Humanitarian and Youth Programs


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Religious Youth Service

Service Project in Georgia Brings Together South Caucasus Youth

Zugdidi, Georgia - A Religious Youth Service project took place July 20-28, 2013, in western Georgia's historic province of Samegrelo. Zugdidi, the center of the region, is located 318 kilometers west of the capital city of Tbilisi, 30 km from the Black Sea coast.

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The South Caucasus still cannot be considered one of the stable and prosperous regions in the world. The situation in Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia remains tense. To find a solution to the existing complicated socioeconomic problems, the states in the region need to move from rivalry and confrontation to cooperation.

This was the third Religious Youth Service since 2011 aimed at uniting young people and helping them to resolve conflicts through grassroots diplomacy and interreligious dialogue, promoting dialogue between cultures and rapprochement of the peoples of the South Caucasus. Sixteen volunteers from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia, representing the Armenian and the Georgian Orthodox Church, Islam, and the Unification Church, participated in the program “Youth Leaders: Joint Service for Peace” that was held in the city of Zugdidi in west Georgia July 20 to 28. The project was sponsored by UPF and the NGO “Save the Future Generations.” A representative of the Zugdidi administration was in charge of all major events. The city administration sponsored a trip to Batumi, where the volunteers visited the mosque and spent some time on the sunny seashore.

During orientation, the participants realized the unique nature of the program and the specific role of each volunteer as a representative of their nation and culture. The youth came together with the purpose of living for the well-being of others in a close-knit community, overcoming difficulties of communication and differences of nationality and religion.

During the project they had many opportunities to develop leadership skills, communication and conflict resolution skills, altruism in practice, acquaintance with the local natural and cultural sights, as well as participate in educational, entertainment, and sports programs.

The participants visited a Georgian Orthodox Church and a mosque, where they learned first hand about importance of spiritual life and religious traditions of the followers of Christianity and Islam. Everyone came a a joint realization that all religions are led by one driving force — God, who loves human beings and helps them to embrace His loving heart and learn to live as members of “One Family under God.”

Volunteers participated in restoration work in the vast Zugdidi Botanical Garden surrounding the museum complex — the Dadiani Palace, the residence of the Megrelian rulers, the Dadiani family, in Zugdidi. In the middle of the ninettenth century, famous European gardeners were invited to help create the gardens, and they brought rare species of plants. Total area of the Dadiani Garden is 26.4 hectares. Some of the trees are about 200 years old and rare species in Eurasia. Picturesque ruins, a pond, majestic sequoias, royal magnolias, and huge sycamore trees make the park a very special place. 

For several days, the volunteers were helped in tasks in the park, which is one of the main attractions of the city providing the citizens a cool shelter on hot summer days.

One day, the volunteers divided into teams and chose objects to take care of. The majority of them loved the botanical garden so much that they decided to continue working there. On the way to the garden, participants egaged local youth in conversation, trying to inspire them to participate in the project and invited them to join. It was not easy, but as a result of their efforts three local teenagers joined the group. One team offered its assistance to the Orthodox Church which was recently built in Zugdidi. Volunteers put things in order inside the church and cleaned the yard.

During evening programs, volunteers presented unique aspects of their cultures: folk dances, songs and national dishes. They turned into tourist agents, describing to each other the most interesting features of their nations and cultures.

Lectures on tolerance, value-oriented volunteering, a culture of peace, causes of conflicts and the ways of their resolution, peacemaking, and value of the family as the school of love and peace, as well as trainings, talks, films, and discussions helped participants explore their peacemaking potential and make another step to becoming true Young Ambassadors for Peace.

On the last day, the participants in the program analyzed their experience gained during the project, shared their impressions, and expressed their determination to continue serving on an international scale and further strengthen relations among the participants of the project. During the final program, a representative of the local administration thanked the volunteers for their efforts and handed them souvenirs with scenes from Zugdidi.

Participation in the program helped the volunteers build bonds with each other, create the special atmosphere of partnership, and gain valuable experience in promoting a culture of peace. In Zugdidi, the seeds of love and service that were planted will ultimately transform both participants and the local community.

With Mahatma Gandhi, organizers sincerely believe that “We should be the change that we wish to see in the world” and that seemingly casual meetings can open new vistas and opportunities in life.

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