AWON Annual Meeting: Celebrating and supporting AWoN ‘agents of change’

June 3, 2023
By Magdalena Wernefeldt

More than 40 practitioners, researchers and key people from connected organisations have met this week in Budapest, Hungary, for the A World of Neighbours’ second annual meeting. It concluded June 1 with a new board and advisory board in place, priority areas determined for the next two years and most importantly – renewed energy.

©Mária Takács

The annual meeting provides the one-time-of-the-year opportunity for AWoN practitioners, who are spread across Europe, to come together and reignite the sparks of connection and inspiration. Over the course of three days, participants engaged in mutual support, shared experiences, and discussed the next steps, all while nurturing a sense of community.

Emotional reunion
– It was a retreat, interconnectivity, celebrating our network. It brought new people to the network and celebrated existing ones, says Rikko Voorberg, director of the A World of Neighbours network.
– To see all of us, from countries all over Europe, become friends and renew our dedication to the important work we do, was emotional. The location of the centre, being surrounded by serene nature, added to the circle of trust.

Peopel of different ages and religions sitting in a circle.
©Mária Takács
People sitting in the shadow of a stone house.
©Mária Takács

Meeting in the very country of Hungary was important in itself. Its controversial immigration laws and the rise in xenophobia in recent years stand in marked contrast with the country’s rich migration history. Rikko Voorberg underscores the significance of the site visits to Hungarian practitioners, made during the meeting, showing support for those who strive to create an inclusive society, where everyone is considered a neighbour.

– We realised how important it is not to abandon people who are working under very difficult conditions with and for people on the move.

Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, practitioner herself who has been part of the network since it started, keeps reminding the practitioners of a quote from the Jewish teachings: “It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
– We might not finish, but we can contribute, says Rikko, paraphrasing the quote.

We count in “one”, this one person. If this one person’s life is changed we have achieved our goal.

During the past year, the interim board has worked diligently to establish the network as a foundation and develop its mission and services. The focus has been on creating collaborative tools and services for practitioners and exploring ways for enhanced communication, collective learning and collaboration.

With this well into realisation, this years annual meeting decided on five priority areas for the next two years:

  • Circle of Trust
  • Professional Practitioner Support
  • Multifaith development
  • Community of Practice
  • Storytelling

– Practical outcomes should serve higher goals, says Rikko Voorberg and continues:

– I am grateful for the wisdom of the practitioners present that they came up with these main categories. The unique combination of these five aspects of our mission is defining our network.

Women sitting in the grass.
©Mária Takács
A group of people discussing.
©Mária Takács

The second annual meeting of the AWoN network was a testament to the unique network that AWoN has become. Through shared experiences, a commitment to understanding different cultures, and an appreciation for the arts, participants gained a renewed sense of purpose and determination, individually as practitioners in the field and in the common endeavour for an inclusive Europe.

As AWoN continues its journey towards fostering a Europe of peace and conviviality, Rikko Voorberg says it remains committed to the accumulative power of small actions that can create transformative change.
– I believe this is quite unique to A World of Neighbours. We count in “one”, this one person. If this one person’s life is changed we have achieved our goal. That is the accumulative power of small goodness, we talked about.

AWoN board and advisory board 2023–2024

People in a row.
©Mária Takács
People in a row.
©Mária Takács

Board, from left:  Zachary Gallant, Country Coordinator for Germany for GreenFaith, Maria Kjellsdotter Rydinger, Church of Sweden, Faiaz Dowlatzai, Writer and activist, Sweden, Amjid Khazir, Media Cultured, UK, Amloud Alamir, journalist Amal, Berlin! Germany, Helena Hummasten, Islamic Relief, Sweden, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, Shir Hatzafon, Denmark.

Advisory board, from left: Zachary Gallant, Country Coordinator for Germany for GreenFaith, Rikko Voorberg, Theologian and activist, Director of AWoN, the Netherlands, Parwana Amiri, teacher and activist, Germany, Father Panteleimon Papasynefakis, Director at Synyparxis, Greece, Sabina Esp, Social worker and activist, Sweden, Jean Duff, Partnership for Faith and Development Ireland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, Torsten Moritz, Director of CCME, Belgium, Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, Shir Hatzafon, Denmark and Ilan Cohn, Director at HIAS Europe.
Missing: Anna Alboth, Media Officer at Minority Rights Group International, activist, Poland/Germany, Sivin Kit, Interim Director, Department for Theology, Mission and Justice, Switzerland, Farhad Shamo Roto, founder Voice of Ezidis, France, Marika Markovits, Bishop, Church of Sweden.

Annual meeting 2023 in pictures

Three men and a woman, part of a circle of people.
Photo: Mária Takács
Young women sitting in the grass.
©Mária Takács
People waiting for the train.
©Mária Takács
Two women greeting each other.
©Mária Takács
People eating dinner outside.
©Mária Takács
Conversations at at outdoor table.
©Mária Takács
A woman raising her hand in the air in a room of people.
©Mária Takács
Group of people sitting on the grass.
©Mária Takács