Overcoming differences can help do good in world, Tony Blair tells Toronto audience

  • November 19, 2011

TORONTO - The concept of being open rather than closed to people of different faiths and backgrounds is in some ways more important than traditional left-right political distinctions, former British prime minister Tony Blair told an audience at the University of Toronto Nov. 17.

Standing alongside six young people of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Bahá’í faiths who are the Faiths Act "fellows" stationed in Toronto, Blair said he couldn't think of a better place to do interfaith work than in Toronto. Faiths Act is the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's multi-faith social action program with 34 fellows stationed in five countries around the world.

"It's all about action and service in order to demonstrate that your faith is compelling you to do something positive for humanity and not something negative," Blair told the audience at the Multi-Faith Centre.

Blair said he has an "absolutely passionate belief in this concept of interfaith understanding both in itself and in order to show that faith can be a force for good and for progress. It is something that operates in total unity with the future, with progress and with the necessity of building a decent, humane and civil society."

"Our overall goal is to mobilize individuals and communities of all faiths and philosophical backgrounds to come together to address global health issues and advance the Millennium Development Goals — specifically malaria and maternal health," said Davina Finn, a Jewish fellow working with Christian fellow Anna Siu at the University of Toronto's Multi-Faith Centre.

This particular pair have identified a malaria research project at the University of Toronto led by Dr. Kevin Kain for which they are raising money and have run events such as "Heal with a Meal," an interfaith sandwich making and baking marathon to garner funds.

The other fellows in Toronto are working with Ve'ahavta, a non-profit Jewish humanitarian and relief committee, and the International Development and Relief Foundation. 

Blair shared the example of how the social action program is working to fight malaria in Sierra Leone, where the population is roughly half Christian and half Muslim, which is the case in many African countries, he said.

Due to the international community's efforts, the medicines and bed nets are often available. What is lacking is the distribution centres and training on how to use them, he said.

"Basically we've got the religious leaders of both communities, the Christians and the Muslims, to come together and to agree that we will train what we call malaria action ambassadors who then go out into their communities — the priests or the imams — and they go out and they get the volunteers." These volunteers, called champions, in turn train the members of their community, he said.

"Just within a few months, the program has taken off," Blair said, with 130 ambassadors training several thousand people. "Just over this last period, we've reached something like 40,000 people in Sierra Leone."

For more information, see www.tonyblairfaithfoundation.org.

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