Understanding the Importance of Freedom of Religion or Belief at Cumberland Lodge

14 Jul 2017
Aisha Aurakzai Chevening Scholar

What happens when you put together sixty Chevening and Commonwealth Scholars from around the globe in one place for not one but three weekends?

Add to that days packed with talks by renowned human rights lawyers, writers, journalists, professors, and even a judge; the sun-kissed lime-coloured session room brims with energy as each scholar not only absorbs the sensitive topics under discussion but also contributes with their personal experience brought back from home countries.

Group of Chevening Scholars at Cumberland Lodge

So much so, the discussion would continue over lunch and dinner and seep late into the darkness of the night as we shared experiences and discussed pressing modern-day problems.

The dinner itself was an overwhelming experience, with scholars adorned in cultural dress that invited conversation about their heritage. While listening to their stories, one could not help but be fascinated that, despite the borders highlighting the differences amongst different countries, each person here shared a common cause.

Session leaders arranged various activities to keep our intellectual juices flowing. Group activities forced us to take sides, showed us the importance of not ‘sitting on the fence’, and put us in the shoes of a judge or a lawyer as we argued case examples from around the world to reach a verdict.

Case study sessions straight from the expert consultants showed us how it felt to resolve ‘real’ dilemmas in real time, while sitting on the fresh lawns of the lodge.

Group of Chevening Scholars at Cumberland Lodge

Cumberland Lodge itself is a treasure trove of historical artefacts nestled in the serene Windsor Great Park. An educational foundation dedicated to tackling social divisions, with the Queen as its patron, it has been bridging gaps since 1947.

From its collection of rare books in its libraries to the picture frames adorning its walls, the lodge speaks volumes to its residents.

If the weather permitted, during session breaks, scholars would break into groups to visit the various attractions scattered around the park. From the Post Office offering ice-cream in the middle of a cosy village to catching the sights of deer at dawn, from visiting lakes to simply riding a bicycle around the park, there was plenty to do.

The highlight of the retreat was attending Palm Sunday at the Royal Chapel where scholars enjoyed the rare opportunity of meeting the Queen, creating a buzz of excitement amongst everyone!

At the end of the day, after sharing book lists and engaging in hot debates, each one of us took a personal message from the retreat. It showed us the importance of seeing the world from another’s perspective to understand the variety of beliefs around the world and to respect them.

It showed us the importance of having knowledge of the various belief systems for successful leadership at all levels, from running a business to leading a country.

Group of Chevening Scholars at Cumberland Lodge

Chevening Scholar Olga Tsvetkova, studying an MBA in Media Management at Cardiff University, said: 'At the end of the day, what is the freedom of belief and religion? It is the experience of sharing, friendship, and unity, despite the different views.

'We may all hold different views, but it is the sharing that matters. Every moment of sharing of opinion makes you closer, and brings you new friends and experiences.

'This whole experience was about that. I am grateful that I have met every single person in this programme and we have moments that we share. Discussion is a way to make new friendships. That is what the FoRB programme is to me.'

More information on 'Understanding the Importance of Freedom of Religion or Belief', the residential retreat, can be found on the Cumberland Lodge website.