Monday, December 5, 2011

Knowledge Is Power

by Project Interfaith Programs Coordinator, Sierra Pirigyi

I grew up in a Northwest Iowa town called Ida Grove. Population: 2,142. Obviously very small, Ida Grove isn’t exactly a hub of intercultural activity. According to the 2010 Census, Ida Grove is 97.9 percent white. And although the United States Census does not capture religious demographics, I can tell you that the majority of Ida Grove’s residents are Christians. Growing up, I always had a hunger to learn about the different cultures and religions of the world. Unfortunately, growing up in such a homogenous community limited any potential intercultural or interreligious experiences I might have had. The closest McDonald’s was 30 miles away—forget about a mosque or a synagogue!

 Growing up in this type of environment, my only vehicle for learning about other faiths, beliefs and cultures was the internet. Books were a challenge—the local library was not exactly expansive and the closest Barnes and Noble was over an hour away. Therefore I was basically relegated to using the internet in order to learn about the world. The web, however, can be dangerous territory. Google the word “Jew” for example and you will find many disturbing search results. Hate sites, misinformed bloggers ... You name it, you’ll find it—often cleverly disguised as objective information. Which brings me to the importance of having truly objective, credible resources.

 I also used Wikipedia a lot… a lot, a lot. Not for school papers or projects, of course. My teachers warned us against that. But for my personal research into the random places and things I was interested in, I used Wikipedia-- because it’s the first result that shows up for every search, of course! Now I’m not bashing Wikipedia, but had something like Project Interfaith existed when I was growing up, I would have had a more reliable place to go.

 Project Interfaith works to grow understanding, respect and relationships among people of all faiths, beliefs and cultures. One of the ways in which we do this is through ensuring access to reliable information and resources on religious and cultural diversity. This is vitally important in a world where information and misinformation is all around us. From our Educator Trunks on the World’s Religions, our Religious Diversity Guides to our Resources for Health Care Providers, Project Interfaith is helping people throughout the community and world increase their awareness and understanding of different faiths and belief systems.

 This has never been more important than it is now. Intolerance and misunderstanding is rising globally. People are afraid of their neighbors because they simply do not know enough about them to understand their differences. By connecting community members with credible resources and objective information, Project Interfaith helps to create a better-functioning society and world. A world where all people, regardless of faith, belief or culture are equally valued, included and protected. A world where dialogue between people of different backgrounds is not only welcomed, but encouraged and seen as vital to a healthy society. A world where misunderstanding and ignorance are replaced by understanding and respect. Knowledge is power, and it can and will lead us to where we want to go.

If you’d like to help Project Interfaith achieve these goals and become a partner in creating this world, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today. Your gift will help us expand our ever-growing collection of resources, allow us to create more innovative and inspiring programs, and ultimately build the world we all wish to see.

Sierra Pirigyi is Project Interfaith's Program Coordinator.   She is currently a junior at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, double majoring in International Studies and Spanish.  Sierra is also working on a TESOL  Certificate and pursuing certification through the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.  She has attended the University of Colorado-Denver and Metropolitan Community College as well. Sierra previously worked as an Administrative Assistant for Project WISE, a Denver, Colorado non-profit working with low-income women.  This is what first sparked her interest in not-for-profit work.  Sierra began interning with Project Interfaith in February 2010, assisting in various fields until discovering her passion for programming.  Although currently undecided about her exact career plans, Sierra intends to continue working in the non-profit field, hoping someday to do humanitarian work with children and youth in Latin America. Sierra enjoys learning about history, religion, philosophy and international politics.  In her spare time, she likes to read and write.  

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