Humanitarian and Youth Programs


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Religious Youth Service

Religious Youth Service Rebuilds a Pre-School in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Jaffna, Sri Lanka - After the 26-year Sri Lanka civil war ended in May 2009, much work remains to settle displaced people and help resume normal peacetime life. Religious Youth Service organized a project to help repair a pre-school building December 11-17 on the northern tip of the island as part of a national rebuilding effort.

Around 370,000 people in the north were displaced in the final stages of the war. They have been gradually resettled in their original homeland, with only around five percent still needing to be resettled.

The work project took place in the resettlement fishing village of Maamunai in the northeast Vadamarachchi region of Jaffna. This village was under the control of the rebels, and the area was very affected by the war. The preschool building had been badly damaged, and the four teachers were conducting classes for their 90 students under the trees.

The RYS participants joined skilled workers in repairing the building and also gave financial assistance for the work materials. The project theme was “Strength of Unity,” in the hopes that after the war, the Tamil and Sinhalese communities can be united for the development of one Sri Lanka.

A group of 35 youth and 7 staff members participated in the project. As planned, groups from the south and west met in Colombo and were joined by a foreign delegation, which included one staff member and two participants from Malaysia. From there they traveled north for ten hours, arriving about 6:00 am. They joined participants from the North and East. The travelers did not have much time to rest since they had to get ready for the opening ceremony at the Chavakachcheri Hindu Primary School.

The Chief Guest was the Mayor of Jaffna, Mrs. Yogeshwari Patgunarajah. Religious dignitaries from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity were also present, along with military leaders from the area. The children from the school entertained the invitees with several cultural performances, and the mayor commended UPF and RYS for coming forward to help the people affected by the war, adding that it was difficult to accomplish everything that needs to be done with the financial support of the government only. Dr. Chula Senaratne led the orientation, explaining the norms and vision of RYS, and the day’s events finished with dinner.

The first work day began after the religious observances. The RYS group together with the Sri Lanka Army cleared the preschool building and the surrounding area, which had been badly damaged by the war. Everybody worked hard in groups to clear the area. At the same time they enjoyed their work.

In the afternoon the education program was conducted by the Education Director of the project, Mrs. Shanta Shaffer. She was ably supported by Ms. Dinesha Liyanasuriya, Secretary General of RYS-Sri Lanka. The Muslims in the group presented the cultural program that night.

The second day of work involved repairing the road with sand and rubble collected from the surroundings with the help of the army. The motto of “Strength of unity” among the participants helped make the physical work interesting. The evening activities included an educational program, and Hindus of the Tamil community performed the cultural program.

The final work day of the project involved repairing the road with sand and rubble collected from the surroundings as well as sand from the beach, which was brought to the work site with the help of the army personnel. Everybody worked very hard, and the work was finished before lunch time. Lunch was provided by the Area Military Commander at a beach near the lagoon. All the top brass joined the youth for lunch in appreciation of their work. During lunch two calypso bands provided by the army performed. Everybody enjoyed the time together.

There was a birthday celebration in the evening, as Azeez Abubakr celebrated his birthday with the RYS family. The evening educational program included interactive presentation about HIV/AIDS and some videos.

The next morning everyone rose early to go on a field trip to a mosque, a Catholic church, Nallur Kovil (one of the most significant Hindu temples in Jaffna), and the Nagadeepa Buddhist Temple (believed to have been visited by Gautama Buddha to settle a dispute between two warring kings). Everyone returned for dinner and reflections on the personal impact of the project and how participants might put into practice what they had learned. Around a campfire, many talked about how they enjoyed the RYS project and what they had through it. New participants talked about their conviction that the “strength of unity” can truly help the community.

After breakfast, participants spent time in the Chavakachcheri Hindu Primary School, where the opening meeting was held, writing reflections in the garden. “RYS is a very useful project which helped the people who really need help,” said Ms. Dilini, a Sinhalese Buddhist. “RYS teaches so much value. It helps people in need with its great heart,” commented Mr. Azeez Abubakr, a Muslim. A Tamil Hindu, Mr. P. Anthony Paulson, said, “This RYS project is excellent. Please continue these kinds of service projects since RYS services are needed for the nation in itseffort of rebuilding.”

For a map of Sri Lanka with locations of RYS projects, click here.

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