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Service Programs

UPF Builds Harmony in Sri Lanka through Service, Sports and Music

A Religious Youth Service project Aug. 27-Sept. 3, 2006, at Kandapola brought together participants in a common bond to help renovate a government school building and provide it with pipe-borne water.

The Universal Peace Federation (UPF) is a world wide organization established to achieve peace through the promotion of inter-religious values. It is of special significance to Sri Lanka that inter-racial harmony can also be achieved through understanding of inter-religious values. UPF also had as one of its founding concepts, that today, national states have become too big for small things and too small for big things—hence the need for international cooperation and solidarity in all spheres of national development in this high-tech global era.

The UPF strives to explore this through a culture of peace that instills a spirit of education, sports, arts, media and service in the community. With this end in view, it has a branch of its organization called the 'Religious Youth Service' (RYS)—the word 'Religious' connoting all religions in the world. In fact the recent RYS project held in Nuwara Eliya entitled 'Celebration of Life' that this writer participated, had a Buddhist priest as one among nearly fifty participants from the north, south, east and west of Sri Lanka.

In today’s turbulent situation in the country, this is a project that should be emulated by all civic movements, quite apart from their theoretical concepts enunciated at seminars, workshops and on paper.

This RYS project was held from the 27th August to 2nd September and the entire project can be described as a training of mind, heart and soul of the country’s youth at a stage where the world together with Sri Lanka is hungering for peace and reconciliation in the midst of hatred and war engineered by some political, religious and community leaders heavily bent on their chosen path of certain destruction.

RYS is a movement bringing all races, cultures and faiths together on one platform: all participants, Sinhalese Tamils and Muslims were encouraged to live their own faith throughout the project with each day commencing with a few minutes spent by the respective faith groups as a common endeavor and supplication—with the Buddhist monk leading the Buddhists and others leading other religions.

In a process that breaks down man made barriers to human unification, the project shattered all mistrust among the races, who at the commencement were evasive of one another, thus gradually bringing about actions of caring and sharing—leading to a culture of peace. It was significant that terms such as 'good morning’, 'how are you today' were put on the board in both languages thus encouraging discourse with each other and breaking the communication barrier.

Sri Lanka’s ethnic, and now emerging religious strife has lead to human suffering and material destruction in the midst of several people having an urge for peace and reconciliation.

With the RYS goal of building peace through inter-religious and inter-racial dialogue, the theories propounded at the sessions were put into practice at grass roots level in service, sports and music.

The participants at this project, apart from Sri Lankans in all parts of the country, included Germans, Taiwanese, Singaporeans and Malaysians mingling in a spirit of camaraderie exchanging their respective views in activities that were designed to bring about religious and racial harmony: activities such as play lets were arranged to encourage interplay of dialogue in rehearsing etc before the performance: this intermingling and exchange of ideas under one roof for a period of one week away from the respective home environments often seeded with prejudices, broke down racial and religious barriers that has to be seen to be believed.

The project at Kandapola in the salubrious climes in Nuwara Eliya brought together all participants in a common bond to contribute in renovating a government school building and provide it with pipe borne water with the authorization of the Ministry of Education. This was predominantly a Tamil school with participants from all races helping with the activities: it was particularly interesting to note foreign participants, organizers and resource persons in working clothes taking part in sand papering, polishing, painting digging etc to bring up the school to a better finish.

The project program was followed by sports activities designed to promote inter-racial harmony through competitive spirit by co-opting a Singhalese school of the area commonly distributed into mixed teams of both schools. Musical items too were arranged to promote appreciation of the respective cultures that were represented—of particular entertainment value was an item by the German youth.

This writer who was also a resource person in the project, in an address on inter-racial harmony, brought out the concept that in sports, the team spirit breaks the competitive spirit of winning: a similar transformation, he said, takes place with music song and dance when an orchestra consisting of all communities plays on for singing by mixed communities.

A highlight of the project was the final parting heavily laden with emotion in discovering a new perspective in life away from the isolated feelings of racial and religious misapprehensions. This is a significant message to be carried across to each participant’s respective society, the impact of which through out the length and breadth of the country will be a powerful instrument of peace and understanding.

RYS has already carried out and is planning to further carry out similar projects through out the length and breadth of Sri Lanka to promote the culture of peace so essential at the moment.

The project was organized by Rev. R. Thillairajan, Secretary General UPF Sri Lanka, Dr. Chula Senaratna, and National Director RYS Sri Lanka with Ms Fazida Razak, Regional Director RYS, Asia Pacific Region, a Singaporean now domiciled in Australia, as the course trainer. RYS collaborated with the Y’s men’s club of Nuwara Eliya in carrying out the project.

For a report of the project on the Religious Youth Service website, click here.
For a map of project sites, click here.

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