a non-governmental organization working to foster inter-religious tolerance and meet with local religious and civic leaders to discuss the role of inter-religious dialogue in conflict management and tolerance promotion efforts. Delegates will conclude their visit with a trip to Aceh Province.

In 2004, Ohio University?s Center for International Studies launched a series of exchanges between religious and civic leaders in Indonesia and the United States, and three Indonesian groups visited the United States as part of this project focusing on inter-religious dialogue.

These exchanges are intended to promote greater understanding and mutual respect among people of different faiths by expanding dialogue on critical issues including religious freedom, individual rights and relations between faith communities.

The project provides opportunities for participants from both countries to share strategies for responding to religious extremism and intolerance in various contexts.

Organizers hope the initiative will motivate serious efforts to strengthen inter-religious harmony by promoting conflict management efforts in areas affected by sectarian strife as well as building support for civic education and tolerance promotion activities more generally. A key goal is to facilitate long-term relationships so that dialogue on how to manage differences among religious groups in a pluralistic civil society can be broadened and sustained.

According to Kraince, Indonesian delegates who participated in the U.S. study tours hope to replicate peer mediation programs observed in schools in Ohio and New York. Several of the delegates who will travel to Indonesia from the U.S. in March have been selected for their backgrounds in peer mediation training. ?The Indonesian participants have asked for peer mediation training and we?re pleased to be able to provide that,? said Kraince.

?One tangible outcome I see for this project are the long-term friendships between our Indonesian colleagues and the Americans participants,? said Kraince. These connections are inspiring the Americans who have been involved in the project to learn about and talk about Indonesia here in the United States. According to Kraince the American delegation?s visit provides an opportunity to further those friendships and introduce the group of American civic and religious activist to Indonesia and its culture. ?I hope this will foster more international understanding and goodwill,? said Kraince.

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Media Contact: Richard Kraince, special projects manager, Ohio University Center for International Studies, (740) 593-0351 or kraincer@ohio.edu

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