One week, four meetings, and several teachers—that’s what it took to prepare us for the Face to Faith program introduced only last week. The room was buzzing with excitement, high expectations, and hopes on interacting with students from far away. Face to Faith is a program launched by the Tony Blair Foundation whose aim is to connect students from different parts of the world and to let them interact by way of their religion and beliefs. The Grade 9 students of Xavier School Nuvali (XSN) were to participate in a video conference with students from the Ateneo de Zamboanga University (AdZU) and from the Science and Technology Education Center (STEC) in Cebu. The video conference is part of the activities for International Peace Day that will be held on September 21.
It was a sudden opportunity and everyone was willing to grasp it. The preparatory meetings were usually unannounced, and we were drilled on picking the right words, displaying a positive body language, formulating non-offensive questions, and introducing one’s identity. Fear swelled inside some of us—fear of rejection, of offending someone during the video conference, even of getting hung up on what we might have said. We breathed easier when we were informed that only sixteen students were selected to be in front of the camera; the rest were observers at the side. But before doing the actual video conference, we did a mock video conference with the teachers.
The first one was a bit awkward because we still regarded them as teachers. There was not much dialogue and conversation because we did not ask them any questions. It was simply uncomfortable. The teachers even gave us some tips on how to start a conversation with them, like “Act natural” or “Don’t forget to smile.” We were still scared and a bit disappointed with ourselves so we took these pieces of advice to heart and applied it on our second practice.
The second one felt a bit more comfortable, even though some of us were still too self-conscious. Our second mock video conference was supposed to be with some students from Xavier San Juan, but, as it turns out, they had already finished their video conference. So, we did it once more with the teachers. To some extent, dialogue happened in our second practice because we felt safer speaking out our views about our faith or beliefs. The Internet connection didn’t participate with us this time, though; other than that, the conversation went on smoothly.
It was finally D-day and the sixteen selected students were mostly jittery, mixed with feelings of excitement and nervousness. We went inside the designated classroom after lunch and seated ourselves orderly in front of the camera. AdZU had some technical difficulties so we had to wait for a while, but after that everything went smoothly. Thanks to our facilitator, Seán Rose, we started off with introductions using our social identities.
We began the conference with our introductions. We all stated our names, a social identifier (may it be our ethnicity, the language we use, or our religion), and why we love that part of our identity.
After the introductions, Mr. Rose gave each school an opportunity to ask two questions to any school. Our classmates, Maria Isabel Liquido and Maria Cruz, were the ones who asked some questions to both schools. Then, he gave us an opportunity to have a dialogue with one another within a span of ten minutes. We asked each other questions ranging from religion to education. Besides sharing and talking about our respective religions and educations, we learned about Cebu’s and Zamboanga’s culture in terms of their festivals, languages, and traditions. Mr. Rose let thrice as much time pass, though; afterwards, he asked us to wrap up our dialogue because we had talked about so many things and we covered a lot of ground.
He then asked us to reflect about the values we learned from the video conference. Three students per school were asked to give their insights about the dialogue we just had. We listened to the Cebuanos, Zamboangeños, and to our fellow Xaverians. Mr. Rose congratulated us and told us to bid our farewells.
Everyone from the three schools agreed that religion should not be a hindrance towards unification, and that we should look past our biases and differences to see how wonderfully diverse we are. Through this, we might achieve one of the many goals Tony Blair had in mind, to create a world where we live in harmony, in diversity, and in peace. Overall, the Face to Faith video conference was wonderful, and we had a great time.
With the success of our first Face to Faith experience, we are also participating in the Team Blogging that began on September 22. This is also part of the International Peace Day activities. Preparations have focused on both content and the manner, with our teachers re-orienting us on the topic of peace and showing respect. We always look forward to our Team Blogging sessions and we hope that by the end of this we will have learned so much more from our international partners.