Thursday, July 12, 2018



4th DIALOGUE in Siloam, Umiam Lake, Meghalaya

To Build a Caring World

by celebrating differences, melting divisions


The 4th Dialogue in the beautiful Siloam campus by Initiatives of Change was held in early June in the wake of violence and unrest in the nearby capital city of Shillong.  While this did affect attendance at the dialogue, the lives of the 34 participants from 9 countries or states were emboldened in their spirit to do away with divisions, even as the tense atmosphere continued, hardly 50 km from the Siloam campus. 

Significantly we had three participants each from neighbouring Bangladesh, and Nepal, bringing to the Dialogue their unique perspective, making friends for life, thus building the foundation for a peaceful region.

Sunny Mawiong had appropriately declared his intent for the Dialogue:  “Just as Umiam lake is the source of electricity for this region, let’s make Siloam the place for healing and hope for a peaceful region”; and this intent permeated the Dialogue through and through.

The Dialogue was opened by Christine Iralu, who extended a warm welcome to our Chief Guest, IAS Officer, and advisor to the Governor of Meghalaya, Mr. K. N. Kumar, with a special note of appreciation to Fr. George of the Siloam campus. 

 In his classic soft tone, Mr. Kumar shared important insights on various subjects like peace-building, Meghalaya’s agricultural needs and challenges, as well as skill development for youth employability.  In an extraordinary gesture, Mr. Kumar invited all the participants to the Raj Bhavan in Shillong.  The visit was undoubtedly the highlight of the Dialogue, laying the groundwork for further IofC work in the coming months to empower rural youth in Meghalaya.  The Governor, Mr. Ganga Prasad, also graciously took time to address all the participants and answer their questions at a reception held at the Raj Bhavan on Sunday, June 10th.  The outreach team imbued the meeting with a beautiful vibrance as they sang in unison, begging to know, as it were: `Kaun hai Zimmedar?’  Saroj Dhungana of Nepal shared his story of transformation after practising Inner Listening Time as learnt at IofC.  The Bangladeshi participants also graciously presented the Governor with their student-published Law Review magazine. 

While several questions - possibly uncomfortable for the Governor, given the political climate in the country – remained unanswered, he did laud the efforts of IofC, and encouraged the growth of the movement towards a more diverse and prosperous country.  After his address, he also stayed back to interact and take pictures with participants – something he rarely does, Mr. Kumar privately shared with the team.

The Dialogue was punctuated by powerful sharing – importantly the session focused on `Caring for our Region’ with sharing from Patricia Mukhim (Padmashree and senior journalist at the Shillong Times) and Sunil Kaul (ex-Army colonel and founder of Assam-based NGO, Action Northeast Trust).  Both shared important insights into the work they do in the North East.  Ms. Mukhim spoke about the deep insecurity that the tribal people experience, throwing light on the importance of community conversations to address individual and community fears, while also acknowledging the strengths of the community.  Speaking to the different peoples of the North-East, she said, “If we want to save this region, we have to start with our tribe, and our tribe is not always right”. 

Sunil Kaul spoke poignantly about borders – “Ants and birds see no borders.  We’re the only animal species who created borders.”  And this is how we’ve created borders in our minds.  Further, borders are getting more and more sharper because of technology, specifically social media.

Both, Mr. Kaul and Ms. Mukhim spoke of the hazards of social media.  Apart from the isolation it leads to, social media has also proved to be dangerous, with forwards and messages being spread to incite communal tension and ignite violence and rioting.

In another panel discussion, Biren Bhuta also shared his incredible journey continuing to re-invent his job role, while making sure he remains true to the voice within.  “If you have an idea or vision, which is truly without selfishness, doors open,” he says; and his life is a living testament to this.

After engating with these stimulating and inspiring discussions, participants dialogued in groups about issues that deeply resonated with them – the “Matters that Matter” session.  Groups around Divisions & Migration, Poverty & Corruption, Mental Health, Women’s Issues and Environment shared thoughts and ideas around the issues, keeping in mind all along that the dialogue is more a space to share perspectives than incite debate.  In the culmination of these dialogues, one young tribal boy from the North East piped up with a promising determination shared “I will rise above tribalism!”

The final session of the Dialogue saw teary-eyed, yet twinkling smiles, exchanging phone numbers and promises of ensuring that buddies stick to their Inner Listening Time pledges.  “When is the next Dialogue in Siloam?”  “Will you be here next year?”  See you soon, then?