Unification News for June 1997

RYS American Friendship Projects in the Dominican Republic

by John W. Gehring-NYC

The RYS as an inter-religious peace project is constantly seeking for ways to create better cooperation among the youth of various nations and religious backgrounds. Each region of the globe has its own particular historic situations as well as its current social, political, religious and economic strengths and dilemma's.

RYS founder, Rev. Sun Myung Moon and its religious advisors agree that the central foundation for a healthy future lies in the cooperation between people of faith and this task is increasingly falling on the shoulders of the upcoming generation.

As part of a strategy to better connect the people's of the America's, the RYS has sponsored its third "America's Friendship Project" which was hosted by the Dominican Republic on May 19-27. Forty staff and participants representing Haiti, Dominican Republic, USA, Japan and Germany helped repair a rural school 20km. outside of the capital of Santo Domingo. The central theme of the program; "Creating an island of friendship" was based on the current need for closer relationships between the residents of this island, the home of both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

In January, 1996 the RYS in cooperation with the IRFF and the WFWP held a project in Haiti in which foreign participants came largely from the USA and from the Dominican Republic and helped to build a medical facility and school rooms at the Haitian Academy outside of Port au Prince. Based on the success of this initial project and the cooperation between the sponsors a plan was made to invite a large team of Haitian participants to the Dominican Republic and build on the trust and good will from that initial project. The RYS project in May was the result of this plan.

The ideal of peaceful cooperation and friendship takes more then a vision and good intentions, hard work and effective planning are also needed. One example which helps to illustrate some of the difficulties encountered in implementing the friendship project was that all our programs had to be conducted in Creole, Spanish and English. The three way translations were time consuming and laborious, often testing participants patience.

Aside from the linguistic differences of the participants, cultural outlooks, religious background and economic situations were often widely diverse and people had to work to find common denominators to which to build trust and friendship. Dr. Ron Burr (University of Southern Mississippi) and Dr. Kathy Winnings (IRFF) teamed up and helped model and guide the teams to come to points where cooperation and sharing could begin. The physical work at the school also provided a way to create team spirit and cooperation.

The rural village where the repair of the school took place was eager to welcome the RYS. The school had suffered from years of negligence and a new school master was trying to make a last effort to keep the school open. The appearance of international volunteers did two things for the community; it provided a needed service on the building but more important, it renewed the communities interest and involvement in the school.

Mother's and children, out of curiosity, increasingly appeared at the work site. Before long, the children and parents were drawn into the activity and joined the work teams, painting, scrapping, cleaning and doing jobs that fit their abilities.

The contrast of the schools appearance before the coming of RYS and at the time of departure was dramatic. The contrast in the energy level of village at the time of arriving of RYS as to the time of the project was just as dramatic. People serving people generates joyful energy and provides a visible demonstration of what religious cooperation is about.

One special gift that the RYS created for the school was a beautiful friendship mural, designed and painted by participants from the University of Bridgeport. This mural required an enormous amount of cooperation and extra work but provided the personal warm of a gift of love.

During the project RYS participants were able to involve themselves in discussions on themes related to their religious faiths and to the theme of peace. One demonstration of this spirit occurred during the project was the Island Friendship Ceremony which was sponsored by the WFWP. During this evening program fourteen teams of three represents from Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Japan were matched in friendship. Participants commented that the time they were able to spend together and share openly was one of their deepest experiences during their stay at the RYS.

One afternoon, RYS participants had a chance to test the Caribbean waters, which were found to be warm, blue and to the liking of all. In addition, participants visited several historic sights in Santo Domingo among which the museum in honor of Christopher Columbus was of most interest.

RYS programs conclude with evaluations and a time for reflection. Ms. Rachael Wood and RYS director, John Gehring conducted several sessions which gave the participants a chance to think about what they learned during this time together and allowed them to make some personal commitment to what they would like to do when they returned back home. One session included the creation of a "Declaration of Friendship" between those representing the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti.

As the RYS plans future activities in the America's, it hopes to draw an increasing number of students from the USA and Canada into a deeper relationship with our neighbors to the south. RYS as part of the International Religious Foundation (IRF) seeks to show the value of the religious heritages that belong to the America's. This heritage goes back to the America's First People's and has strong Christian roots, yet it is a heritage that is continually adjusting to the impact of new immigrants and contemporary changes in our understanding of Ultimate Reality.

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