One week before the Genfest, from June 28th to July 5th, more than 400 young people will participate in the Pre-Genfest, a series of social activities in 20 different locations in Southeast Asia. The Pre-Genfest is a laboratory of social work for youth who want to have an experience of intercultural exchange and contribute to social change.
Participants will have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves to work in marginalized neighborhoods, social centers, and to participate in ecological and environmental activities. The Pre-Genfest will also provide opportunities to go beyond social borders by visiting orphanages, prisons, and to interact with people from other cultures and religions. Young people will be immersed in the various social and cultural situations of the cities where the Pre-Genfest will take place.
“The purpose of the Pre-Genfest is to offer to the youth, who are coming to the Genfest in Manila, the opportunity to have an experience —in miniature— of universal brotherhood. It also aims to open their hearts to the social realities that other people are living in different areas, perhaps kilometers away from their homes,” explains Romè Vital one of the coordinators of this endeavor.
Each location will have a different flavor. “We want to give the possibility, for those who are interested, to know more about the cultural diversity of our people in Asia,” says Vital. Some people will be exposed to the peripheries of fast pace city-life of megalopolis such as Hong Kong and Seoul, and others will visit rural areas in Masbate, or Pangasinan in the Philippines. Some will experience first-hand interreligious dialogue in cities such as Chiang Mai, Thailand; Medan, Indonesia; and Yangon, Myanmar, and others will participate in ecological activities such as helping harvesting rice in Hanoi, Vietnam; or cleaning up some beaches of Palawan, Philippines, a well-known tourist destination.
A socio-cultural walkthrough in history is also part of the program in many locations. In Seoul, Korea, for example, participants will learn the background of the events that brought to the division of North and South Korea, and experts will conduct workshops to learn how building peace in different locations has repercussions all over the world.
Interreligious dialogue will be also part of the program. In Coimbatore, India, participants will be offered an intercultural and interfaith social experience guided by Gandhi’s motto “be the change you want to see,” In Taipei, Taiwan, the youth will interact with indigenous inhabitants of the island, and in Aklan, Philippines, participants will go beyond social borders of race and ethnicity through an immersion with the community of Atis (Aetas) – an ethnic tribe that is believed to be the original settlers of the island of Boracay.
Other locations include Mumbai, India; Ho Chi Min, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; and different cities in the Philippines such as Baguio, Cebu, Dumaguete, La Union, and Tacloban. The collaboration with organizations such as Bukas Palad, and Façenda da Esperanza in the Philippines, and the Shanti Ashram in India, among others, was fundamental in the preparation of the Pre-Genfest.
According to Vital, the Pre-Genfest will have an indelible impact in the life of the youth who will participate as they realize that building a united world starts with concrete actions. In fact, Pope Francis —during his visit to Loppiano on May 10th, 2018— pointed out the importance of training “oneself to use the three languages together: of the mind, of the heart and of the hands,” which is a fundamental element in the formation of new generations. He also invited the Focolare Movement to be “in service to all, with the gaze that embraces all of humanity, beginning with those who in whatever way are relegated to the peripheries of existence.”
By the time the Pre-Genfest participants will arrive in Manila for the Genfest, they would have experienced in a small scale what universal brotherhood means and how to build a united world with their own hands. This experience will surely contribute as a leaven to make the Genfest an expression of the united world we want to build together. Vital encourages to participate in the Pre-Genfest “with an open heart,” in that way this experience will be an “experience of God” as Chiara Lubich defined the Genfest.
María Clara Ramírez