Unification News for May 1996


A Beacon of Hope: RYS Project in Croatia

by Marshall de Souza-London, UK

Following last year's project when a group of forty-five worked to improve the living conditions of refugees in northern Croatia, a much more challenging prospect was at stake a year later. The Religious Youth Service (RYS) was invited to organize a 'follow-up' project in Dalmatia (what the Serbs called Krajina). What occurred was truly commendable, given the fact that time to plan and work was very short, money was extremely limited, and RYS expertise meant literally a handful of people. But, as the saying goes, "where there's a will, there's a way." So, on Easter Sunday, April 7th, the forty participants and staff, supported in many ways by the International Relief Friendship Foundation (IRFF) and the Women's Federation for World Peace (WFWP), completed a job well done!

Most of the participants arrived on Thursday, March 28th. Those who made it in the morning, were called to duty even before the project officially began. They had to clean and prepare four rooms that were to be used for sleeping. As a special treat for their unconditional effort, the director of the Out-patient's Clinic where we were to do the physical work, took everyone out to a restaurant for a lovely meal. Officially, the project began at 9:00 am the next morning. Eighteen countries (Iceland, Ireland, England, Sweden, Spain, Chile, Germany, Mongolia, Japan, Korea, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, USA, Russia, Austria and Croatia) were represented, and included the religious traditions of Christianity (Catholic and Orthodox), Buddhism and Unificationism.

When one uses the word 'challenging', it is because most things which were planned weeks ahead, had to be thrown out of the window (and there were not a shortage of broken ones)! For a start, the planned project was the restoration of a kindergarten in Drnis. That was changed at the last minute because of some uncertainty and is postponed for the future. Instead the major work for this project was to be the preparation of four rooms and toilet facilities for an Out- patients' Clinic in the town of Oklaj, some 14 Km from Drnis. This work took place in a large building that was very badly destroyed, and this 'mission' was very urgent because a make-shift clinic was being used at someone's house until now, and the owners were to return by Easter. Hence the dire need for another facility.

In Drnis, where the participants were offered living quarters by the Head of the Out-patient's Clinic, several jobs were accomplished: it was possible to clean and paint the garage for ambulances, fix the roof, which was a major task in itself, and paint two offices. The work in the garage really tested those who worked there. They practiced the true meaning of humility, for the work was especially dirty, greasy and wet. Both sites (Drnis and Oklaj) also included working in the environment. The participants had the opportunity to tidy up and creatively design the compounds around the buildings which were being restored.

One has to bear in mind the degree of difficulty in working in this area. The Croatians had to flee their homes and work places four years ago. Since the liberation of these lands last August (1995), people are returning home, only to find destruction and chaos. Houses, shops, schools, factories, telegraph poles and electricity pylons (the necessities of life) were either damaged badly or destroyed completely. On skirting the area, one finds ruined tanks and unexploded mines, among other things. It is not surprising that these people are fearful and skeptical of others. Inevitably, one could also find a few selfless activists, working for the sake of others like 'modern-day Mother Theresas'. Two of our key local helpers were such people: the head of the social (actually tireless) workers, and the head of the Out-patients' Clinic. Without their support, this project would have lacked spirit and would have been much, much more challenging. In addition to giving necessary help, these two women also took it on themselves to take our participants to places of interest, and there were several of them. They also made it a point to attend as many of our educational and cultural programs as possible.

The Orientation began at 9:00 am on Friday, March 29th. The key people involved in holding the Orientation were Marshall de Souza (Overall Director), Marica Kampic (Local Coordinator) and Jurgen Schipper (Education Director). After the Welcome, an introduction to RYS was given, and that was followed by self-introductions. A discussion on the Norms of RYS followed the Break. The participants were placed into groups in order to come up, on poster paper, with their Vision for RYS. A representative then gave his or her group's vision, which was often done quite dramatically. After Lunch, Fears and Expectations were discussed, and that was followed by Listening Check (a test to determine how much we truly listen to others). Following a short break, a very interesting and popular exercise on people's character was done. Through this exercise one can see how one reacts under normal and stress conditions. People usually fall into one of the three characteristics of "Warm Blue St. Bernard" or "Cool Green Fox" or "Red Hot Lion" (attend RYS to find out what these mean!). Then, followed Dinner, after which an Explanation of the Work and Safety was given. And, last, but not least, the Purpose of Teams during the project was described, and the names of the four team leaders and the team members were read out.

Many participants expected only to serve the unfortunate people while they were in Croatia by working during the whole time. Whilst service is an integral part of the RYS, and surely, a lot of cleaning, scraping, sanding, painting, digging, weeding, planting and other jobs were done, there are also two other important aspects of the RYS: education and culture. Because RYS sees youth as being the leaders of tomorrow, care is taken to develop educational programs. Apart from the Orientation, other sessions were also organized during the project. They included: a youth forum on Why we Serve, a talk on Team Building, and a discussion on How to Prevent Wars. A number of participants commented in their reflections that they could see the value of the education that was offered to them.

There is Orientation, there is Work, and then there is the Reflection. The latter is the opportunity given to participants to reflect on what they had learnt or accomplished during the project. Questions such as: How has RYS changed your life? or What did you understand or do that you did not understand or do before? or What did you overcome or tolerate during the project? were asked at the beginning of the Reflection.

Regarding culture, there were many occasions when participants could perform something from their nation; also football and basketball games with local youth were played. Most of all, at the Cultural Evening where local residents were invited, the groups performed what they had prepared. Some items were hilarious; others were down right unusual. In any case, there was something for everyone to enjoy. The Japanese members of the WFWP organized a beautiful children's program of songs and origami at a small kindergarten for thirty children. In addition to all this, a day was spent in the beautiful resort of Sibenik, all were treated to the immensely scenic Krka National Park, which proudly boasts the unimaginable series of water falls.

On Easter Sunday, everyone attended Mass at the Franciscan monastery on the island of Visovac in the middle of the Krka river. Itself an historical monument, this monastery which was built in the 15th Century, has survived attacks from different enemies, and never once have the monks abandoned it. The Mass was followed by a breath-taking boat ride on the river, which then suitably prepared everyone for a picnic lunch on the shores. The final event took place that evening. It was the Closing Dinner. Wonderful food was served, after which many presentations were made. Each participant received a Certificate of Appreciation from Marica Kampic, the local host and coordinator. Several gifts were exchanged as well. Well into the night, chatting and sharing continued, leading up to the next day's farewells, always a sad, but inevitable, event at the RYS!

In conclusion, a remarkable amount of work was accomplished, given that time was short and finances were limited. The four rooms were ready to be used as an Out-patient's Clinic; the garage looked beautiful and had a healthy roof; the grounds at both sites looked very decent. Interest in the project came from national television, local radio and national newspapers. Very importantly, the RYS helped to make some transformation in the hearts of the local people. Whilst difficult at the beginning, many natives opened up later, greeted our participants, or even invited some of them to coffee at their homes. If they felt more hope for the future because of the RYS' investment, then it made the project all the more worthwhile. There were, along the way, some misunderstandings, admittedly; some things had to re- done because of unforeseen problems. Two things will always stand out regarding this RYS project: first, it took place in an unusual area, under difficult conditions; and secondly, many capable leaders came to the project to learn how to do their own RYS in their own country. Ask the representatives from the C.I.S. or Romania. Humble though it was, it was a project that ended well, and left people with a lot to reflect about.

Marshall de Souza is the RYS Coordinator in the UK

Upcoming RYS projects

RYS Great Britain, Birmingham, Aug. 27"Sept. 8
RYS Taiwan, Taipei: Aug. 21"31
RYS Honduras: RYS project, June 22"June 30
RYS Honduras: Eco Tour, July 1"2
RYS Romania: Transylvania, Aug. 1"11

For information, contact: John Gehring, 4 West 43rd Street, NY NY 10036.

212-869-6023 ext. 429. fax 212-869-6424


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