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Religious Youth Service

Religious Youth Service Island Friendship Project Held in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka-2022-12-16-Religious Youth Service Island Friendship Project Held in Sri Lanka

Abhayapura, Sri Lanka—The Island Friendship Project, co-organized by the Religious Youth Service (RYS), UPF and International Association of Youth and Students for Peace (IAYSP), an affiliated organization, took place in Sri Lanka from December 10 to 16, 2022. Fifty-eight young people, among them student leaders at universities, from different faiths participated in the weeklong project whose theme was “Intergenerational Solidarity: Creating a World for all Ages” and was supported by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Youth and Sports through the National Youth Services Council (Sri Lanka Youth).

The project officially opened on December 11 with prayers from representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Unification faiths. 

The service component involved building the supporting infrastructure for a water well that will benefit more than 200 families living in Abhayapura, a village in Avissawella township, situated 45 km. from the capital, Colombo city.  In addition to clearing a path to lay the water pipes, the participants installed an electrical pump and mixed and transported cement to cover up the well. A good rapport was established with the local community during this time, with many villagers serving delicious homemade snacks and tea to the participants. On December 16 a ceremony was held to dedicate the new construction to the community. 

The education component was facilitated by Mr. Alvin Pang, the education director who flew in from Singapore for the project and worked closely with Ms. Dinesha Liyanasuriya, secretary general of RYS-Sri Lanka, and Dr. Chula Senaratne, secretary general of UPF-Sri Lanka.  Local Religious sensitivities were taken into consideration while preparing the lectures.  Some of the sessions covered the following:

  • RYS’ values and main components. The participants discussed in groups which components resonated with them and why.  Many cited the multi-cultural, multi-religious environment and opportunity to serve as the main attractions of an RYS project.
  • An introduction to, including key areas of focus of, UPF.
  • The universal principles of UPF.  The participants were encouraged to share principles of their beliefs, with many realizing that there are commonalities among their different faiths.
  • The three Blessings given by Heaven, which was presented in the “Mysterious Family Tree" lecture.
  • The focus of the Waku-Waku self-coaching sessions was the power of words and showing appreciation. The participants voiced positive statements to one another and excitedly worked on the Appreciation Wall, writing words of appreciation on Post-It notes and posting hundreds of them over two days.

These sessions helped the participants to positively change their attitude toward fostering intercultural and interreligious harmony and embrace a wider concept of world peace.  For many, this was the first time they discussed, lived and ate together with someone from another faith. Despite the many sensitivities in this multi-religious setting, the youth were able to understand the need for respect and understanding of other people’s faiths.  Many shared their religious perspectives and tried to find common ground between their faiths. 

The staff team—which included Dr. Senaratne; Ms. Liyanasuriya; Capt. Sajjidin Sarrajh, president of IAYSP-Sri Lanka; Ms. Champa Cumaranathunga, financial officer of UPF-Sri Lanka; Pulinda, the project coordinator; and Mr. Pang—worked tirelessly organize the project. At one point, it was on the verge of cancellation due to a lack of funds resulting from a long, severe economic crisis marked by rising inflation, Sri Lanka was experiencing RYS alumni and friends around the world took action and raised sufficient funds within just three weeks to keep the project afloat.

Also contributing to the project were different leaders and groups, including:

  • Maj. Gen. M.K. Jayawardena, colonel commandant of the Sri Lanka Engineers, the combat support arm of the Sri Lanka Army, whose unit supported the project by providing technical expertise and logistical assistance.
  • Mrs. Shammi Jayawardena, president of the Sri Lanka Engineers’ Seva Vanitha branch, who participated in the opening ceremony of the water well infrastructure project that took place in Abhayapura village.
  • Mr. Ajith Naragala, chairman of the Development Lotteries Board, who gave a well-received two-hour motivational talk.
  • Maj. Thilini Wickramaarachchi of the Women’s Corps of the Sri Lankan Army.  She conducted a two-hour educational session on leadership.
  • The National Youth Services Council.

At the end of the project, the participants gave testimonies which revealed they had deep and fulfilling experiences over the seven days.

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