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Religious Youth Service

A Decade of Religious Youth Service Builds Bonds Among Nepali Youth

Nepal is a multiethnic and multireligious society, with 81 percent of its people Hindu, 11 percent Buddhist, and 4 percent Muslim. The Buddha was born in what is now Nepal, and there are both Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the country. A Maoist insurgency extended throughout the nation until the Maoists agreed to join the government and won seats in the 2008 Parliamentary elections.

Since 2002, Religious Youth Service has been organizing service-learning programs to build understanding, respect, and cooperation among youth of the nation's diverse communities. Here is a sampling of reports of projects through 2012.

Barahathawa

In the situation of national conflict and low public morale, like that in Maoist-affected villages in Nepal, the Religious Youth Service has the potential to be of great significance and bring great success. That potential was fulfilled with the first RYS Nepal Project  held in Barahathawa in the Sarlahi district of southeastern December 20-24, 2002.

Conducted on the Asiatic regional level, the project included building a garage and an office room for the ambulance service. The site is a Maoist-affected area about 350 km from the capital city of Kathmandu. The project was inaugurated with a tree plantation initiated by a local person belonging to an untouchable caste.

One of the Ambassadors for Peace, Hon. Ram Hari Joshy, former Minister of Education and Tourism, was the initiator and inspiration for the project. The participants were from different faiths, cultures, professions, and localities of India and Nepal.

The project was designed to encourage the development of bonds of heart, so different activities were included in the program to bring this result.

Overall, however, the construction work was the centerpiece for everyone to come together. The local people and local dignitaries joined in to work together with the participants. Some local persons came with cold juice and fruits to feed the participants and the working people. It was like a festival for the entire village.

During the closing ceremony, participants shared their deep feelings of love for the villagers and for each other. They expressed their experiences with the greatest joy. National and international students with bachelor’s and master’s degrees worked with joy and excitement in the village for the local people and left a great impact on the villagers and local officials. At the closing ceremony, the local officials stated that they came to know from the RYS program what they needed to do and how to do it. They also expressed their commitment to continue this project.

Hon. Joshy was the guest of honor at the closing ceremony. After hearing everybody’s sharing, Hon. Joshy congratulated the educational efficiency of the RYS project and thanked Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon for initiating these activities worldwide. He also emphasized the importance of this project within the context of the present situation in Nepal, where the whole country is under the severe dominion of Maoist activists.

In conclusion, we can say that the success of the project outweighed any expense. Not less than two-thirds of the project budget came from the local institutions and local people. The building is bigger than initially planned. Although there were only 15 RYS participants, the whole village could be educated from this program. To work for the sake of others is the highest service we can do and to develop it within our own personal lifestyle is the highest reward for any human being. That was the lesson learned from RYS Nepal.

Banepa

Religious Youth Service offered a service-learning project at Banepa, a town 26 km east of Kathmandu, April 2-9, 2003. Banepa is known for its large number of temples. were 41 participants from four nations and six religions.

The main task of the project was to build classrooms at the Metta Center, a girls’ orphanage, and plant trees. The work was very meaningful as the classrooms that were constructed were put to immediate use by the Metta Center. Each of the participants had a chance to make strong personal connections with the orphans who lived at the center, and they appreciated the extra care that they received.

This project gathered the support of local Ambassadors for Peace, RYS alumni and various religious communities. The interface with the Buddhist community included attending a ceremony with hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns: the lighting of 10,000 earthen lamps as an interfaith prayer for peace at a Sakya Buddhist Center.

Bungamati

A RYS project was held October 9-17, 2007 in the ancient village of Bungamati in Lalitpur, central Nepal. Forty local and international participants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, England, and Jordan, representing different faiths, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds, participated in the project.

"This was an amazing experience," marveled Tej Maya Maharjan, one young participant from Nepal, "working together with other young people from different backgrounds, faiths and cultures, clearing the differences among us by living together and making friendships during and after the RYS service project."

Participants communicated a lot with each other and developed strong friendships through their experiences, thus overcoming doubts about each other's religious beliefs and cultural traditions.

The many facets of the Nepal RYS experience, including yoga and meditation, the service work and education, interreligious site visits, plus the cultural sightseeing, all reinforced the message of interreligious harmony by "bridging over barriers."

RYS supported building a multipurpose Community Hall at the Buddhist monastery, Amarapur Vihar, where Buddhist nuns have lived for the past decades, serving the people and maintaining harmony and peace within the local community. This monastery had limited space to serve the children and youth. RYS volunteers worked at building and painting the community hall for underprivileged children. Now the children have enough space to attend classes regularly, and the monastery can conduct various vocational training programs for them in years to come.

The volunteers' activities also included painting and cleaning a Hindu temple.

There are 1,200 Buddhist monuments in the Lalitpur district, which is south of the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu. Participants visited a mosque and a church as well as a temple and monastery in this area so rich in architectural treasures that it has been declared a Unesco World Historic Site.

Sunakothi

The Religious Youth Service hosted a project in an area south of Kathmandu November 20-28, 2008. Participants from Nepal, India, Mauritius, and the United States came together to aid the village of Sunakothi with the installation of two much-needed water tanks and the creation of a peace pond. The project was hosted at the Bauddha Jana Vihar, a Buddhist community center and temple.

Participants engaged in daily morning meditations with Bhante Dharmagupta, a Buddhist monk and spiritual leader, and had opportunities to interact and learn the values and principles of the Buddhist faith.

Each afternoon a religious excursion was scheduled in hopes to enrich the understanding and deepen appreciation for all faiths. Destinations included the Inter-religious Assembly (Anmol New Baneshwor), Brahma Kumari Ashram (Thamel), Assumption Catholic Church (Jawlakhel), Shanti Hindu Ashram (Koteshwor), and Jamal Mosque (Kathmandu).

Additionally, educational sessions were scheduled in the evenings to encourage inter-cultural dialogue, team building, and personal reflection. Participants were able to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of Nepal through trekking adventures and historic visits to ancient temples.

On the final day, a peace tree was planted and inauguration of the water tanks took place with local dignitaries as a symbol of understanding and cooperation. Following the inauguration, a community cultural night was organized as part of the closing ceremony. Representatives from the community and project joined together in cultural dances and songs.

Gorkha

A Religious Youth Service Project was held in Gorkha August 9-15, 2009 with participants from the Baha'i, Jain, Buddhist, Christian, Unificationist, Hindu, and Islamic traditions. The capital of the Gorkha district in north-central Nepal, Gorkha offers magnificent views of snow-covered mountains. It is the birthplace of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who united the kingdom during the 18th century.

The opening ceremony with beautiful dancing and cultural performances was aired on local FM radio and the Avenue TV channel. Following the opening ceremony, everybody went to the project site to lay the foundation for a new community hall. Foundation stones were laid with the prayers and invocations offered by Buddhist and Hindu leaders.

Dr. Robert Kittel conducted the education programs on principles of peace. Presentations were also made on human rights and conflict resolution. Each morning, the participants took part in devotions led by representatives of different religions and educational sessions to help them understand the local culture. These were followed up by work periods in the misty, breezy weather of Nepal.

The participants served in various ways. Some carried bricks, cement, sand, and gravel to the worksite. Others worked on the roof and plastered the building. Still others worked on the waterway, cleaned the garden, and planted beautiful flowers. The school children and people from the local community came to help at the work site. With support from Religious Youth Service, the Gorkha community now has many treasured experiences of working together and will benefit from the project for years to come.

Activities also included visits to religious sites, visits to cheer hospital patients, and a friendly football match with the Nepal Football Association for children under the age of 14.

A seminar at the Gorkha Bisauni Hotel for people participating in the service project was also attended by many Ambassadors for Peace of Gorkha, distinguished guests, religious leaders, and the chief attorney. The purpose of this seminar was to promote interfaith harmony within the local community. Many people expressed their gratitude to RYS for holding such a project and seminar in Gorkha.

Afterwards, Shri Shri Shri Maha Raja, a visiting Hindu leader from India, paid a courtesy call to the president of Nepal together with Hon. Ek Nath Dhakal, a member of the Constituent Assembly, and Mr. Piya Ratna Maharjan, RYS-Nepal Project director.

Pokhara

About 30 dynamic youths representing different faiths attended a RYSproject in Pokhara September 24 to October 1, 2010.

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal, Pokhara is noted for its tranquil atmosphere and the beauty of the surrounding countryside. This central Nepal city of 200,000 inhabitants is 198 km west of the capital, Kathmandu. It is also a base for trekkers embarking on journeys in the Annapurna range.

Representatives came from the Buddhist, Baha’i, and Jain religions. The theme of the project was “Togetherness in Interfaith Harmony.”

All the participants, including the staff and volunteers, were warmly welcomed by the communities of Pokhara and the host Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Ven. Kalsang Lama, one of the most revered spiritual leaders in Nepal, welcomed the people from various faith traditions.

In good RYS project form, the participants engaged in volunteer work in the community, educational activities, visits to religious and historic sites, interactive team-building exercises, cultural learning experiences and more.

Ambassadors for Peace, the City Chief, various organizational directors, religious leaders, local dignitaries, and Pokhara residents attended the opening session and the ground-breaking ceremony of the RYS Peace Gate.

Service activities included painting the wall around the peace prayer wheel and digging out an area for the wall around the monastery. Tibetan Buddhists place written prayers in prayer wheels, which when spinning have the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.

As part of the interreligious activities, participants were invited to visit the Manv Mila Jain organization, the Islamic Center, a Christian church, a Buddhist temple, and a Hindu temple. This enabled participants to broaden their understanding of each other and the traditions they represent.

As part of the cultural program, the group visited the Sarankot Mountain, where they enjoyed the panoramic view of the majestic Himalayan mountains. An RYS flag was raised there in affirmation of hopes for world peace.

The Chief Government Officer from Pokhara presented certificates to the participants at the grand closing prayer ceremony, which was attended by the Tibetan Buddhist leaders and the local community.

The Peace Gate, the prayer wheel, and the wall will remain as an RYS testament of peace for many members of the local community, visiting Nepalese and foreigners, as well as the families, relatives, friends and devotees from around the world who come to the monastery, community center, and social club.

Lumbini

The Universal Peace Federation held a service project at a primary school in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha ... better known as the Light of Asia, the Fountain of World Peace. It was launched on December 1, the same day the government of Nepal launched a campaign to promote tourism and development of its key Buddhist shrines.

Nepal is known around the world mainly for Lumbini and Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. The Religious Youth Service project in Lumbini December 1-8, 2010  was a new milestone of UPF promoting world peace through service and interfaith action.

The project was kicked off in conjunction with the opening of the "Visit Lumbini 2012" campaign by the Government of Nepal to call global attention to the historical, archaeological, cultural, religious, and philosophical aspects of Lumbini. On December 1, a special program was held in Lumbini attended by the Prime Minister, Government Ministers, other dignitaries, religious leaders, and Ambassadors for Peace. The RYS project started on that date.

With the interest expressed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in preserving Lumbini as the historic birthplace of Lord Buddha, the government of Nepal is planning to leaders from 16 Buddhist countries and other international Buddhist dignitaries to attend a meeting in March to consolidate support for the broader development of Lumbini. Thus, Lumbini is becoming the focal point at the eyes of the world. Yearly hundreds of thousands of people visit Lumbini.

It was a privilege and honor for UPF to be in Lumbini promoting peace and offering service at the Gyan Prabha Primary School in Laxmipuri. Participants included 36 dynamic, peace-loving youth representing different faiths and organizations all over Nepal. During the seven days, participants engaged in manual service for the benefit of poor children who do not have classrooms and a toilet. There are more than 300 children in this school who sit on plastic sheets in the scorching sun and chilly winter without a building; during the rainy season, the classes are impossible in the wet ground and flooding. With the completion of the new building and a toilet, supported jointly by the UPF and the local education department under the Government of Nepal, these children now have the basic rights to an education supported by a permanent shelter for learning and a toilet.

Apart from working experience, the RYS participants had opportunities to teach the children and participate in a community awareness program enlisting community participation in future programs.

Many other organizations have worked over the years in these areas without making this type of community impact. UPF made a breakthrough in bringing this impact and generating positive responses from the local communities.

Chitlang

Thirty-six young people participated in service-learning activities June 2-9, 2012, in the village of Chitlang in the Makwanpur district. They developed leadership and communication skills, experienced Nepal's rich and diverse faith traditions, and helped build a library at the secondary school and renovate the community drinking water system as part of this year's Religious Youth Service program.

The project brought together young people from the different regions and religious traditions of Nepal as well as from other nations of Asia. Coming from different faiths (Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Baha'i), cultures, and traditions, participants had unique interfaith and intercultural experiences.

They received a warm welcome from the community, with traditional dances and drums. Local cooperation was marvelous: community leaders, school staff, and local government officials attended events, and students and mothers came to offer support. Word about the project spread to the local communities, religious organization, and NGOs. The program was well covered by local newspapers.

Comments by group leaders and participants

"It was a breathtaking experience … a life-time learning experience that opened my heart to other faiths … it is amazing that I had an interfaith dialogue and work at the site.... While working, the love and understanding towards each other improved, and we learned a lot from each other.” - Nepal

“RYS provided us the common platform to realize things about ourselves. I certainly contributed back to my organization, my area, and my community. I never will forget this opportunity and will pass this experience on to my family, children, and community.” - Mauritius

"The Universal Peace Federation and Religious Youth Service did a great community service for the local community of Chitlang and the Swachanda School. It’s a great gift to the local community there." - Malaysia

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