The Words of the Oliver Family

RYS Testimony

Akeila Oliver
September 14, 2008
Trinidad and Tobago

I always considered myself to be a very self-aware young woman; I knew my boundaries and limitations, as well as my strong points. Giving, to me, is a vital part of the cycle of the life. God has blessed me with a lot, so it is my spiritual responsibility to also give a lot. RYS (Religious Youth Service) seemed like the perfect venture for someone of my capacities -- a project where not only service to others is a core component, but also spiritual enlightenment, personal growth and a small but genuine effort towards world peace. However, as in life, all things have surprises, some good, some bad but most world-shattering.

RYS is divided into three periods -- Orientation, Service and Reflection. Orientation is the initial phase, where participants meet and get a shallow yet truthful glimpse into each others’ personalities and backgrounds. I myself, being from the island of Trinidad and Tobago, was both in awe and shock when participants from America, Suriname, Guyana and Korea told me stories of how things were in their lands and about the norms that were anything but normal to me. To be honest, in the beginning I was irked by some, but our differences blossomed into points of respect during the second phase of RYS.

Even though it is labeled “Service,” there are some very astute educational sessions, with my personal favorite being the St. Bernard, Lion and Fox exercise. It gave all the participants an in-depth look at who they are and some keys for seeing who other people really are. It demonstrated how we should approach each other and respect each other’s high points as well as our growing edges and, with this, confrontation, conflict and its resolution were made that much more accomplishable.

All of these educational sessions, though lengthy at times, were most beneficial not only to myself but to everyone. In fact, evidence of such was there everyday, as we worked together, sweat together and even a few times bled together. The RYS team restored a playground and basketball court for the village Brokopondo in Suriname. This was a park destroyed almost 30 years prior in times of war. It seemed liked the restoration of the park was another sign that the country was healing and the people were moving on.

During days of work, some people of the village came out to help us, shovel by shovel, side by side. Even the children, who were too young to understand the depth and symbolism of restoring the park, brought a sense of exuberance, animation and fun to the worksite. Their dedication was a sign of the bright future in store for the people of Brokopondo. And even though there was a lingual barrier, I now truly believe that the language of love is universally spoken.

On the twenty-third of August, the work service ended and reflection began. Reflection was a totally individual and spiritual endeavor, where everything learned through practice or session was looked upon in a new light, the light of new beginnings. It dawned on some that, while tears came and separation would soon ensue, it wasn’t the end. Instead, it was an opportunity -- an opportunity to be the change that we wanted to see in the world.

The experience of RYS Suriname 2008, said in the truest and simplest way, changed my life.

Hi, my name is Akeila Oliver -- a Christian, black woman, university student, realist and even, at times, a self-professed cynic, and I am an RYS Youth Ambassador for Peace. 

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