“The seeds of peace come from the ground.” That is the vision that Rev. Dr Shanta Premawardhana, former director of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches and now president of OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership, tries to follow with his organization.
In contexts of religious extremism, OMNIA aims to dismantle violence by working with local leaders. “Where governments have difficulties to find solutions, OMNIA proposes alternatives coming from the ground”, Premawardhana says.
In Nigeria, Christian and Muslim leaders as well as traditional tribal rulers and representatives of the civil society receive training. The aim is “to build Interfaith Peacemaker Teams within communities that face the challenges of religious oppression, dominance, and violence,” Premawardhana explains.
Religious leaders play a critical role in bringing the tools they learnt at the training back to their own communities. By building capacity in their communities and fostering collaboration between Muslims and Christians, religious leaders reduce the space for extremists groups to recruit.
“Restoring peace is possible”, Premawardhana claims. In 2017 in Nigeria, more than 700 leaders received basic training and more than 100 participated in advanced training. Results are there and real changes are happening within communities, notes Premawardhana.
After a first success story in northeastern Nigeria, the organization is now expanding in Sri Lanka, responding to the invitation from religious leaders exposed to the violence of Buddhist extremism. Other projects are also in progress in Bangladesh and the United States. Premawardhana hopes that the bottom-up methodology proposed by OMNIA will be spread out to other neighbouring countries.