Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions
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2009 Parliament

Youth Program Speakers

Kamal Aboalthom – Palestinian co-captain, 2008 AFL Peace Team
Kamal was born in Hebron, Palestine and currently lives in the Tulkarem refugee camp where he studies and plays soccer for Tulkarem FC, in the top Palestinian league. This year, he received the best player award. In 2008, Kamal was selected as the Palestinian co-captain of the AFL Peace Team to participate in the AFL International Cup in Melbourne, Australia where he played a huge part in the success of the team. Since returning to the West Bank Kamal now works as a teacher in the Palestinian Authority. He regularly participates in the Peres Center for Peace sports programmes as both a coach for the younger children and as a player. He is also regularly in touch with his fellow AFL Peace Team-mates and said that the Peace Team experience in the International Cup was a highlight in his life. Kamal’s dream is to continue playing AFL and being a role model for the game as a coach, player and a strong advocate for peace.
Nasya Bahfen – Lecturer, Radio Journalism, RMIT University
Dr Nasya Bahfen lectures in the School of Applied Communication at RMIT and works regularly in the newsrooms of ABC Radio Australia and SBS Radio. Her teaching and research interests include radio journalism, Islam and the media, and the use of the internet by young Muslims. Nasya is a committee member of the Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria.
Robert ‘Dipper’ DiPierdomenico – Coach, 2008 AFL Peace Team
A legend at Hawthorn Football Club, Dipper played in five day Premiership sides and four night Grand Finals over a career spanning 240 games. Dipper developed into a national media personality via his work on Channel 7. Then in 2007, he enjoyed one of his proudest moments when he was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame. Last year Dipper went through a life changing experience when he volunteered to be the Match Day coach for the 2008 AFL Peace Team. He went to Israel for eight weeks to work with the boys who were up for selection then in July he travelled to Israel to train the 30-man team. Dipper is now heavily involved with the AFL as the National Ambassador for their junior development program, Auskick where his role includes educating Australia’s youth about Australian Rules Football which takes him to every corner of our nation. He is also one of National Australia Bank’s National Ambassadors and is involved in a variety of activities to promote the brand and their involvement In Australian Rules Football.
Miriam Pepper – Australian Religious Response to Climate Change
Miriam Pepper is a Christian environmental activist, working to build environmental awareness and action within and across communities of different faiths and of none. She is especially passionate about the interconnections between ecological integrity, justice and peace, and about the blossoming of relationships that comes about through shared initiatives and projects. She worships at Maroubra Junction Uniting Church in Sydney, home of grass roots environmental initiative Project Green Church, which is also now part of the growing South East Climate Action Coalition. She is a founding member and secretary of multi-faith network the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), and is also active in the Faith and Ecology Network. Miriam has a PhD on “Christianity and Sustainable Consumption: A Social Psychological Investigation” from the University of Surrey, UK.
Rabbi Ralph Genende
Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Rabbi Genende grew up in South Africa where he served both a congregation and the Beth Din (Jewish Religious Court) in Johannesburg. In the late 1980s Rabbi Genende relocated to Auckland with his family. For ten years Rabbi Genende was Senior Rabbi to the Auckland Jewish Community, during which time he also served as President of the Council of Christians and Jews before moving to Melbourne in 1997. Rabbi Genende has a Master’s Degree in Counselling, and is Senior Rabbi to the Australian Defence Forces. He served as a Congregational Rabbi and College Rabbi at Mount Scopus College for ten years and was appointed in 2007 as the first full time Rabbi in five years to the Caulfield Hebrew Congregation which is now undergoing an energetic renewal. He is an Executive Member of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, the Council for Christians and Jews and a member of the Victorian Premier’s Multi-faith Advisory Group.
Anna Halafoff – Researcher for UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations
Anna Halafoff is a researcher for the UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations - Asia Pacific and the Global Terrorism Research Centre, School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University. Prior to joining Monash University, Anna coordinated the Religion & Peace Program at the International Conflict Resolution Centre, University of Melbourne. Anna is currently a PhD candidate at Monash University, researching Multifaith Movements in Ultramodernity.
Nick Hatzoglou – Multicultural Project Coordinator, Australian Football League (AFL)
In my role with the AFL and Football Victoria my key objective is to bring Australian football opportunities closer to people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Combining experience with the Centre for Multicultural Youth, local government and with Cricket Victoria as a Community Access Project Coordinator, I assist people and organisations to develop an inclusive sporting environment. This involves working closely with football clubs, schools and community groups to implement strategies, conduct events and training that increases participation and awareness of sport and recreation. I enjoy the involvement within the sports sector and believe Australian Football can play a vital role in developing peoples understanding of each other. My formal qualifications include a Bachelor of Applied Science (Human Movement), majoring in sports administration, and a Post Graduate Certificate in Event Management.
Nazeem Hussain – Cast Member, Salam Cafe
Nazeem Hussain is a cast member and writer for Salam Café, an award-winning Muslim panel show (SBS) that aims to demystify stereotypes. Nazeem hosted the Allah Made Me Funny Muslim 2006 Comedy Tour and then, with comedy partner Aamer Rahman, went on to beat hundreds of other hopefuls to reach Triple J’s Raw Comedy Victorian State final. Their first show Fear of a Brown Planet premiered at The Age Melbourne 2007 Fringe Festival with an extended sold-out season where they received the festival’s Best Newcomer Award. Nazeem also teaches Islamic classes for children, is a youth worker and works for the Islamic Council of Victoria.
Heba Ibrahim Heba Ibrahim – Board Member, Islamic Council of Victoria
Heba Ibrahim is a board member of the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) where her portfolios include interfaith and government, policy and advocacy as well as many other areas affecting the Muslim community such as youth, women's issues and multicultural affairs. Heba also recently become a board member of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) taking on the area of youth where she aims to create a network of Muslim youth activists, representatives and workers nationwide to advocate on Muslim youth issues and work on projects to address them. She is currently involved in a leadership program for young Muslims aged 19-30 through the ICV which gives the participants exposure to a range of issues affecting Australia nationally and internationally as well as getting them in touch with influential figures to raise their concerns and proposals. Heba is completing a Master of Public Policy at Melbourne University and her ambition is to become a public servant, to work on policy in state government and maybe federal government in the future.
Valarie Kaur – Filmmaker
A third-generation Sikh American born and raised in California, Valarie is a writer, filmmaker, and lecturer in religion and ethics. As a Harvard Presidential Scholar, she recently received her Masters in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School. For more than five years, she created, wrote, produced, and developed her first feature-length documentary film on hate violence in post-9/11 America – Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath. In September 2006, the world premiere of Divided We Fall sent Valarie on a packed international speaking and screening tour which continues today. She has been invited as an authority on the subject at more than one hundred universities, colleges, and religious centres across America. She has been featured in print, radio and television media including CNN, NPR, the BBC, and Frances Moore Lappe’s book You Have the Power: Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear. The State of California recently presented Valarie with an official commendation recognizing her work as a scholar, activist, and storyteller. Valarie presently serves as founding director of the Discrimination and National Security Initiative at the Harvard Pluralism Project and is studying civil rights law in post 9/11 America at Yale Law School.
Tanya Oziel – Executive Director, Peres Centre for Peace (Aust Chapter)
The Peres Center for Peace is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in 1996 by President of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mr. Shimon Peres, with the aim of furthering his vision in which people of the Middle East region work together to build peace through socio-economic cooperation and development, and people-to-people interaction. Tanya, together with Chairman John Weiss, set up the Australian office in 2006 to bring to the Australian community a different narrative about Israelis and Palestinians. One that demonstrates that Palestinian-Israeli cooperation is not only desirable, but also entirely feasible. In January 2008, preparations began for an AFL Peace Team. Following a period of try-outs, 26 players – 13 from each side – were selected to compete in the AFL International Cup in Melbourne later that year, under the banner of the “Peace Team”. The team represented a diverse group of Palestinians and Israelis – 16 to 36 years old, Muslim, Jewish and Christian – who hail from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Kiriyat Gat, Beersheva, Yeruham and Ra’anana on the Israeli side, and Tulkarem, Jericho, East Jerusalem and Hebron on the Palestinian side.
Kuldeep Singh - Chairperson, World Sikh Council (America Region)
Kuldeep Singh, a Clinical Chemist by training and an Administrator of Reynolds Clinic and Ohio Clinical reference Laboratories, is a recognized author, speaker and leader within North America on Sikh and Gurmat topics. He has published a number of articles in the Journal of Sikh Studies, The Sikh Review, Atam Rang, and Miri and Piri. He founded the Sikh Youth Federation, USA in 1968 to educate the Sikh youth regarding their heritage and serves as the President of the Federation. And Kuldeep was unanimously selected to lead the World Sikh Council – America Region (a representative body of Sikh Gurdwaras and organizations) by its members and was confirmed by the Jathedar of Sri Akal Takhat Sahib, Sri Singh Sahib Bhai Ranjit Singh to serve as its Chairperson from 1998-2001.
Tejdeep Kaur – Camp Coordinator, Sikh Youth (USA)
Tejdeep Kaur is a recent graduate from The Ohio State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biological Studies and a minor in Mathematics. During her time at university, she researched osteoclasts and is co-author of a paper now published in Bone Magazine. She is currently studying to get her EMT certification in Houston, Texas and will continue a career in the health profession. Tejdeep has been actively involved in several Sikh Youth activities such as camps, symposiums, and various competitions and currently serves as a Camp Coordinator for the Sikh Youth.
Alana Smith – National Vision Generation Director, World Vision
Alana began her involvement with World Vision through the 40 Hour Famine in early high school. In 2004 she was chosen as a World Vision Youth Ambassador and also became the Victorian State Director of Vgen then moving on to become the joint National Director in 2006. Alana is a steering committee member on the Australian Youth Forum (AYF), which acts as a communication and engagement channel between the Government and young people, and recently became a Committee member of Liberty Victoria, an organisation focused on protecting the human rights and freedoms of those living in Australia. Alana has also had the privilege of travelling to South America, Asia and Africa and seeing World Vision's work in the field.
Darlene St Clair – Bdewakantunwan Dakota
Iyekiyapiwin (Darlene St. Clair) is an assistant professor at St. Cloud State University, teaching American Indian Studies, and the director of the Multicultural Resource Center. Her career has focused on the education of Native peoples—from early childhood to college students. Much of her work has concerned the integration of Native cultures, histories and languages into curricula, and the arts and cultural expressions of Native peoples. She is Bdewakantunwan Dakota and an enrolled member of the Lower Sioux Indian Community in Minnesota.
Manny Waks Manny Waks – Founder, Capital Jewish Forum
Manny was born in Israel to an Australian father and an Israeli mother, but grew up mostly in Melbourne. Growing up in an ultra-Orthodox environment, he is one of seventeen children. At the age of 18 Manny returned to Israel where he served in the Israel Defence Forces and subsequently worked in the Israeli security establishment. Upon returning to Australia, Manny completed a degree in International Relations (La Trobe) during which time he also undertook work and an internship with federal parliamentarian, Michael Danby MP, as well as an internship with the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney. In 2006 Manny was appointed as Executive Officer of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission and in 2009 he joined the Australian Government’s Office of Transport Security.  Manny is a Jewish community activist, is married and has three children.
Erin Williams – Media Coordinator, Interfaith Youth Core
Erin Williams works as the Media Coordinator at the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a Chicago-based international NGO; she is involved in media production, relations, training, and writing, as well as program development. Erin has spoken on interfaith work, religion and politics, and religion and the media at Chicago Theological Seminary, the Freedom Museum, the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and the University of Chicago. Erin’s short documentary, Exchange, appeared on CNN, and she has spoken on the radio and on television regarding interfaith work. Previous to IFYC, Erin worked in Chicago and Barcelona with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, in Boston with Beyond Documentary, and in Washington, DC with The Faith & Politics Institute.
Barney Zwartz – Religion Editor, The Age
Barney Zwartz has been a journalist at The Age (Melbourne newspaper) for 28 years and religion editor for seven. Other roles have included opinion editor, letters editor and chief sub-editor. He has a degree in theology and is part-way through a PhD in moral philosophy. Married to author Morag Zwartz, he has four children. Professional highlights include covering the papal conclave in Rome in 2005 and a peace award from a leading Australian Muslim interfaith group.

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