SEBERANG PERAI, March 4 — What does a lack of harmony look like?

This was the very first question participants of the Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration programme were told to ponder and discuss.

After a brief discussion on the meaning of harmony and its importance, participants were then taken on a four- to five-hour experiential tour of up to five houses of worship in Seberang Jaya.

In each house of worship, a guided tour of the premises provided an immersive engagement session with the respective religious leaders.

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“Our objective of this programme is to cultivate an appreciation for the cultural and religious values of each site,” said Penang Harmony Corporation (Harmonico) general manager Paul Au.

He said it is an educational experience that involved the active participation of local communities.

“The target audience is young people and students so that they can learn about the different cultures and can develop genuine respect for our diverse cultures,” he told reporters during the Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration special session for community leaders, groups and government agencies on Saturday.

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The Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration programme was created through collaborative efforts by Harmonico, Arts-Ed and local communities.

Although the most famous ‘Streets of Harmony’ in Penang is the one located in George Town, Au said there are numerous other similar locations throughout the state.

The Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration programme was launched in 2022 and six pilot sessions were held last year to streamline the final modules for the programme.

Participants of the Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration visiting the Gurdwara Sahib Butterworth. — Picture by Opalyn Mok
Participants of the Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration visiting the Gurdwara Sahib Butterworth. — Picture by Opalyn Mok

Au said the programme involved nine houses of worship in Seberang Jaya, all located within the same area.

The nine houses of worship included a mosque, a gurdwara, Buddhist and Hindu temples and a church.

“We have nine trained facilitators to conduct the programmes in different languages and for different target groups,” he said.

He said the educational lesson from the programme is for participants to translate the meaning of harmony through the experience.

Au said Penang has over 3,000 houses of worship and many sites suitable to establish ‘Streets of Harmony’ programmes.

“Last year, we launched the Streets of Harmony Bukit Mertajam and we plan to organise programmes there this year,” he said.

He said the programme for Bukit Mertajam will be different as the selected houses of worship are over 100 years old.

“We will look at it as how these places of worship signify the beginning of the development of Bukit Mertajam,” he said.

Participants of the Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration learning about the religious practices inside the Ku Cheng Tse Temple. — Picture by Opalyn Mok
Participants of the Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration learning about the religious practices inside the Ku Cheng Tse Temple. — Picture by Opalyn Mok

He said the programme for Bukit Mertajam will be targeted mostly at tourists and visitors interested in the history of the township.

Au said Harmonico works with local communities and groups to facilitate programmes involving the ‘Streets of Harmony’.

“We want to get community engagement and involvement while showcasing the different cultures of each location,” he said.

This year, Harmonico also planned to introduce another ‘Streets of Harmony’ location, in Bayan Baru.

“Our aim is to introduce one ‘Streets of Harmony’ location each year, and from there, we will facilitate and create site-specific programmes,” he said.

He said not all sites are suitable for educational programmes so they will try to create unique programmes according to the site.

Aside from the ‘Streets of Harmony’ programmes, Au said Harmonico has also launched other initiatives such as a Hindu Trails Exploration in collaboration with Penang City Eye.

Participants of the Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration at the Ku Cheng Tse Temple. — Picture by Opalyn Mok
Participants of the Seberang Jaya Harmony Exploration at the Ku Cheng Tse Temple. — Picture by Opalyn Mok

Harmonico is also creating a digital database of the cultural and religious festivals in Penang.

“It is called Penang HOW NOW and it is digital content to showcase the uniqueness of Penang’s culture,” he said, explaining HOW stands of houses of worship.

The videos under Penang HOW NOW featured festivals such as Thaipusam and also houses of worship.

Details on Harmonico’s various activities can be accessed through Harmonico.my.