Religious Youth Service

Sri Lanka: Reaching Out Together for Peace

In the city of Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the midst of impoverishment, a large crowd of people of mixed origins and ages gathered for the ceremony to open the Religious Youth Service project in Sri Lanka, August 23-30, 2008: building a new preschool, the only one of its kind to accommodate Tamil children with other local children. Former Speaker of the Parliament of Sri Lanka and the current Cabinet Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Hon. M. H. Mohamed, graced the opening ceremony as the Chief Guest. Performing for the event were a few past pupils of the preschool. These children came from very low-income families; their basic income being about one US dollar a day.

When the service work began, the enthusiastic group took only a few minutes to demolish the former preschool building before commencing the heavy manual labor involved in laying the foundation for the new school. As the service work continued throughout the week, the RYS trainers also presented the education program, which was oriented toward teaching leadership skills to the 41 local and foreign participants. These leadership skills are meant to guide the participants in working together beyond all racial, religious, and national barriers.

A Muslim undergraduate student from the Eastern University of Sri Lanka, M.H. Yehiya, who was participating in an RYS project in Sri Lanka for the second time said, "Although I have participated in many community service projects, RYS is totally different. It really builds up the family sense." As an international family, the participants shared their unique religious observances each morning with the whole group. In addition, the participants shared meals, cleaning, down time, sightseeing, listening to specialized speakers, visiting religious sights, and sweating together as they served the needs of the children of Colombo.

On the final evening after dinner, the participants gathered around the campfire to sing songs and dance, and also to reflect on their project together.

[For a map of project sites, click here.]

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