Watering the Banyan Tree fosters interfaith respect and the inclusion of minorities through work with religious and community leaders; women, youth, and ethnic minorities; and civil society organizations. Traditionally, the Banyan tree provides shelter and and a gathering space for problem-solving dialogue. Led in partnership with Kalyana Mitta Development Foundation and Paungsie Metta Initiatives, this project works in that spirit, using public arts, advocacy, and skill-building in dialogue to nurture space for inclusive civil discourse.
About the Program
Efforts toward democracy and greater inclusion in Myanmar continue to face significant challenges, including ongoing civil wars, suppression of dissent, and religious- and ethnic-based nationalist politics. The country’s 2020 election cycle, and the unfolding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, have further impacted an already delicate social space, in which damaging narratives are often amplified, and the voices of the most vulnerable people are too easily ignored. Watering the Banyan Tree works creatively to shift this space, engaging diverse community leaders in fostering dialogue, collaboration, and positive counter-narratives to build tolerance and inclusion of religious and ethnic minorities.
Watering the Banyan Tree takes a two-fold approach to fostering trust, inclusion, and tolerance. First, influential youth, religious, and community leaders are equipped and empowered to facilitate meaningful intra- and inter-group dialogues with diverse identity groups that build trust and allow for all voices, needs, and concerns to be heard. This happens through a careful sequencing of dialogue facilitation, peace leadership, and youth leadership workshops that enable participants to lead dialogues and initiatives in their own communities and use the arts to open the space for diverse narratives that illustrate the benefits of inclusivity and interfaith collaboration. The project design emphasizes coalition-building, with meaningful opportunities to connect with community leaders in other project locations, policy makers, members of parliament, and alumni of our previous Karuna Myosae project.
With a strong foundation of trust and tolerance, built through deep dialogue and community action, program participants are further empowered to advance community-driven narratives and advocacy. Working with a messaging expert associated with the organization Breakthrough India, the team will learn to develop and disseminate strategic messaging initiatives that educate policymakers and the general public, in cities and rural areas, about acceptance and the contributions of minorities. These messaging initiatives will be further amplified by youth “Arts Ambassadors” who will use photography, film, music, theatre, and visual art to stimulate dialogue and advance the key discoveries of program participants.
This 24-month program is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor.
This dialogue handbook was developed through our 2016-2018 Karuna Myosae project in Myanmar. It is available in English, Burmese, Shan, and Kachin (Jinpaw):