Attending the Asian Humanism Conference (AHC) 2019 in Singapore of this month was my first ever formal experience in the world of humanism. I cannot help myself feeling immense pleasure to represent Humanist Alliance International Philippines (HAPI) and to be a part as a delegate in this event.
So what is the Asian Humanism Conference? AHC is an annual meeting of young humanists across Asia. This year’s event was attended by participants coming from India, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and of course, Singapore. It is also intended to strengthen the network between these countries and humanist organizations in the Asian Working Group (AsWG), as well as offer training and capacity building to help groups be more effective.
The theme for this year is ‘InterBelief, InterActivity’ that highlights the need for people of varying identities- religions, faiths, belief systems, or worldviews, to find common ground for productive dialogue in order to tackle the challenges of the modern Asian society.
The first day of the three-day event, I was able to witness up close different humanist organizations when they gave their introductions and I also presented the impactful projects HAPI has been doing through the years. At the same time, I learned the struggles and challenges of these countries that even being an atheist out in public could already mean trouble. I cannot shake off the feeling of being amazed at some of these individual’s bravery but also remembering how privileged I am to be in a country that mandates the separation of church and state, well, supposedly anyway.
On the second day is when the real program happened. This is when the event was open to the public and has invited guest speakers.
The first speaker was Anthea Indira Ong on her talk “Starting from the Lowest Common Denominator” where she tells the reality of people’s diverse beliefs subscribing to different rules and following them to varying degrees where it can often be difficult to find common ground. Ong was, however, able to point out that humanity must eventually learn to find unity somehow despite differences.
“For me, my religion, my belief, my faith is love,” she ended her speech.
Due to not feeling very well, the second speaker, Siti Noor Mastura was not able to make it in person but a representative from Humanists Society Singapore read her talk to the audience. In her speech “It’s Not Easy Being a Girl,” emphasizes that the feminism movement has been split across multiple directions by various stakeholders and how are women being treated in today’s society.
“It’s not easy being a girl, it does not get easier when you’re being called a woman,” Mastura added.
Another segment in the program, the panel presentation, and discussion, women from humanists organizations were welcomed onstage and joined in as well by Nazhath Faheema, the founder of hash.peace and the General Manager of the Inter-Religious Organization.
This activity tried to explore the intersection of humanism, inter-belief, as well as secularism and discuss the relevance of such work in modern Asian society.
Concluding the program were two workshops led by Woon Chet Choon on his talk “Taking Offence” where it demonstrated examples of conflict resolution in a civilized and non-confrontational manner and talk on “Fake news, Media, and Communications” initiated by another humanist whose name cannot be disclosed due to security reasons.
As a humanist and a budding youth leader, it has been very beneficial on my part to be able to participate in events like this. I have met and learned from people of various backgrounds from different countries on endeavors involving humanism and a variety of approaches they are establishing to push for a secular society. We never hesitated to help each one another towards this goal. I understand that more work still needs to be done to get to the point where eventually, everyone places a great emphasis on human values and life. The good thing is we have made our move and we are getting there.