Tony Blair launches search for 30 religious youth 'ambassadors'

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has launched an international search for 30 religious youth to embark on a 10-month journey of interfaith service for the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.

"As changemakers for current and future generations, young people have the opportunity to establish a new vision of inter-religious interaction that places protecting the welfare of the world's poorest at its centre," Blair stated in an official announcement.

The "Faiths Act Fellows", as the 30 "inter-religious ambassadors" aged 18 to 25 will be called, will be brought together by the Faiths Act Fellowship to first go through a two-month intensive initiative that includes fieldwork with primary healthcare partners fighting deaths from malaria in Africa.

For the last eight months, the youths will return to their home countries to mobilise young people of faith to raise awareness and resources to promote the Millennium Development Goals, with a particular focus on fighting deaths from malaria.

"Halting and reversing the spread of deaths from malaria is one of today's most urgent moral challenges," Blair stated.

"And," he added, "progress in the fight against malaria will speed our achievement of six of the eight Millennium Development Goals," which include halving extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as Aids, and developing a global partnership for development.

According to statistics, 500 million people contract the disease each year and one million die - the vast majority of whom are in Africa and under five years old.

Blair stressed on Thursday during a panel discussion, however, that malaria is preventable.

"It is preventable and not preventable in the way that we say, for example, climate change is preventable or global economic disorder may be preventable or these things that are of enormous complexity and difficulty," he said Thursday during the special programme in Los Angeles commemorating the day designated by the United Nations as the midway point for achieving the MDGs by 2015.

"It's preventable in a simple way," he said, reminding the audience that "we know what works".

What is needed, said Blair, are people of faith to act in compassion, abiding by the golden rule that appears in some shape or form in each of the world's largest religious movements today.

"Together we can show that 'Faiths Act'," he stated.

In May 2008, Blair launched the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to promote respect and understanding between the major religions and to make the case for faith as a force for good in the modern world.

The foundation is working with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, and will join with other partners to mobilise faith groups to step up pressure on governments to deliver fully on their MDG commitments on malaria.

Since 189 UN member states and at least 23 international organisations adopted the MDGs in 2001, progress towards reaching the eight international development goals by the year 2015 has been uneven. While some countries have achieved many of the targets, others are not on track to realise any.

Blair stated in his announcement that the 30 youths that the Faith Acts Fellowship will bring together will in their 10 months of work reach tens of thousands of young people of faith with essential education about the devastating impact of malaria and the ways faith communities can work together to make a real difference.

"Inspired by their different religious traditions, they will motivate and equip young people in congregations, schools and university religious student groups to lead their faith communities in spreading awareness of the MDG challenge, raising life-saving funds for the fight against deaths from malaria and promoting a new inter-religious dialogue of life and action," he explained.

The Faiths Act Fellowship is an initiative of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and is coordinated by Interfaith Youth Core.