Unification News for September 1998

Religious Youth Service International: Slovenia '98

Building the Community Through Youth Service
by Simona Zbacnik and Edita Ibrahimovic-Bloke , Slovenia

Based on beautiful experiences from two RYS projects which Simona attended in Croatia '95 and Birmingham '97 (the last one together with Larisa Zmaher) the idea to make a project in Slovenia came about.

In February '98 Slovene RYS staff (Simona, Edita, Larisa) met for the first time. We were trying to understand how the RYS could best serve the needs of Slovene community. We decided the theme of the project ( "Building the Community Through Youth Service") and made the schedule.

We started to look for places to do the project and quite soon we made a contact with VITRA- Organisation for Sustainable Development, which is actively working in most underdeveloped southern part of Slovenia. We sent out a letter to different villages to apply for the project. For one month we were waiting for reply and we've got the answers from two communities (Slivnica and Velike Bloke).

Later on in April, Marshall de Souza (British RYS Co-ordinator) came to Slovenia in order to help us with starting the preparations for the project. We all felt that with his visit everything became more concrete. We went to visit the sites where we met with people from VITRA and explained the purpose of our project. Our main contact person became Tamara Krasevec, 21 years old student of management from Bloke. We got very good feeling about Vel. Bloke which later on became the place of our project.

We started to plan the accommodation, food and other important details. We made approximate financial plan, set responsibilities of staff and discussed about inter-religious co-operation. In days to come we sent out information and application forms to different countries. There were quite few challenges on our way. During the time of our preparations, the project was even cancelled one time, because of the problems with accommodation. We started to look for another project in northern part of Slovenia where the earthquake happened in that time.

But finally things worked out and we continued to work with community in Bloke. The other big challenge was to find sponsors. Slovenia is not very charitable country (yet), but on the other hand we ourselves didn't know how to deal with this kind of situation. We were trying to find sponsors in other countries as well. We got big support from Great Britain which was mobilised through Marshall de Souza.

After the Blessing in Bratislava, Simona went to London to help out with preparations. Apart from many donations which were given by different companies, University of Westminister Students Union in London, Sufi community in USA (Atlanta), UC members, etc., we made some fundraising event in London. One of them was a big Charity Bazaar, supported by many UC members who gave many donations in material and helped during the event itself. Next weekend we had two car-boot sales and during the week we worked on participants and preparations for the weekend. During that time the communication between Britain and Slovenia was intensive as on both sides we were very busy.

After all the efforts we got 2000 pounds of support from England. Apart from that the British team brought many other materials coming from England. Also in Slovenia some companies responded, specially with materials (paper, films for photo-camera, medicine for urgent cases, 500 DM from Slovene HQ, pens and telephone cards, and some donations from Slovene UC members (around 150 DM).

Janez Marinko contacted different religious groups inviting them specially for inter-religious seminar on Tuesday evening. There were many ups and downs, struggles and victories, but our inspiration and vision always moved us on. All of us had a strong desire to complete the project successfully. Finally the project came about- we felt great excitement and nervousness as well.

Our first feeling of RYS spirit came with the arrival of Dr. Sherry Hartman, professor from Mississippi and educational director during RYS project. For many years she has been supporting RYS with her whole heart and dedication. Soon after the British team arrived with mini-bus hired from British HARP. The very special part of this project was RYS Educational Training for RYS alumni. It started on 8th July and was attended by all RYS staff, everybody who wanted to learn how to lead RYS educational program. We were taught by Dr. Sherry Hartman who led us through social service learning program. As staff we really got deeply involved with each other which made a good foundation for participants to come.

They arrived on 11th July in the evening after the Staff Orientation which took place on 10th-11th July. Around 30 participants and staff gathered from 13 different countries: England, Malta, Eritrea, France, Uganda, the Czech Rep., Slovakia, USA, Italy, Romania, Japan, Bosnia and Slovenia; representing the following religions: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Unificationism.

From the very beginning we were warmly welcomed by the local community. We were invited to the local church where we could meet the local priest and very well known Slovene priest Mirko Zerjav who is at the same time world-wide known magician, hypnotist, bio-energyst etc. he was celebrating his 50th anniversary of being a priest. For that reason he came to Bloke, his home village. Behind his tricks he gave us very deep message about unity between different religions and races and our value as God's children.

Next day we met by chance in the local restaurant where we had our daily meals. He was celebrating with his family, relatives and some priests. We opened the big door which was dividing our rooms, brought the guitar and sang a popular song "More". We all were so moved by the wonderful atmosphere.

Finally Mr. Zerjav stood up, took his celebration cake and gave it to RYS participants. He again emphasised that no matter what religion we come from we will finally come to one God. We shared the delicious cake with beautiful roses and specially made host on the top after the inter-religious pilgrimage.

The project officially started on Sunday 12th of July with 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, Character Building. All the participants had the opportunity to visit the work-site before the work started on 14th July.

We were working with the local community officials to paint windows and doors and clean up the compound of the church whose roof had been recently restored; at the village playground we painted the walls around the bowling alleys, finished off the walls of the playground hut and weeded the entire compound; we were able to paint all eleven street lamps; and completed painting the railings of the two pools in the village.

The opinion of the local people was that the work wouldn't have been completed for many years if we didn't come. All the materials and tools were provided by local community. Its president Mr. Brane Krasevec and his assistant Rajko Zakrajsek explained the work to us and led us through it with lots of care and concern. They were inspired by our work and accomplishments and we were inspired by their hospitality. Already through the work we could achieve great part of our project theme.

We were living in a military building and enjoyed delicious food in the nearby restaurant of family Moklavcic which treated us with so much attention and made us feel like at home. The work period ran each day from Tuesday till Friday (starting each day with morning meditation from different religions) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., which was lunch time.

Almost every afternoon and evening an educational or cultural program was organised. These included a presentation on the Bloke community given by local representative Mr. Skrabec; testimonies from previous RYS projects by RYS alumni, talk on Family Values, site-seeing of Ljubljana and Postojna cave.

We visited four homes of old people who were in need of help. We talked with them, sang songs, cleaned the house, chopped wood etc. We had two very special evenings which were for to the participants, but open also for the local community and others. On Tuesday, 14th of July we had inter-religious seminar. Representatives from various religions (Islam, Hare Krishna, Mormons, Unificationists and evangelical group New life) came to speak on the topic "Respecting Different Religious Traditions", followed by discussion. More than 60 people attended the seminar. We think this was a very special event for Slovenia regarding the fact that inter-religious co-operation in our country is very poor apart from meetings organised by the government four times per year.

In the afternoon before the inter-religious evening we had very interesting inter-religious pilgrimage which was held in our living place because of the rain. We were reading from the holy scriptures of 7 religions including prayers and other rituals.

On Friday more than 100 local people gathered in the church hall in the neighbouring village Nova Vas for the Cultural evening. All the evening was one big joyous and inspiring event. The special flavour was our MC- black brother Edward Mukasa whom people will never forget. Different songs, poems, skits, martial art presentation, Hindu dance, Japanese bells and other performances followed. From late news this was the first event of its kind in Bloke region.

One big connecting point with local people was also bye-bye picnic on Saturday evening. They wanted to show us their gratitude and appreciation for what we brought to their village. It was not just the accomplishment of work but also our genuine relationships. Women from the village baked all different kinds of sweets. We were not able to try all of them. When the darkness came we gathered under the playground light and sang songs to each other, exchanging songs from various cultures and danced together as well. We concluded with group picture hoping to see each other again.

The final part of the project was the reflection led by Massimo Trombin, Marshall de Souza and Simona Zbacnik. Reflection is very important part of RYS project. We were led into reviewing the goals, norms and what we had learned during the project. For some time we could reflect in the beautiful nature near Bloke. Massimo gave "World Vision" slide presentation showing the reality of today's world. After lunch everybody set new goals for the near future. We enjoyed together an exercise for building self-confidence by recognising the strengths of each one's character.

On Sunday we had a beautiful Universal Worship Service in the nature. Readings and prayers from all the religious traditions, present and not present were heard. Trevor Davies gave an inspiring sermon on Joy and Happiness. We closed the worship service with a Sufi song, which brought everyone even closer to each other.

We concluded with writing out the reflections. 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 (our main contact person Tamara, her parents and Rajko. Following the delicious lunch we recognised the guests mentioned above, listened to organisers comments, participants' testimonies and delivered the certificates and gifts to participants. The local community prepared for each one of us a beautiful souvenir - wooden spoon saying: "Always welcome to Bloke!", postcard and Bloke brochure.

At the same time tears of happiness and sadness filled up our eyes. We didn't want to say good-bye. But we knew these experiences connected us in our hearts forever.

Most of us left Bloke on Sunday and some stayed to do final clean up in the place we were staying. As staff we are reflecting upon the project and it seems it didn't end yet. It is still going on in our hearts. Man cannot forget all the joy, inspiration and all the beautiful friendships which were born during the project. We deeply feel that RYS is bringing vision for the future through dialogue and action. It gives a rebirth experience to so many young people. A lot of effort was made to accomplish the project but all the worries and difficulties were forgotten by wonderful and unique experiences.

Together we stand, divided we fall! God bless RYS!

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