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What I Learned During My Time with RFPUSA

A French Interfaith Intern in New York City

by Claire Soignet

The Church Center of the United Nations – Photo: NYCAGOI remember exactly where I was one year ago today, sitting on the plane to New York – the city that never sleeps – from France, heading to RFPUSA for my internship. Even amidst the busy Paris airport, all of my thoughts were focused on my upcoming three-month practicum at Religions for Peace USA. The idea to spend this time in New York came to me in the Spring of 2011 during a conversation with Michael Sturm-Berger at a Berlin program, hosted by RFP France.

My first working day at the Church Center of the United Nations, across the street from the U.N. itself, coincided with the beginning of the General Assembly. The streets were crowded and heavily patrolled. Since RFPUSA shares its headquarters offices in New York with RFP International, I was able to engage in fascinating encounters with high-level religious leaders. One such meeting occurred with the advisor to the Pakistani Prime Minister for Minority issues, who was attending the NGO Committee on Religions and Belief.

That same week I found my way to the New York Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the Religion Communicators Council held its monthly meeting. I was able to chat with Jaweed Kaleem, the national religion reporter for the Huffington Post.

Claire Soignet – Photo: FacebookAnother highlight of my internship was gaining insight from the work of the New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman who writes about religion. In my first month at RFPUSA I already was exposed to more than I had expected.

What particularly influenced me during the internship was working with the team at Religions for Peace USA, especially with Bud Heckman (then executive director) and Aaron Stauffer (then associate director). Working with passionate people in a field that encounters such important issues instilled my belief that the work is not only greatly needed and important, but also that there is simply so much more to be done.

This was proven forthrightly in RFPUSA’s work against religiously motivated violence and hate speech against Muslims. It ought to be noted too that our collective impact approach is not your typical community organizing model: it has its challenges, but also, undoubtedly, its advantages. Since Islamophobia is now becoming a serious issue in Europe, this experience gave me familiarity and the insight to develop a new perspective, knowledge, and skills that are greatly needed in my current workplace, Co-exister, a French interreligious organization.

Claire Soignet, M.A., visited RFPUSA representing Co-exister, a French interfaith organization headquartered in Paris.