Articles From the February 1995 Unification News
Seeing Folk in a New Light
by Shamala Velu & Leong Hon Yuen
Through the ages, people have tended to fight rather than embrace each other over religious differences. It's something we still see happening all over the world. So when a group of people feel it should be otherwise, what they do must be worth taking notice of.
Enter the Religious Youth Service, a group which aims to foster unity and world peace through its programs.
Introduced during the "Assembly of the World's Religions" in 1985, RYS initiates activities among youths to allow them to participate in inter-religious activities to broaden individual insights.
Themed The Family, 34 participants aged between 15 and 40, of various faiths, fought off mosquitoes, bugs and bees to set an environment for greater understanding and respect for each other's beliefs.
Among the participants were local professionals, university and college students as well as foreign representatives from Gambia, Japan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Singapore.
They quickly got acquainted and were soon addressing each other as "sister-this" or "brother-that."
The days started at 7am with morning prayers. The Muslim participants were the first to demonstrate how their prayers were conducted; the following day, the youths learned how to meditate and pray from the Hindus.
Project director Sabar Md Hashim said that inter-religious activities such as morning prayers reflect the universality of all religions.
One of the highlights of the program was the mini-service projects where the youths developed skills and teamwork.
One team tackled the jungle treks connecting the Spices and Beverage Garden to the Orchid Garden. Armed with parangs, the youths cleared a 300m stretch of prickly palms one morning. The next morning, they cleared half a hectare of land meant for growing medicinal herbs.
The second team repaired a 330 meter-long wooden bridge located behind a bicycle rent shop.
Singing and sweating at the same time, the girls carried wooden planks to the boys who lifted away rotten wood and hammered in the new planks.
Other than working on service projects, there were educational lectures and sessions on group dynamics.
In the former, all three speakers occasionally diverted from their topic, preferring instead to talk about their personal experiences and childhood days.
Ghazali Datuk Mohd Yusoff, Pure Life Society Orphanage vice-president, gave an inspirational talk on Accommodating Modern Goals and Maintaining Traditional Values.
He emphasized the importance of human values and education for the positive growth of society. "You can always solve economic problems in society, but you cannot re-introduce lost human values." Young children should be taught about honesty, caring and sharing in order to develop a moral society, he added.
"Success must be balanced with religion and tradition. Religious teachings are linked with social responsibility."
Prof. Datuk Dr. Khoo Kay Kim, speaking on Three Generations under One Roof, describe how Western ideas have influenced the thinking of Malaysian youth.
"There's been a great deal of Western influences which have brought about this belief that it's very important for everyone to seek their own happiness," he said.
"So if you feel that the best way for you to be happy is to leave everyone including your parents behind, you do it. But I was brought up differently. I was told that it was always important to sacrifice for others, whether for parents, friends or siblings.
"I had responsibilities towards my parents, like sending them money. But my children are not doing that. They still make me pay for (almost) everything. My sons' relationship with me is not the same as my relationship with my parents."
Datuk Paduka Hajjah Saleha Mohd Ali, speaking on Values and Norms in the Family, emphasized the family as the primary cell in society, which she said must be protected with great care.
"We must not lose our traditional Asian values, of which the most important one is the institution of the family," she said.
She also focused on the importance of the mother's role in society. "A woman would benefit more if she is economically independent, but she must also spend time with her family," she stressed.
Emphasizing the need for working parents to find time to spend with children, Saleha said sharing and caring starts within the family unit.
She also stressed the "four absolute moral standards" that youth must practice to bring about success-absolute honesty, purity, selflessness and love.
In addition, RYS had an open forum on Achieving Marital Bliss. However, the seven participants admitted they were neither married nor marriage counselors.
Tok Jin Jin, 23, a final-year chemistry student at University Malaya, said that accepting each other's shortcomings is important. "Love is not just a bed of roses. Every couple has to accept each other's shortcomings and talk about it first so they will know what to expect," said Tok.
She added the parents should be emotionally stable and prepared to handle new situations, before having children.
Jayapavan Kathalingam, a senior engineer with Tenaga Nasional, however, believed that commitment, sacrifice and compromise are basic elements that hold marriages together.
The others had different approaches to the concept of "marital bliss." Some said that compatibility and universal values such as honesty and trust can all contribute to making a marriage work. In group dynamics sessions, the participants were urged to have a better understanding of themselves and others.
"It's just a label we put on a number of different activities which involve people actively in a learning process as opposed to, say, a lecture, which is often quickly forgotten," said Mitch Lawrie, the experiential learning trainer.
"We need to reflect on our experiences and apply what we have learned. In that way, we can get better experiences in life."
Learning the Ins and Outs
Everyone slept on mattresses on the floor, ate common meals, cleaned their own dishes and had cold baths. But no one complained during the entire program.
In fact, sharing and caring were particular values that dominated the entire scene at the four-day Religious Youth Service program.
The program at Shah Alam Agricultural Park attracted 34 local and foreign participants.
Despite the occasional heavy showers, spirits were not dampened and most of the participants found the program extremely educational.
Alphaumar Jallow, 22, a Gambian who is studying business administration at International Islamic University, believes more youths should participate in such an organization in the interest of society.
"Sharing and caring are always talked about but never really performed. Joining the RYS programs has shown me ways to work without complaining because we learn to respect each other unconditionally," he said.
"We become sensitive to other people's needs when work is performed for a common cause. It was a good experience," he added.
For Vergil Lavendia, 26, from the Philippines, RYS has shown him the deeper side of himself.
"We begin to understand more about ourselves when we interact with other people, especially of other faiths. We begin to understand why people think in certain ways and we get a deeper understanding of ourselves," he said.
Sri Lankan Ravi Paramananthan, 33, who resides in Canada, is a community development worker who is visiting Kuala Lumpur.
According to him, governments cannot dictate or influence people. Instead, initiating community projects for young people helps to develop a moral society.
"Every person thinks differently and if discipline and morality are to be inculcated, it can only be done with children," he said.
For 21-year-old Pei Xian from Singapore, a final-year electronics engineering student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, the RYS project has shown her the true way to care for society.
"Young people nowadays want something in return for what they do. Projects where we expect nothing in return, like clearing the trek and repairing the bridge, help us to be unselfish," she said. "We do it because we want to, and the feeling of something for the community is more important."
The youngest participant, 15-year-old Melissa Johannie Yusoh, said her mother urged her to attend after seeing a RYS poster in Universiti Pertanian Malaysia.
"I get to meet people and to know about their religions and languages. It's been a lot of fun," Melissa summed up about her stay.
Tok Jin Jin, 23, a University Malaya final-year chemistry student, came because she noticed the program included dynamic discussions which she hoped would benefit her.
The first thing she learned was to be more patient. As a group leader, she had to think of other people's limitations.
"My patience was tested," she said. "I normally think and act fast, but I had to be patient when dealing with different individuals.
"If someone comes up with an idea but diverts from the topic, I would usually just cut in to correct them. I had to learn to restrain myself."
Sanae Takahashi, an editor of a Japanese entertainment magazine, also enjoyed her stay. She left her hometown in Nagano to come here to study Malaysia's multicultural society and to study the English and Malay languages.
"Unlike the Japanese, Malaysians mix and live together. I am very curious about this," said Sanae, 25, who has been here for four months.
Staying with Malaysians has taught her the language and customs. Sanae also experienced for the first time walking in the jungle using a machete to cut away bushes, and observing Muslims at prayer.
The chance to meet and live with strangers certainly tested the tolerance and patience of the participants. These were people with not only different religions, but different cultures and habits.
The fact that they got on so well in what was quite a hostile and uncomfortable environment shows that the Beatles' anthem from the '60s, Give Peace a Chance, can work if everyone gives it a go.
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