Earth Hour 2017: Caring for the environment together

This is a guest blog, from Scott Blance at WWF Scotland.

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All faiths teach the importance of caring for the earth and every one of us is reliant on the natural resources of our planet to survive and flourish. Neither climate change nor faith recognise any territorial borders giving religious communities a unique understanding of the global nature of the challenge and how small actions in one community can make a huge difference to another far away. Bestowed with this duty of care, actions intended to protect the environment make both a positive spiritual and practical impact to the Earth.

WWF Scotland invite all Interfaith members to join together in demanding action on climate change by participating in Earth Hour. Earth Hour takes place this year on Saturday 25 March at 8:30pm and is a truly global moment of shared action and unity.

Now in its tenth year, Earth Hour continues to shine a light on the need for climate action. The last three years have been the hottest on record, and people and nature around the world are already feeling the impacts of a changing climate.

Last year, landmarks across the world switched off their lights for an hour including the Sydney Opera House, Thailand’s Temple of Dawn, St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Events were held in over 178 countries to illustrate global support for stronger action on climate change. Over a hundred landmarks like Eilean Donan and the Kelpies switched off last year in Scotland. Edinburgh Central Mosque took part, engaging their social media followers. Dunscore Parish joined numerous churches in holding a service themed on care for the environment, while many other places of worship held candlelit services and vigils on the night.

By signing up, you’re joining thousands of people across Scotland and millions around the world to celebrate this brilliant planet and remind us of our collective power to make change. Communities will join together at 8.30pm on Saturday 25 March to share prayers by candlelight and reflect on and rejoice in the planet.

From hosting candlelit services to encouraging environmental action within our own communities, Earth Hour is an opportunity for all of us to explore climate concerns and how our faith calls us to address them.

Why not use Earth Hour as an opportunity to hold a reflection on care for the environment at your place of worship? Sign up to Earth Hour, find out about events near you, and access helpful resources at our website.

Stuart’s Story

Stuart Fleming is a member of LGBT Youth Scotland, Stuart was one of the candle lighters during Scotland’s national Holocaust Memorial Day event.

During the ceremony, six candles are lit to mark the 6 million Jews murdered in the holocaust; the Roma community; disabled people; those murdered because of their sexuality; those muredered in subsequent genocides, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur and Bosnia; those suffering in current conflicts.

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I was honoured to be given the opportunity to be part of the Holocaust Memorial Day, by being invited to light a candle for LGBT people who lost their lives during the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

I was a founding member of LGBT Youth Scotland’s East Dunbartonshire group called Easties, there are two groups in East Dunbartonshire (Easties and Westies) which offer support for LGBT young people. I have received support from LGBT Youth Scotland on multiple occasions on a range of issues, from making friends to coming out.

After being a member at the group I was given the opportunity to become a peer educator which means I would go into different school in East Dunbartonshire and talk to students about homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. This was an amazing experience as I was given an opportunity to educate people on the impact that words and names can have on a person. I believe that education is key in tackling issues in society.

When I look back at the Holocaust I think it’s important that people are educated on the impact it had on people’s lives, to understand that we cannot allow it to happen again.

The theme this year is “how can life go on” which is such a strong theme especially in the LGBT community, as many young people struggle to believe that life can go on when considering coming out to family members and friends. However, through support from organisations such as LGBT Youth Scotland they manage to see that life does go on, which is an important message which should be shared.

Carole’s Story

Carole Gillespie is Scotland National Support Worker at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Carole was one of the candle lighters during Scotland’s national Holocaust Memorial Day event.

During the ceremony, six candles are lit to mark the 6 million Jews murdered in the holocaust; the Roma community; disabled people; those murdered because of their sexuality; those muredered in subsequent genocides, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur and Bosnia; those suffering in current conflicts.

I am privileged again this Holocaust Memorial Day to light a candle to remember all of the disabled people who were killed in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

As Support Worker for Scotland for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust you would think this was a natural part of my role.  And you would be right.  But lighting the candle for the disabled victims has a deeper personal meaning for me.

My daughter is 19.  She is a happy, gregarious young lady; unfortunately she also has complex learning difficulties.  Obviously this has a big impact on her life and the lives of our family.  She is non-verbal, and needs 24 hour care and supervision.  Despite this she lives a happy, varied life and I think I speak for all members of our family and close friends when I say we have learned so much from her.  Ironically, she has been supported for the last 11 years by a Jewish charity, Cosgrove Care, who have saved our sanity and given my daughter a great deal of happiness.

So when I light the memorial candle for Holocaust Memorial Day, I think of my daughter of course.  I think about the T4 programme instigated by the Nazis to eliminate people with a disability or learning difficulty.  I think of all the joy my daughter has brought us.  I think of all the young people she went to school with, with a variety of disabilities, who have given me some of the happiest and most profoundly moving moments of my life when they excelled in the school show or took part in Reels on Wheels, their wheelchair Scottish country dancing.

I think of attending her ASN school’s HMD memorial, listening to the choir of young people singing music from Ghetto as they remembered everyone who has perished in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides with a simple yet deep humanity.

And I reflect on how lucky we are to live here, in Scotland, and be able to remember HMD and its victims with these remarkable young people as they commemorate those who were not as fortunate as themselves.

HMD 2017: Melissa’s Story

Scotland’s national event this year is hosted by Bishopbriggs Academy.  Melissa and Scott, both S6 pupils in the school will host the event.  We asked Melissa to write a short blog about why she was asked and how she feels about the prospect… 

This year I have had the incredible honour of being asked to MC Scotland’s National Holocaust Memorial Day Event. After visiting Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau, and discovering the atrocities faced by inmates of the camps, it has been a privilege to be involved in this year’s commemoration events. It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and a unique experience to pay tribute to those murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides around the world.

This year’s theme of “how can life go on” particularly resonated with me after having met Monika Goldwasser – a survivor of the Holocaust – earlier this year in Poland and hearing her moving story of how she coped and moved on with her life after discovering her Jewish heritage and the parents she had lost during the war. Monika’s story is just one of many tales of extraordinary courage adopted by those whose lives were drastically changed by this genocide and in genocides since. Instead of wallowing in the grief of the life she had lost and the family she had never known, Monika made the inspirational decision to tell her story and work tirelessly along with others to educate future generations of the devastation caused by genocide.

One word that springs to mind when attempting to understand the Holocaust and subsequent genocides is ‘counterintuitive’. For me, it is impossible to understand why genocide happens, it just doesn’t make sense. However, the important lesson to take away from this year’s memorial events is that we must work together to move on from tragedies such as these and continue working to create an equal society, free of hate and discrimination.

Umutesi’s Story

Umutesi will be Interfaith Scotland’s speaker at Holocaust Memorial Day events – read her story in her own words…

When Interfaith Scotland asked me to speak at the 2017 National Holocaust Memorial Dumutesiay (HMD) programme I was honoured.

I have only been sharing my story since 2015 after my husband helped me to see that I could offer hope to people through my story. In Northern Ireland I was fortunate to speak with young people from either side of the Peace Wall from Catholic and Protestant communities to help them to learn the lessons from my own experience of the Rwandan genocide.

Rwanda is an example of a people that lived together in peace for centuries but became divided due to the Belgian colonialists who found it easier to control this peaceful people by encouraging them to see their differences as tribes, mainly Hutu, Tutsi and the minority Twa. The Hutu were chosen to cultivate the land whilst the Tutsi were charged with looking after the cows, a very important animal in Rwandan society. Resentment eventually grew between these groups which culminated in the events leading up to the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The genocide began 3 days before my 13th birthday and life was never to be the same again. Up until then I was a happy child enjoying my family life and looking forward to returning to school to see my friends.

Within a few days I had been assaulted, had witnessed my mother being murdered and was embarking on a long journey through the jungles of Congo in search of safety for my baby sister who I carried on my back and my two young siblings.

What does HMD mean to me?

When I think back to my childhood in Rwanda I was a happy child with lots of friends. But the events leading up to the genocide warn us how prejudice, discrimination and racism can take hold and culminate in a genocide. The genocide did not simply happen overnight but was made possible by the dehumanising of one ethnic group by another. By the separating of Hutu children from Tutsi. by the name calling of ‘Tutsis’ cockroaches and snakes. By thinking that one tribe was superior to the other

My experience is sadly not unique. It happened during the holocaust and has continued to happen to other countries such as my own through history. Events such as HMD are so important in order to teach the younger generation, the future world leaders of tomorrow to walk the path of peace. To recognise that we are all the same in the inside. As the words of my husband’s song, ‘We are one’ explains, ‘We are all one and the same. When we cut we bleed. We all have the same dreams. To be loved to be free.’ We all have the right to expect to live a life without fear of being discriminated against or killed simply because of our skin colour, beliefs or ethnic origins.  I believe through speaking to young people directly they are moved by these first-hand accounts and are moved to want to speak out against such atrocities.

I spent several years on the run in the jungles of Congo initially helped by a friend of our family from Congo who led us to the safety before continuing on his journey. I had the misfortune to lose my younger brother who was beaten to death during that period. I lived in fear that one day we would also be captured and killed. We lived day to day not knowing where our next meal would come from. Yet something within me gave me the will to survive. Perhaps I was driven by the desire to save the lives of my two younger sisters. After surviving several years in this wasteland I realised this was no life for my sisters or I and I decided to return to Rwanda. Unclear what the future if any might lie for me and my sisters in Rwanda or the dangers that might lurk ahead. I had no choice. This was no life for us living hand to mouth. Eventually we returned to our family village only to find that our family home had been destroyed. We were given shelter by a former family friend and neighbour.

With little funds available I decided to try and find out information on my father. I had not met my father due to the personal circumstances of his relationship with my mother. I had little choice, we were desperate due to our financial position. I was put in touch with my Aunt from my father’s side who was surprised to meet me, not knowing of my existence. She helped me to meet my father who unfortunately chose not to welcome me into his life.

With support from family, friends and a sponsor from Germany I was able to finish secondary school before going on to train as a nurse. I enjoyed being able to care for those who were sick and to make them feel better.

In late 2014 I met my husband Iain Stewart and ironically I owe that partly due to Holocaust Memorial Day. He was in Rwanda recording an album to promote peace and reconciliation 20 years after the genocide with a fellow survivor and famous Rwandan musician called Jean Paul Samputu who was a guest speaker in Scotland in 2013 which is where they met.

This leads us to the question of, ‘how life goes on.’ For me God was with me and guided me through the darkest times in my life and he has guided me here to the beautiful and cold country of Scotland that I now call my home.  As I often say, ‘We cannot be slaves to our past.’ We must learn the lessons of our past and try to build a better future. One thing we can be certain of is that our future is uncertain who would have known I would be happily living in Scotland a country I confess I knew little about before meeting my husband. For my own country I am proud of how far it has come in such a short time. Yet there is still a long way to go as I said in order not to be slaves to our past we must learn to forgive. Only with forgiveness can we truly learn to put our past behind us and begin to move on with our lives. This process has begun but it is never an easy path and is often a long and difficult one. However there is no alternative if we are not to repeat the mistakes of our past and if we wish to build a better world for our children and generations to come.

Saskia and her mother Brigitte’s story


Saskia Tepe is travelling to Scotland as Interfaith Scotland’s guest to join speakers at various Holocaust Memorial Day events – read her story in her own words…

When Interfaith Scotland invited me to speak as part of the 2017 National Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) events they saskiaare organising over the week beginning 22nd January, I was absolutely delighted.

I have been talking about my mother Brigitte’s remarkable survival of the Holocaust and the aftermath of war ever since I can remember.  I try to bear witness and in paying tribute to her experiences and the choices she was forced to make, I also hope that what I tell my unsuspecting victims will make them reconsider their preconceptions!

Which is also the point of HMD.

HMD is a time when we seek to learn the lessons of the past and to recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own, it’s a steady process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. The aim of Interfaith Scotland to promote peace through dialogue between people of all faiths, is part of the process that should prevent a genocide from taking place on these shores.  The United Nations is trying to ensure that this same process of dialogue takes place across the world, and has designated the 27th January a worldwide time of remembrance, bearing witness, and education.  Most of my week long schedule of bearing witness will be held in schools. I believe, hearing a first hand testimony from a live witness makes all the difference to young people with little life experience. And given that most actual Holocaust survivors are now in the autumn of their lives, it behoves the children of survivors to carry on bearing that witness.

My mum was a Catholic Sudeten German, whom the Nazis labelled “Mischling” (mixed race Jew) because of her Jewish heritage.  As such, she experienced the tribulations of WWII during the Holocaust and again during the ethnic cleansing of German Nationals that occurred in the former Sudetenland between 1945 and 1947. She told me some of her experiences – but most of her story I had to learn from documents she left after she died, and research.  Which of course would make my story simply a second hand account.

But the HMD theme this year – “how can life go on” allows me to talk a little more about how her life continued after the war, and how the legacy of a war ravaged Europe directly affected me…

Born in 1954, I spent my early childhood in a Refugee (DP) Camp in Nurnberg, Germany.  After being fostered by families in Switzerland and Belgium, I emigrated with my mother and stepfather to the UK when I was 7 years old, as part of the 1959 UN’s World Refugee Year initiative. Contrary to cosaskia2mmon belief, many displaced people continue to languish in camps across Germany and other European countries until well into the 1960’s.  Life did not suddenly improve for those caught up in war because the bombs stopped falling.  How can life go on, when you cannot return to your home because it no longer exists or has been appropriated by strangers or an aggressive regime?  How can you build up a new life in a country that is still struggling to rebuild itself?

We spent much of our lives being aided by charities… the Red Cross, the British Refugee Council, the Catholic Church,  a teacher’s Association, and countless individuals who offered my family friendship and understanding as we struggled with ill health, low paid work, hindered by a lack of language skills.  In those days, adoptive countries took no account of foreign based qualifications.  War is a great equaliser.  However,  it also makes you realise that kindness exists in abundance and is not to be taken for granted.

Then of course, there is the not so small matter of the mental scars that are left.  Painful memories deliberately buried deep so that you don’t give up hope, and can face looking forward and plan for a new life.  And to do that, you must come to terms with the worst in mankind, your personal losses, choose whether to forgive or blame, and learn to trust again.

My mother was able to do all of those things. It was me, the second generation survivor, as we are sometimes called, that found things more difficult.  Because the children of survivors of genocide have their own cross to bear.  They carry their parents’ pain, whilst trying to assuage it and protect them from more.  They try extra hard to fulfill their parents’ ambitions for their futures, whilst being the go between with strangers and the sometimes incomprehensible cultural norms and traditions and expectations of their new foreign homes.

And the children become the voice that their parents – the survivors – lost.  They are the ones left with a specific burden.  Angry at the injustice their parents encountered, they encourage their parents to tell their stories if they can, or else they take on the responsibility themselves to shout out the message, that a great sin against humanity was committed.  And that those stories of survival, during the genocide and afterwards, must become a lesson for new generations to learn.

Read more about Holocaust Memorial Day 2017

Follow Saskia’s journey via her Twitter account.

Launch of Scottish Interfaith Week 2016

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The launch of Scottish Interfaith Week took place on Sunday 13th November. It was a wonderful occasion and we were delighted to host the event in partnership with Renfrewshire Interfaith Group and Renfrewshire Council. Members of Renfrewshire Interfaith group met regularly with Interfaith Scotland’s Development Officer on the lead up to the event and their enthusiasm, commitment and plenty of bright ideas made the job of planning and running the event a lot easier! We were also very grateful to Renfrewshire Council who donated the Grand Hall at Paisley Town Hall as well as a generous donation towards the catering costs.

The event began with a delicious vegetarian lunch. During the lunch there was an opportunity to view stalls with artefacts from eight world faiths as well as exhibitions from Interfaith Scotland, Engage Renfrewshire, Paisley 2021 and Police Scotland. There was also an exhibition of the winners of the Interfaith Week art competition on the theme of ‘religion and the media’ which was won by pupils of Wallace Primary School in Elderslie, Renfrewshire.

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Those gathered were delighted by the dulcet tones of Emma Durkan on the clarsach during the lunch.

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Dr Maureen Sier, Director of Interfaith Scotland was our compere for the afternoon and also introduced the theme of Scottish Interfaith Week, ‘Religion and the Media’. Provost Anne Hall welcomed those gathered on behalf of Renfrewshire Council. Stephen Haggerty then gave a welcome on behalf of Renfrewshire Interfaith Group.

Those gathered experienced a powerful drama written by Shelagh McKay and Jean Urquhart from Renfrewshire Interfaith Group which illustrated how invisible and vulnerable people of faith can feel when they are portrayed negatively in the media .

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Cathy MacDonald, a bilingual broadcaster, gave the keynote address. Samina Ansari, CEO of Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre spoke about the effect that negative media reporting can have on people of faith. Jennifer Jones, researcher at the University of the West of Scotland, spoke about ways in which community groups can access and utilise social media.

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There were also wonderful performances by Aria, an award winning choir, and Abhinaya, an Indian dance academy, both based in Glasgow.

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