Unification News for November 1996
RYS `Building Racial Harmony' in Birmingham , UK
by Marshall de Souza-London, UK
Many people already believed that the 'ingredients' for a successful RYS project already existed in Birmingham, England. Not until August/September 1996 did it take actually place. But, making a good idea become a reality can often be more than a simple process!
According to Dr. David Earle, the Local Coordinator of the 55th RYS project-which ran from August 27th to September 8th-the real impetus which propelled him to an "All Systems Go" frame of mind, came from attending the RYS project in Kerala, South India, in February 1996. David had already started planning for the project towards the end of 1995; however, the experience in India sufficiently empowered him to begin in earnest.
David started talking to as many people as he could-religious leaders and scholars, youth and community workers, City Council employees in Race Relations and the Commission for Racial Equality, interfaith contacts, friends and neighbors. He was concerned with the practical service work, finding local participants, sorting out the transport, accommodation, food, educational forums and visiting, speakers, excursions etc., etc. Last but not least, the finance! How do you raise the thousands necessary for such a project? David was also trying to understand how the RYS could best serve the needs of the Birmingham community through relevant and appropriate projects which could be maintained after the RYS volunteers had departed. An educational program had to be devised which would expose the participants to the assets and challenges of the Birmingham environment, but also inform the local community of all that we were trying to achieve during our time together.
Marshall de Souza, the RYS UK Coordinator was working on the administration and getting the staff and participants from Britain and abroad for the project, as well as trying to raise money. A lot of ideas were exchanged between David and Marshall from the end of 1995, until the project began in August 1996. The whole experience was an incredible exercise in faith, perseverance and determination. There were many ups and downs, breakthroughs and setbacks, inspiring moments and times of simply hanging on! It was not until two or three weeks before the project started that a clear picture began to emerge of how things might turn out.
The forty-six participants and staff who arrived in Birmingham came from twenty countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Jordan, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Uganda, Ukraine, USA and Wales. They represented the religious traditions of Buddhism, Christianity (Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox), Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Unificationism.
To a large extent, the success of a project must rely on a good staff and participant orientation. This was the case, thanks in an enormous way, to Dr. and Mrs. Phillips (Bert and Judy to us), the Educational Directors of this project, who despite a very busy schedule in America, came to be with us, and truly taught us how to love and care for each other. Their departure at the end of the first week, was very moving, to say the least. That night, there was no staff meeting, nor could there have been one, for the emotions and offerings of gratitude to the Phillips' in the form of songs, poems, etc., went on spiritedly until the early hours of the next morning.
The Staff Orientation ran from the evening of August 25th and throughout the next day. The following day was participants' arrival day. The project officially started at 9.00 am on August 28th, with the Participant Orientation, which lasted two days. During the orientation, the RYS Vision and Norms were discussed, together with several other exercises, which included sessions on Fears and Expectations, Listening Check, and Work and Safety. All the participants had the opportunity to visit the three sites together before work began on the morning of Friday, August 30th.
The place of residence and educational/cultural programs was St. Peter's College, in the Saltley area of Birmingham. We had self- catering facilities, both because of financial constraints, and also to give training to the participants and staff. There were three work sites organized; two in Saltley and the third in the Nechells inner city area of Birmingham. The former included the building of a Nature Trail and Picnic Area, and converting an old bus garage into a Recycling Center; the latter was the revival of an abandoned Tree Nursery.
The work period ran each day, except Sundays, from 8:30 am until 1:30 pm, which was lunch-time. Almost every afternoon and evening, an educational or cultural program was organized. These included a Seminar on Crossing Barriers, visits to scenic National Parks or to the Selly Oak Colleges (a world renowned ecumenical institution), an interfaith pilgrimage (a visit to a Christian church, a Muslim mosque, a Sikh gurudwara and a Hindu temple), a sports afternoon and a Forum on Race Relations. The outings proved to be very refreshing and uplifting. Two afternoons were allocated to preparation for a Cultural Evening, which was excellent and also well-attended by the local community. David Earle has to be commended for the high quality speakers he brought to the project. It was very clear that they too were people of vision, and their idealism and that of the RYS blended together well!
The work projects showed that co-operation with like-minded organizations is both possible, but also very needed. The RYS linked up with at least four Birmingham based organizations: Community Service Volunteers, Brumcan Recycling Co., Community Transport, Urban Renewal, in addition to the National Trust. Through this co-operation, an incredible amount of work was accomplished, with a saving and efficient use of money and materials. The transformations at the Foxton Road site where the Nature Trail and Picnic Area were created, the Hartopp Road site where the old bus garage was converted into a Recycling Center, and the Long Acre site where the Tree Nursery was revived can hardly be expressed in words. One has almost to have seen the 'Before' situations to believe what has really been accomplished!
Dr. Subhan Burton, a long-time friend and supporter of RYS, flew to Britain from the United States just to organize the two-day Reflection Period of the Birmingham project. Coming from a Sufi tradition, he prepared a deep and spiritually enlightening Closing. The Reflection Period began after lunch on Saturday, September 7. Subhan led us into reviewing the goals, norms and what we had learned during the project. He also explained some reflection practices to us. At 10 am on the final Sunday morning, everyone experienced a beautiful universal interfaith service. Reading and prayers from all the religious traditions present and not present were heard. The Reflection period brought everyone even closer to each other!
The official Closing Ceremony took place at lunch-time that Sunday. It was attended by all participants and staff as well as by some special guests and parents of local participants. A delicious meal was served, and this was followed by recognizing the guests, five reflections, the reading of a speech sent by Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak, President of RYS, and last, but not least, the presentations of certificates and gifts. Photographs were taken for a long time afterwards.
Right from the outset, there seemed to be an harmonious blending of heart and spirit between the participants. Somehow, everything fell into place so beautifully and smoothly during the project. The mature staff, helped by the friendly atmosphere, were able to draw the best from the participants. Many of the reflections indicated that a great deal was learnt and experienced during this twelve-day project. Some expressed how they could feel the hand of God in their coming to Birmingham; some testified that it was the first time they really learnt how to love and care for others. A wonderful tribute to all who invested so much in this project!
Here are a few reflections from this RYS project:
"We started with rain and ended with sunshine. We didn't feel rain, cold or pain. We only felt the happiness and joy of life. We became one from forty and shared the world. What we have made here, as the youth of the world, is a wonderful example for the people in building racial harmony. Thank you for this lovely project and thanks to the local people of Birmingham. I hope to see all of you in other RYS projects." Oznur Benderlioglu, Turkey
"RYS has taught me many things. I have learnt how to listen, to be loyal and happy. Having a team leader showed me that people with responsibility need our sincere support and creative input. I am really inspired to go back to Cardiff and start RYS at my University. Through it you can make friends and understand yourself more through relationships. Faith and belief barriers are broken down instantaneously and all that is left is people with a desire to do good. I found that if you follow the basic principles of life it can be harmonious and joyful, deep and meaningful and even miraculous. I will definitely come again and do my utmost to bring others and even organize one myself. Thank you RYS." Matthew Sawl, Wales
"The first few days were really hard for me because I came here without knowing anyone and I'm not the kind of person who can relate to others so easily. So I was really struggling. Now, towards the end of this project, I feel like I've known the other participants for ages. Its really amazing how common prayer, common work can bring people together, even though they come from very different cultural and religious backgrounds. Before, I was afraid of meeting new people; now I'm afraid of leaving them at the end of the project. I keep thinking what I will do to stay in touch?
I'm really happy that I could overcome my barriers in relating to others. I needed that experience. I new the theoretical definition of give and take action. But now I've experienced the practical meaning of it. I know why to give comes first. You have to give first to get something. I gave up my fears and pride and gave love, to receive friendship and love from very special friends!" Sabina Balazic, Slovenia
"Imagine living in a family whose purpose is to love one another across all barriers. Imagine that this family is not only deeply spiritual but cares for the environment and seeks to share it's love with all in the community. This is the family that was RYS Birmingham `96 and the candle of hope that has been lit in my heart during the last two weeks will never be extinguished." Pretty Sagoo, England.
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