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18 October, 2010

IofC forum responds to Gandhi's challenge

Cain Ormondroyd (Photo: Gintare Karalyte)
Cain Ormondroyd (Photo: Gintare Karalyte)
What did Mahatma Gandhi mean when he said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’? This question was posed by London barrister Cain Ormondroyd when he addressed a public forum in the London centre of Initiatives of Change (IofC) on 9 October. The day-long event, chaired by Crimean IofC campaigner Angela Starovoytova together with Brazilian Diego Casegrande, was on the theme ‘Initiatives of Change – making a difference’.

The forum brought together Interns who had taken part in summer conferences at IofC’s centre in Caux, Switzerland, and students who had been at a five-day ‘School for Changemakers’ course at Liverpool Hope University last June. The London forum was interspersed with music by Lithuanian pianist Gintare Karalyte. 

Political activists would see Gandhi’s statement as being about ‘how our lifestyles fit into larger systems that cause problems in the world,’ Ormondroyd said. ‘So, save energy, buy fair-trade products, don’t work for an exploitative big corporation; don’t fly or drive unnecessarily in order to reduce carbon emissions.’  

Religious people would see it differently, he continued. For them ‘it’s about being the sort of person who can care for others whatever the system we are under. So don’t be greedy; don’t hate others; be loving, kind, humble; look after your family and friends; do whatever job you have with integrity. 

Panel of speakers answering questions (Photo: Francis Evans)
Panel of speakers answering questions (Photo: Francis Evans)
For my part, at university I was 100 per cent political,’ he said. But when he gained a Christian faith in his third year of studies, ‘I went to the other extreme: 100 per cent personal.’ However, the distinction was false. ‘We need both, not either/or. Gandhi did not draw a distinction between the political and the personal, the social and the religious.’  

Ormondroyd posed two more questions about Gandhi’s statement: ‘How do we do it? And what are we going to do about it?’ He continued: ‘The great thing about Initiatives of Change is that it looks at personal change in a broader context. But however long we have been involved we still have something to learn, some more thinking to do.’ 

He illustrated this by his own learning as a member of an organising team at a conference on ‘learning to live in a sustainable world’, held at the IofC centre in Switzerland. ‘We wanted to look at the changes needed to sort out problems of the environment and poverty. But we were so busy and ambitious that we didn’t really have time to look after each other and several people got really burnt out. And we didn’t really stop to think if the conference was sustainable environmentally.’ Next year’s conference, he said, would focus on ‘making Caux itself more sustainable before we preach to others. It is a continuous learning process.’ 

So what are we going to do about it now?’ Ormondroyd’s message was to listen better to each other and to ‘the still, small voice of calm’. ‘We need to listen to those with more experience and to those with fresh perspectives. And in the tradition of IofC we need to listen to a higher power, the voice of God, or the inner voice of conscience, intuition, deep within the human spirit, available to all of us at any time.’ 

Alex Birnberg, Angela Starovoytova and Diego Casegrande (Photo: Gintare Karalyte)
Alex Birnberg, Angela Starovoytova and Diego Casegrande (Photo: Gintare Karalyte)
Alex Birnberg from Australia told of his participation in an IofC Action for Life training programme in Asia, ‘an action that inspires growth from a few raindrops to a thunderstorm’. It encouraged personal change, whether returning stolen library books or making an apology, he said. He will participate in the fifth Action for Life programme later this year. 

Asked what her experience of the Caux conference centre meant to her, Joanne Rechdan from Lebanon, who is studying psychology at Cambridge University, said it was ‘a magical place. It helped me to get a new outlook on life.’ 

Isha Khan (Photo: Gintare Karalyte)
Isha Khan (Photo: Gintare Karalyte)
Isha Khan, a post-graduate trainee teacher from London, also spoke about her first experience of the Caux centre: ‘It was amazing to meet people who want to make a positive change on an international scale. What I learnt in Caux I can pass on to my local organisation, including the values of Caux.’ Khan has been active with a training programme for young people in East London called Truce 2020. ‘Today,’ she added, ‘I really appreciate that there is a voice for young people and that their voice is being heard.’  

 

The forum saw a film made by former teacher Howard Grace about the School for Changemakers (SfCM) held at Liverpool Hope University last June, which he has made available on DVD. Adam Papka, from Sheffield, who is a youth programmes champion for IofC UK, reported on a reunion of the SfCM alumni, who keep in touch through their newsletter.  

Adam Papka and Howard Grace (Photo: Gintare Karalyte)
Adam Papka and Howard Grace (Photo: Gintare Karalyte)
Interviewed on the platform by Starovoytova, Francis Evans, Chair of IofC UK’s management team, said that, despite a financial deficit that was anticipated earlier this year, IofC UK expected to break even in 2010. He thanked the team for their support and said ‘it made a real difference every day, knowing that up to 100 people were praying for our finances. Of course that did not mean we sat back and did nothing – we have taken a range of actions to save money and increase income, with more to follow. But your prayers were absolutely essential to the outcome.’

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