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Religious Youth Service

Religious Youth Service Builds Vegetable Garden at a School in Kochi, India

Kochi, India - Based on the theme of ‘Together for Tomorrow’, a Religious Youth Service International project at the ACS School in Kochi, India was held August 9-15, 2011 with the participation of 26 people from five countries: South Korea, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and India. The core topics RYS-Kochi project focused on were sustainable development and environmental awareness.

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The project was inaugurated by Prof. N.R. Menon, the chairman of the project advisory committee. A renowned educator, counselor, and trainer, a patron of many RYS projects and an active participant in countless peace initiatives of the Universal Peace Federation, Prof. Menon, during his address, emphasized the relevance and urgency of transcending the man-made barriers, borders, and boundaries that divide people all over the world, especially in these conflict-ridden times. He pointed out that if we look closer at the common thread that connects the entire humankind, we would able to realize that the ‘differences’ are only on the surface and what underlies in the depths is the ‘oneness.’ In his words, our universal values, integrally related to our faith, should enable us to perceive that the ‘otherness’ is non-existent.

Vision in action

The main work of the service project involved the planting of a wide variety of vegetable seeds and saplings on the roof of the building of ACS School in Kochi as a way of promoting the theme of sustainable development among youth. ACS School is a professionally managed public school, catering mostly to the under-privileged children of the city. The revenue from this vegetable garden, maintained by the students, will be used by the school to help the needy students.

Before the starting of the project, the RYS team was given a warm welcome by the school authorities, who arranged a public function for the team. The team RYS along with dozens of students carried the bricks, mud, and manure to the rooftop and filled over 100 sacks with the mixture of mud and manure. The manager, principal, teachers, and countless students enthusiastically took part in the planting of saplings in those sacks.

The prime reason behind this initiative is to make our young generation aware of the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of one and all, wherever we are and whatever we do. As John Donne, the great 16th century poet has written in one of his famous poems, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” No one can survive in isolation. Peace is impossible when the world is fragmented into pieces. The world we live in is in search of a deeper and wider sense of togetherness among the people of all faiths, especially the youth. The project is an earnest attempt to respond to this need of the hour.

One of the focal outcomes of this project would be the flame of inspiration kept alive in the hearts of countless students - our dynamic leaders of tomorrow’s world - who whole-heartedly chipped in to bring this endeavor to fruition. Another potential impact would be the sense of caring and sharing that the youngsters may learn from the Mother Nature as they proudly created a vegetable garden from the scratch and mutually nurtured and nourished it as their own venture. At an impressionable young age, they would also learn about the need for sustainability and taking initiative. They may come to realize what Mahatma Gandhi said on this theme, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.”

UN declared 2011 the ‘International Year of Forests.’ 2010 was the ‘International Year of Youth.’ As part of the worldwide environmental awareness campaign among the youth, the RYS team, aided by the school management, planted a sapling of a mango tree on the school campus. The news of this event was reported by the regional edition of the New Indian Express, a prominent national daily. Having heard about the project and its noble vision and purpose, the Rotary Club of Kochi promptly invited the team for an interaction along with dinner.

Catalysts for change 

The educational programs, deftly facilitated by chief resource person, Ms. Dinesha Liyanasuriya (Secretary General of RYS-Sri Lanka), provided valuable inputs on leadership skills, inter-personal relationships, peace-making skills, and effective and efficient communication. As testified by many participants, these sessions, done mostly in the afternoons, explored the positive catalysts for change in our perceptions and perspectives and enabled the team to think together how they can unleash their infinite potential, individually and collectively.

Every morning, participants joined in the prayers according to different faiths and practiced many meditations. Making peace within, among, around, and everywhere was the predominant theme of these sessions. The team also attended an interfaith prayer program aimed at spreading the message of ‘living together for one another.’ With music, prayer, and reflection, this evening session, hosted by Sai Samanvaya –a socio-spiritual service organization in the city, shed light on the eclectic Indian culture and heritage.

Harmony of heartbeats 

To promote the culture of peace and harmony through sports and games, an under-used sporting ground in the city was cleaned as part of the project. The team RYS also participated in a friendly football match, held in the same ground, against the young players of the Football Academy of Cochin. The spirited match ended up in a hard-fought draw, 2-2.

Another event that touched many hearts was the visit to Sai Niketan, a shelter for the orphaned children. As part of the humanitarian initiatives of the project, clothing and some other essential materials were gifted to this orphanage on the eve of the forthcoming festival season. With curiosity welling up in their eyes and shyness written all over their face, the children welcomed the team, chanted hymns, and sang some devotional songs.

Team RYS could explore the host city, Kochi, a fast-growing seaport city on the west coast of India with a rich heritage, vivid history, vibrant industries, and diverse culture. They also visited many religious centers of worship, a public fish farm close to the sea, a cultural museum, and the heritage neighborhood of the old city. Boating in the inland waters of the Kochi Bay was a memorable experience for many.

The graduation ceremony, following the evaluation and reflections of the members, was a solemn occasion attended by many well-wishers of RYS, including Mrs. Akemi Joseph, a Kochi-based UPF member of Japanese origin. The project, directed by Mr. P.C. Joseph, a peace activist and member of UPF, and assisted by Dr. Vinay Sagar, who served as the educational director, concluded on the eve of August 15, India’s Independence Day.

Reflections by Sheela Keeran Mathur, Mauritius

The RYS project in Kochi focused on developing personal leadership and peace-making skills through living together and providing altruistic service within a community. The RYS team, consisting of members coming from different parts of the globe, demonstrated that it is possible for our global human family to live together in peace and prosperity. RYS gives a great opportunity to broaden and deepen one's faith and learn about other faiths.

The RYS- Kochin project focused on sustainable development and environmental awareness. The team planted a variety of vegetable seeds and saplings on the roof of a school. This school caters to the under-privileged children of the city. The revenue from the vegetables will be used by the school to help the needy students.

Our RYS team also visited the Sai Niketan orphanage and spent a few hours with the lovely talented children there; they welcomed us with lovely songs. The RYS team also helped clean an under-used playground in the city so children can play games and build friendships there. We also had opportunities to attend interfaith prayers, meditation, and healing sessions. We had a half-day outing to visit religious sites and a huge fish farm.

I have been enriched with ideas and have learnt a lot about togetherness, sharing and how to do everything compassionately. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet so many RYS people coming from different countries.

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