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Religious Youth Service

Decades of Religious Youth Service Build Bonds Among Thai Youth

Religious Youth Service has been organizing interfaith service-learning projects for youth in various parts of Thailand since 1989. Here is a sampling of reports through 2012.

Chiang Mai

Thirty-one staff and participants took part in the first Thailand Religious Youth Service program, which was held in the Chiang Mai area October 17-26, 1989. The participants, who came from Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Islamic, and Unification traditions, worked in two teams. Graduates of international RYS programs guided the orientation program, which included visiting religious sites of the four traditions to learn about their basic beliefs.

After the orientation and opening banquet at Chiang Mai University, the participants traveled 40 kilometers to a small village where they constructed a building to be used by the village cooperative for the storage of grain, fertilizer, and seeds. This work was done in cooperation with community leaders, religious leaders, the women's organization, and the school headmaster. Participants worked hard, with the cooperation and assistance of local skilled workers.

Participants took part in several festivals during their stay in the village and were included in games and contests, sharing the joy and excitement of the gala events. During the project dedication, the RYS organizers took the opportunity to share the vision of RYS. Then the villagers offered prayers while tying mementos on the wrists of the RYS members to symbolize their eternal bond with the village people. The participants, who came from universities throughout Thailand, were deeply moved and expressed a desire to work together again.

The opening and closing ceremonies were attended by officials from the political, academic, and religious communities.

Monastery of Abbot Phra Buddhadasa

Based on the success of the first project, a second project was designed and implemented April 1-13, 1990 in southern Thailand. The 40 participants from all regions of the nation as well as Malaysia helped build an orphanage and day care center at the well-known monastery of Abbot Phra Buddhadasa.

This project demonstrated that RYS can provide a model of religious cooperation in a nation where service programs are frequent. At the Suanmokpalaram Temple, the Ven. Buddhadsa's birthday celebration brought over 100 monks.

The vice-governor presided over the dedication ceremony.

Ubonratchathami Province

Forty people from Thailand and neighboring countries participated in a project in Ubonratchathami Province October 14-26, 1990. They helped restore a school at the central Buddhist monastery of the region. Although the weather was extremely hot, substantial repairs and restoration were accomplished.

Orientation took place at Ubhon Ratchathani Teachers' College. The project site was selected with the assistance of the local governor's office, and volunteers worked closely with the local villagers, who contributed their skills and labor as well as an understanding of rural life.

Other sponsors included the Interfaith Association of Thailand, the Governor's office in Ubhon, and the Ubhon Ratchathani Teachers’ College.

Sukhothai

Fifty people from 11 nations participated in a project in Sukhothai April 1-13, 1991. Participants and staff helped work on a multi-purpose hall at an orphanage which was to be used as a moral education center. People from the local community were highly involved, and both skilled and unskilled villagers came to help with the work, while others came to share time together and bring special snacks.

Chiang Mai and Chong Thong National Park

Fifty-five people from six nations participated in a project in Chiang Mai and Chong Thong National Park October 16-29, 1994. Volunteers first participanted in a Clean Town Campaign in Chang-Mai. They took part in a tree planting ceremony at the Chong Thong National Park and Doi Intanon to honor the King's birthday. They also built a playground for Karen tribal children and a training center for firefighters.

The development of RYS was delayed on account of government persecution in 1992-93. This project was designed to help rebuild the foundation and provide needed service in the region.

Northeast Drug Dependency Treatment Center, Khonkaen

In 1998, a project took place from August 19-30 at the Northeast Drug Dependency Treatment Center in Khonkaen; this one of Thailand's largest drug treatment programs and a pioneer in rehabilitation therapy.

The center's ambitious plan to help Thai youth wrestling with substance abuse was under strain due to recent funding cuts. Mrs. Delia Javanasundara, coordinator of RYS-Thailand met Dr. Suchart Threethipthikoon, the center's director, to discuss the possibility of supporting their work. Dr. Suchart was able to offer accommodations, meeting rooms, and transportation for volunteers. The project was also made possible thanks to the tremendous efforts of Mrs. Rabieaprat Pongpanich, wife of the governor of Khonkaen and president of the local chapter of Red Cross International. The Woman's Federation for World Peace in Thailand and Japan helped provide funds, and within a few weeks, 40 volunteers arrived in Thailand from China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.

The orientation and leadership training in Bangkok was guided by an international staff led by Fazida Razak, Eric Wenzel, and John Gehring. This gave the international participants their first taste of Thailand, although Bangkok smog and heavy traffic problems contrasted sharply with the beauty of their countryside where they would spend most of the time in the country.

The six-hour bus ride passed rice fields checkered by Buddhist monasteries and rural farms as they traveled northeast to Khonkaen. The Drug Treatment Center opened the eyes of many participants. The suffering of the teen and young adult addicts pointed to a problem prevalent not only in Thailand but many countries.

Soon after arriving a welcome banquet with 200 guests was hosted for the RYS at the Khonkaen Hotel in which the Vice-Governor, Mr. Kittisak Tungamanee, the former Chair of the IRFWP Thailand, Dr. Pichai Tovivich and Red Cross, WFWP and the National Council of Women contributed as speakers. Students of Khonkaen University provided a delightful cultural program of dance and music that opened a window to the beautiful and unique side of Thai culture. Near the conclusion of the evening, moved by the spirit of the occasion, Mrs. Rabieaprat Pongpanich, the Governor's wife began to dance and soon was joined by all the RYS participants and guests.

The morning after the welcome banquet, volunteers began building a room and bathroom for the staff and a basketball court for the youth. Although the Thai summer sun was scorching hot, the volunteers worked joyously each day. The local government through the Ministry of Public Works and the Red Cross supported the work through donating materials, food, and time. The inter-generational support helped lift the morale of the people in the treatment program and enable them to see positive alternatives.

Participants experienced first-hand worship in Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhis traditions; they heard presentations about these religions and visited places of worship. What had the greatest impact was the very personal experience of offering selfless service side by side with people from other traditions. This is what makes each RYS project a unique interfaith encounter.

The theme of this project was "Building health and harmony through service." Educational programs included talks by the director of the treatment center, Dr. Threethipthikoon, and by Mr. Anthony Aparo of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification on, "Differences between love and sexuality", Mr. Tipmanaworn spoke on the theme: "Building global citizens through values education and multi-cultural awareness", while Dr. Charoensetsil gave a presentation on "Quest for inner peace" from a Buddhist and Sai Baba perspective. All these programs provided time for question and answers and helped stimulate team discussions.

Those who experience RYS see the service aspect of the program as a critical to achieving a working harmony among cultures and religions. Service itself, often transforms or confirms deeply held notions. Halfway through the program, a Japanese participant said he had been skeptical of volunteer programs but based on his experience at RYS, he now saw the value of charity. Realizing the transcendent joy of serving those in need, a Thai participant suggested that the nation's Buddhist monks could reap great rewards from joining a program like RYS.

In their reflections at the end, some participants said they would have like to see more participation, for example by Thai Buddhists. On the positive side, a few participants who professed to have no religious inclination spoke of the grand experience they had and said they would recommend the program to others. Through their experience they had come to discover the universal spirit of religion and gained an appreciation of its value in today's society.

RYS projects traditionally conclude with a reflective time and by including a visit to the 13th century temple built during the Khmer civilization in Pimai added a special depth to this period of inner search. Other visits during this period included trips to the Emerald Temple, the Reclining Buddha and the Teakwood Palace. One staff member wrote during the orientation that, "Truly, we come here as lowly caterpillars-jaded by urban life-but we live here transformed-now butterflies-ready to spread our wings." Other participants were amazed that they could make such good friends with young people who came from nations that are political rivals or who had fought against each other in a world war.

Phrae Province

On October 13-20, 2001, 70 young peacemakers from seven nations participated in a project in Thailand’s Phrae Province. The volunteers worked hard to help construct a public welfare center while their interactions and programs focused on the projects theme of "Building inter-religious harmony among youth through dialogue and action."

This project was inspired in part by the United Nations Declaration for the year 2001 as "International Year of Volunteers." The importance of volunteer work goes well beyond the external contribution of helping construct buildings for it provides a foundation for individuals and families to practice service. It is through the heart of a volunteer that individuals and families will gain strength and grow in character. In a strong sense, the RYS works to provide "service for peace."

The project was made possible through the broad-based cooperation of international and local organizations. International support came from the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace and the Women’s Federation for World Peace-Japan, while local and national support came from the Youth Federation for World Peace-Thailand, the Foundation for Development and Peace, the Public Welfare Office, and the Association of the Public Welfare Volunteers of Phrae Province. Pulling together individuals and organizational support from a wider network helps substantial work get accomplished which could not be accomplished by one group alone.

The project began with a staff orientation in Bangkok, which served to create a sense of unity. A seven-hour bus journey followed and brought the staff and participants together in a small mountaintop village in Saipao of Rongkwang District in Phrae Province. This village is located at the top of the mountain to encourage the villagers to keep away from drugs, for most of the settlers of the neighboring village are drug users or drug dealers.

The Opening Ceremony on October 13 was held at Maeyom Palace Thanee Hotel and was attended by 51 government officials. Among those in attendance were the Hon. Amornpan Nimanantha, Governor of Phrae Province; Hon. M.R. Sukumphand Buriphatra, Member of Parliament; and the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Siriwan Prasjaksatthru. The 70 RYS volunteers could feel the value of the work they were undertaking by the support they were receiving from such distinguished leaders.

Prior to the work portion of the RYS project, Mrs. Fazida Razak (RYS Asia Training Director) and Professor Sharifah Shakirah from Malaysia guided the staff orientation and the education program. Prof. Kirti Bunchua, president of IRFWP-Thailand, contributed to various aspects of the education program.

An important element of the RYS program is the morning meditation which is assigned to a participant from each of the faiths represented on the project. After breakfast, the work was started and ran from 8 to 12 p.m. During the afternoons we visited a mosque, a temple and a Catholic Church. Through these visits and afternoon lectures from people of those faiths, the participants were able to understand the strengths  of each religion.

The RYS program brings people from all ages, all races, cultures and faiths together for the purpose of sharing and living for the sake of others. This RYS project was very unique because it involved 13 Muslim youth, the largest group to take part in this predominately Buddhist culture. Some interesting notes include that all the Muslim men agreed to sleep one night at the Buddhist temple. We also had a chance to visit a Buddhist monastery and observe the "Movement Meditation" in which the monks use hand movement or walking while meditating and not closing their eyes.

RYS participants enjoyed working together with the villagers for the head of the village assigned (in rotation) 35 men to help in the construction and an additional 14 housewives for preparing meals and snacks for the volunteers. Every morning, these 14 housewives woke early in the morning to prepare breakfast for 70 people. The environment created through this care is a good example of "One Big Family Under God" for all the fathers helped in the building of the Public Welfare Center, while the mothers were cooking the food of love to feed the family, and the children (RYS participants) helped the fathers in the morning and in the afternoon they were studying.

We divided into two different work sites with one helping in the construction of the Public Welfare Center where they joined 35 skilled workers and created human chains to pass buckets with sand and gravel bricks and blocks. The second group cleaned the fence of the Buddhist temple and the Child Day Care Center and painted it the following day.

During the project, a number of high officials came to the work site including the Governor of Phrae Province, the Hon. Siriwan Prasjaksatthru, the District Officer of the Department of Social Welfare, Rungkwang District and several officers of the Agricultural Extension. Most of these top officials brought fruits and cookies for the participants.

The closing ceremony was held beside the nearly finished Public Welfare Center where we invited the entire village (of 200) to have dinner together with the RYS participants. Joining the dinner and the closing ceremony was the Hon. Siriwan Prasjaksatthru, mayor of Rongkwang and the Director of the Department of Public Welfare of Phrae Province. While together testimonies were shared by the village head, a village youth representative, and RYS participants from Malaysia and Vietnam.

 

Comments by RYS Participants

"At first, I am expecting something different from the camp. But as I continue day by day, I was touched and felt so good. I have attended many camps, but I think this camp was perfect. It was planned well and I was impressed by all the staff and villagers for their good cooperation. They are all united into one. I was really very impressed." (Muslim from Pattani, southern Thailand)

"I would like to take part in an RYS project every year! Where will it take place and in which country? I would like to attend again." (from Japan)

"I would like to see RYS projects held often, because this kind of activity will bring unity or even peace. Through RYS, youth is like an ‘angel of peace.’" (from Phrae Province)

Nakhon Sithammarat

In Nakhon Sithammarat, Thailand on April 19-28, 2002, 35 young adults from various faiths were brought together by RYS to serve a community in need. The project drew participants from six nations including Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Thailand.

A major part of the time spent by the volunteers was offered in work service as all the volunteers invested themselves in building a community center and painting a school. For many of the young people it was a real challenge as the weather was extremely hot with no breeze. It is for this reason that one participant from Korea commented, "I have one regret, I didn’t do my best… the weather was too hot."

Despite her assertion, it was clear to all observers that everyone tried their best. They were so committed that everyday, it was a task for organizers to ask participants to put down their tools to stop work. Such commitment and love for service was obvious in their faces as they toiled together. It is this heart and effort that made the villagers love them. Language barriers between the villagers and the participants could have stood as an unmovable wall but they were overcome quickly overcome. While the work progressed the villagers happily served each of us with sumptuous food and a wide variety of fresh fruits.

The international RYS project concluded with an evening cultural program with the community and this ended with a big bang. Dinner and the cultural performances were shared with almost 300 people from the village. When the clock struck ten, the villagers seemed to be reluctant to let the participants go. On the way to the van, participants were made to walk under a long bridge made up of 200 pairs of loving hands.

On the following day, in order to prepare for future project a special service training program for ten of the RYS leaders was held. Following this training, five of the senior staff members held a retreat and reviewed the 16 year history and development of RYS and worked on creating strategic planning for the upcoming years.

Korat

Forty people from ten nations participated in an RYS project October 19-27, 2003 in Korat. They came from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and Unification traditions. The work focused on repairing and improving the structure of a medical clinic and the surrounding grounds.

Klongtomtai, Krabi Province

Seven RYS alumni organized a local RYS project in Klongtomtai in Krabi Province March 21-24, 2004. The main project was planting trees, with the support of the local government and the Women’s Federation for World Peace-Thailand. Thirty-seven students from five high schools and three universities participated in the project. The local government furnished the trees while the housewives in the local community helped to prepare meals for the participants. Kanchanapisat Vitayalai School provided the accommodations and meeting rooms. Other sponsors were Krabi Bank, Krungthai Bank, Aunam Hotel, the Electric Company, and Lactasoy Milk Company. The Women’s Federation for World Peace gave presentations on AIDS prevention and family values. Opportunities for group discussion, entertainment, and cultural exchanges were included in the program. People living near the site joined in the tree-planting. The spirit of living for the sake of others inspired the local community, and the participants created a joyful atmosphere during their time in Krabi.

Building a clinic

The education program in the May 1-10, 2005 project was designed to train participants to become future leaders. Based on the theme “Modeling the Ideals of a World Peace,” the activities focused on team building, conflict resolution, increased awareness and appreciation of a variety of interaction styles. Participants also gained an understanding and appreciation of different faiths and practiced interpersonal and listening skills that help facilitate greater harmony.

Participants rose at 4:00 in the morning for devotions, had breakfast at 5:00, and arrived at the work site before 6:00. During morning devotions, representatives from different faiths read a passage from their faith tradition.

Working hours were early in the morning because of the hot weather. The participants were divided into three work groups: building a school clinic, painting the new school library, and cleaning up garbage brought to the seashore by the tsunami. The RYS youth, school children and some members of the local community worked very hard to finish the school clinic. Afterwards, the participants went swimming at a nearby beach.

Educational programs scheduled later in the day included visits to a Buddhist temple and museum and a mosque. The project members took great interest in the presentations, asking many questions of the religious leaders and elders.

Chiang Rai Province

A project on the theme of “Cultivating Heart and Character through Servicetook place from May 18 to 21, 2006, at the New Life Training Center in Chiang Rai Province. This project was co-hosted by the Sports Authority of Thailand, Chang Rai, and the Life and Social Development Foundation. The 125 participants from 32universities included Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims.

The Opening Ceremony featured several speakers: Mr. Tanong Donchai, the Vice Mayor of Chiangrai, representing the governor of Chiangrai; Emeritus Prof. Pradit Charoenthaithawee, President of UPF; and Mr. Detch Chaikla, Director of the Sport Authority of the Chiang Rai Province.

Educational programs included presentations on life skills and drug abuse prevention by Mr. Aroon Otsawat, a Narcotics Officer from the regional Narcotics Office, and on love and family values by Mr. Jakrin Iamsam-ang, Director of Pure Love-Thailand. Other activities included a brainstorming session, cultural exchanges, and sharing information about Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. The participants visited religious sites: the Nurul Islam Pakistan mosque, Wat Pha Kawe Temple, and Christianity Veng 1.

Mae Fah Luang University, Chiang Rai Province Organization, the Provincial Land Transport office of Chiang Rai, and Thai Army Section 3 provided lodging and transportation.

Samut Prakarn

UPF-Thailand, the Foundation for Development and Peace, and the International Cultural Educational Foundation organized a Religious Youth Service Project in both Thailand and Cambodia December 14-28, 2006 under the theme “Building a Culture of Heart and Character through Service.” Volunteers came from throughout Asia.

The program began with a round-table discussion on “The Meaning of Volunteerism in my Own Faith,” with speakers from the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

Together with local volunteers, the 61 participants helped renovate a school in the Buddhist community of Samut Prakan. Seventeen governmentand private agencies were involved in preparing for the project. Participants also joined the Clean-up Campaign co-hosted by the Regional Office of the United Nations Environment Program in Asia and the Pacific.

At the closing ceremony, the Mayor thanked participants for giving their time, effort, and money to the small school of Bangphu. The head teacher and head of the village were very grateful that, because of RYS, the local government built a bus stop in front of the school, which they never had before. The Commissioner of Human Rights in Thailand also spoke. It was a festive evening for the entire village as people sang and danced together. Grandmothers and mothers shed tears when the young people said goodby.

About 35 went from there to Siem Reap in Cambodia, where they worked from December 23-25 at the Qamaruddin Al-Islamiyan School next to a mosque. The RYS team renovated classrooms and toilets, cleaning, repairing, plastering and painting. They also built children’s play areas outside the school. The community joyfully provided free lunches for the participants during the work days. Participants also the mosque and learned about its history. A community leader explained the history of the mosque, which was built with donations by a Muslim soldier from Bangladesh who working in the area with the UN Peacekeeping Forces during early 1990s. On Christmas Day, the group spent time with the children at the Mother Teresa Orphanage, and in the evening they attended mass at the Catholic Church. The Closing Ceremony in Phnom Penh on December 27 was attended by Emeritus Prof. Pradit Charoenthaiwee, president of UPF-Thailand, and Hon. Dr. Son Soubert, president of UPF-Cambodia.

Dr. Ronald Burr, Senior Advisor and Educational Director of this dual-nation project, declared that the project was successful beyond his expectations. The most memorable experiences for the participants were the times spent playing, singing, and dancing together with the children, both in Thailand and Cambodia. Seeds of love were planted in the children, participants, and organizers as they worked in cooperation to build a peaceful “culture of heart and character.”

Chacheongsao

What makes an RYS project special? If you were asked that question when you arrived at the RYS project in Chacheongsao, Thailand on May 6, 2010, you would surely know the answer before you left on May 16. Young adults from ten nations representing five religions came to the rural area of Thailand where the local school had only four classrooms for six grades. When they left the village, they had dramatically elevated the four classrooms nearly four meters, in order to create space below for four new rooms-more than enough space to allow the children to study together with their peers. The physical transformation was very visible and the excitement among the community and the participants was palpable, but the greatest change was of a subtler nature. Attitudes of suspicion and distrust between people from different cultures and religions had evaporated, enabling a collegiality to prevail.

The sharing of work, food, thoughts and dreams under the same hot, hot sun had served to create a unity of heart and spirit among the once disparate group. A spiritual intent from each participant to leave something good behind seemed to forge a trust and friendship between the most unlikely of individuals.

The project began with an orientation in Bangkok during a time of great tension. Protesters known as Red Shirts had taken over part of the downtown business district and were committing acts of violence on a daily basis. The opening meetings were held at the UPF Peace Embassy located eight kilometers from the unrest. Yet, for many participants, the warm embracing environment of RYS brought them into a different world.

Following a morning and afternoon of programs and guest speakers, the RYS participants boarded a train to make their move to Chacheongsao Province, a 100-kilometer train trip. They were surprised and delighted to be so warmly greeted by the Deputy Governor and local officials as well as by a colorfully dressed children's dance group. The international participants received a pleasant taste of Thai hospitality with this festive welcome.

The theme of this RYS project was "Enhancing Education through Inter-Religious Cooperation" inasmuch as the project directly benefited the school children of Mai Kaew Prachanukhro School of Plaengyao district. However, the programs' benefit was not limited to the contribution made to the local school, because the project's education component and cooperative work experience benefited each of the participants, stimulating them to change their attitudes positively toward intercultural and interreligious harmony and thereby to embrace a wider concept of world peace. Mr. Ahama Waeh from Southern Thailand shared the following about the growing awareness he discovered during the project.

"The things I learned from this RYS project are very valuable to me. It is amazing how people coming from different religions, cultures, and nationalities can work together and stay together as brothers and sisters. I realized that religion is not really an obstacle as long as we are sincere to one another."

The orientation continued at the school we were to work on in a rural farming area. During our first days, participants had opportunities to visit a Buddhist temple, a local Christian church and a mosque. At each of these sites the religious spokesperson came and shared about his religion and its efforts to serve the community. Thailand is a predominately Buddhist nation but Chacheongsao Province has a large Muslim population that lives harmoniously with the Buddhist majority. This harmony was expressed in the warmness of the hospitality that was extended to all our participants, who represented five different religions.

The daily work routine had many of the participants laboring intensively to dig new foundations for the school, then laying concrete and eventually lifting the school up to a height that would permit four additional classrooms to be created below on the foundation. In addition, there were numerous jobs carried out to improve the school grounds and prepare storage areas for the upcoming school year. After work, the participants were active in playing sports and games led by Suresh Jacob, a teacher and coach from Sri Lanka. These games were creative and competitive, and they provided a chance for participants to practice teamwork while having fun.

One important part of an RYS project is its reflection period, since this quiet time provides the opportunity for participants to review the RYS experience and give consideration to the future. Evaluations, preparations and determinations are made during this period and, for this reason, a beautiful secluded island in the middle of a river was selected for the stay. Our time together began with a swim but soon moved into a period for personal reflection and small group discussions. The reflection period closed with participants giving testimonies that often highlighted how the "RYS experience" allowed them to grow. Mrs. Shanta Venugopal, a staff member, shared the following testimony.

"I have raised my children but I feel I became a better mother through this project. I really love RYS, as it provides an opportunity where I can embrace all the participants as my own children, one extended family. This school building that we worked on is really our great achievement. We worked harmoniously; no one complained even though it was so very hot. This effort teaches us the power of unity and it opens us up to new possibilities."

Following the reflection period, we returned to our school in time to join in with the village in celebrating the International Day of the Family. This was a day when community members together with RYS staff and participants joined in local games, seminars, tree planting and home cooking. For nearly 20 school children who were awarded academic scholarships by the Women's Federation for World Peace, this day was one they would always remember.

On the closing evening, we joined together with the local community in song, dance, laughter and appreciation. It was a celebration of the International Day of Families, and our coming together marked a modeling of the potential for the human family to cooperate and share.

Baan Dadthongchareon

A Religious Youth Project in northern Thailand on the theme of “Interreligious Cooperation and Service Shaping Character and World Peace” from March 15 to 19 2012, promoted understanding, friendship, and harmony among youth from different religious and cultural backgrounds. The 70 Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Catholic participants were inspired by their experiences together and planned to go back to their universities, schools, and hometowns and apply what they learned to develop youth programs for cultivating harmony, unity, morality, and peace in their own communities.

The project was held in the village of Baan Dadthongchareon in Angthong District of Kampheangphet Province in the Lower North area, about six hours north of the capital, Bangkok. This agricultural community has had substantial success in applying the ideal of Economic Sufficiency, which was initiated by King Bhumiphol Adulayadej of Thailand to promote sustainable prosperity and community cooperation.

 The goals for this project included honoring King Bhumiphol and his Economic Sufficiency project; promote understanding, friendship, and harmony among youth from different religious and cultures backgrounds; and raise up young leaders who can promote family values and interreligious harmony in their own communities, countering patterns drug addiction and sexual immorality. Participants included ten Muslims from Pattani province, an area of conflict in the southern tip of Thailand, and five Muslims from Nontaburi province, near Bangkok. There were also six Christians and one Catholic. The other participants were Buddhist.

 The Opening Ceremony took place in the Ceremony Hall of Wat Bharomathat Jediyaram, the main temple of Kamphaengphet City. Dr. Somphong Somnakphong, Representative of the Chairman of the Provincial Administrative Organization, and Professor Kirti Bunchua, Vice President of UPF-Thailand, spoke first, followed by Mr. Jirakiat Phumsawasdee, Vice Governor of Khamphaengphet Province, who gave the keynote address.

 Afterwards, RYS participants visited the Buddhist monk in the temple's main sanctuary and gained insights from his teaching. Then, they traveled to the Yannatulmuhminun Mosque, where they listened to the imam's teachings and experienced Friday noontime prayers. After that, they visited the Christasomphob Catholic Church and listened to teachings about the Catholic tradition. Moreover, they had an opportunity to visit the historical park of the ancient Kamphaengphet City, which dates back 500 to 800 years. Every morning, participants learned from each other about the principles and traditions of Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity. Through these experiences, the young people could understand more deeply about their various religious and cultural backgrounds and develop admiration, respect, and friendship.

 In service to the community, participants worked together to improve a children's playground, build vegetable and fruit gardens, repair the road inside the school compound, and build a water drainage system.

 Educational programs included lectures from an officer of the Narcotics Control Board about how to avoid drug addiction. Mr. Kamol Thananopavarn, Deputy Secretary General of UPF-Thailand, gave a lecture on “The Family as the School of Love and Peace” that included examples of insights into the family, purity, and filial piety from the teachings of all major religious traditions. One evening he explained about the inauguration of Interreligious Council for Peace in Thailand in which the heads of Buddhism and Islam joined Christian and Sikh leaders in a commitment to promote harmony among religions and join hands to uplift the standard of morality and ethics in the nation.

 Other learning activities included the “unity ball game,” which promotes a culture of serving, a positive outlook, and harmony. Participants discussed and exchanged ideas about their vision of an ideal peace community. Then, they had an opportunity to learn about the village's success in applying the King's principles of Economic Sufficiency; they saw the rice mill, sarjor-caju mushroom farm, insect repellent made of burning wood, community irrigation system, and joint plantation. Mr. Sakchai and Tarinasorn Samthab, chairman and guru of the village's Learning Center of Sustainable Economy, explained about their programs.

 On the last evening, there was a cultural performance by elementary school students in the village in honor of King Bhumiphol and the RYS participants. Songs promoting Buddhist values were sung by Ambassadors for Peace who traveled from Bangkok in order to meet the participants and express appreciation for their contributions. In the closing ceremony, UPF-Thailand and Ambassadors for Peace presented ten elementary school students with scholarships of 2,500 baht (US$ 83).

 Before the closing ceremony, participants went to Khlonglan Waterfall National Park for a time of reflection and sharing. Many Muslims commented that this was first time to enter a temple and listen to a monk’s teaching. Most of the Buddhists also said it was their first time to enter a mosque, listen to the sermon of an imam, and witness Muslims at Friday prayers; they said they could sense the faith that Muslims have in Allah. Participants expressed that this was first time that they made friends from different religions. They said that they were inspired by the atmosphere of love, sincerity, understanding, helpfulness, friendship, and harmony beyond boundaries of religions and cultures. They reported that the presentations on family values were aligned with what they believe through their own religious traditions.

 The youth committed themselves to bring these experiences back home and help promote harmony, love, and virtue in their own schools and communities.

 The project was carried out with the cooperation of Kamphangphet Province, Kamphangphet Provincial Administrative Organization, Office of the Narcotics Control Board, Angthong District Administrative Organization, and Baan Dadthongchareong School. This was the 19th Religious Youth Service project in Thailand since 1989.

 

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