Blair charity launches interfaith school programme

Former British Prime Minister and Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair testifies at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "The Middle East; The Road to Peace" on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 14, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed/Files

LONDON (Reuters) - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair launched a project on Tuesday to get schoolchildren of different religions and countries talking to each other using video-conferencing.

The “Face to Faith” initiative, undertaken by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, will involve more than 1,000 secondary school students in Asia, Europe and North America who will discuss their views on global affairs,

Blair, who became a Roman Catholic in 2007 after stepping down as prime minister, said in a statement issued by the charity: “It is only by discussing different cultural and religious perspectives that young people can build their awareness of the role of faith in today’s world.”

Teachers said the issues they hoped to tackle varied from the need to steer children away from militant influences in Pakistan to preventing Islamophobia in British schools.

Among the participating schools is the City’s School in Bhit Shah in Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has Muslim, Hindu and Sikh students who grew up in areas where there were no non-religious people.

Head teacher Danish Jatoi told Reuters he wanted them to understand there were parts of the world where many people had no religion at all.

“The real problem is not fanaticism ... (but getting) to know each other,” he said.

Britain’s pilot school for the initiative, Westhoughton Technology College in Bolton, northern England, has a broad mix of religions and many non-practising or non-believing children.

“The kids will come up with phrases which generalise about all Muslims. Islamophobia exists at our school but it exists at loads of schools at a low level,” said its religious education teacher, Jo Malone.