The Words of the Pearson Family
Under the theme "Caring for the community, a shared responsibility," Religious Youth Service-St. Lucia united staff and participants to create a most beautiful mix. Nineteen international volunteers joined with 14 wonderful and unique St. Lucians to complete this 2010 Friendship Americas project.
The orientation period that served to kick-start the project was held in the Anse la Raye Primary School, and this became our home for the next eight days. Anse la Raye is a very humble fishing village on the west coast of this Caribbean island. The orientation sessions did a great job of bringing participants together and helping us to overcome our fears.
The sessions surpassed our expectations, as the International Director, John Gehring, created sessions where the energy could be felt outside and reached some of the teachers and security guards. Participants' expectations of the project were immediately met in these sessions.
On the second day of the orientation, we visited the local Roman Catholic Church. Many of our participants experienced a Catholic Mass for the first time, while those participants from Catholic backgrounds participated in the Eucharist. Two of our local participants sang in the charismatic choir, so we were very comfortable to raise our voices in praise.
The priest invited participants to talk about what we were doing in the village, and the church members all welcomed us. The priest was extremely pleased that we came to the village and added more work service to our scheduled tasks.
The following day, immediately after breakfast, participants were placed in groups to take up a number of tasks. The main service project was the reconstruction of homes, mainly those of the elderly. Materials were donated to assist in this project. The elderly consisted of people 60 years and older. Twelve (rotating) participants removed rotting wooden walls, windows, beams, and rafters.
The work was completed in six days, and the villagers were very pleased with this gesture of kindness, as they came out to give their support and to bring us snacks and cold water. Everyone was overjoyed that the elderly were not forgotten.
Another major service involved training a group of "First Communion Children" in songs, dances and drama. The arts-oriented participants took charge of a group of kids, who never seemed to sit still or listen. The RYS Theatre came alive when the kids began touching the guitar strings, and our Arts Coordinator, Nathalie Waldmann, and her team had the kids working overtime. The kids got their performances together as they prepared to entertain the community and their church.
Work was also done at the Catholic Church, where participants did landscaping and cleaning side by side with Father Joseph, who worked and sang together with the volunteers. Additional teams of participants painted public facilities and a public laundry. In fact, the participants from the public facilities enjoyed painting so much that they agreed to the request of the Principal of the Anse la Raye Infant and Primary School to paint parts of that school.
During all this work, and throughout the late afternoon and early evening education sessions, RYS volunteers were very active and earned a well-deserved, afternoon sightseeing trip, where we visited the dormant volcano at Soufriere, there jumping in to bathe in the hot spring. After washing away all that volcanic mud and playing in the hot spring, it was time to strike a balance. Thus, we ventured out to the ocean. We immersed ourselves in the beautiful Caribbean Sea and played in the water until late evening, when we hit the road to return to Anse la Raye.
On the final day of work, participants went to Dennery, another fishing village on the East Coast, to assist with "fence planting," creating fences using existing trees and shrubbery as fence posts and fencing. The project is an UN-sponsored effort to assist poor farmers in organic farming. Participants worked in the hot sun to plant more than two acres of the living fence.
All good things must come to an end and so it was with our project. We ended our service and giving by giving even more. Our closing ceremony with the community was a big hit. The priest led the concert with prayers. After this, the RYS Theatre offered a number of short performances.
Participants sang, danced, and even gave speeches, but it was the local kids who stole the show. The kids put on a show never before seen in Anse la Raye. The community was thrilled with the performances, wishing us the best, and they expressed the hope that we will soon return to their village.
As in all Religious Youth Service projects, we ended with a time for reflection, moving to a serene location at a seminary in the northern part of the island. Quiet moments were spent in journaling and reflecting. As night fell we shared during supper, which was difficult for many participants, who realized this would probably be our final evening meal together.
Many participants found it hard to sleep that night knowing that they would be faced with the terribly sad moment of saying good-bye in less than a day. We realized that we would have to let go of our deep experiences in Anse la Raye, filing them as precious memories and move on to begin a new chapter, but most participants weren't ready to do so.
After breakfast, we had the final sessions leading up to the flower ceremony and closing circles. We could hardly hold back our tears. After ten days of living and working together, we built true bonds of friendship and, in our own way, created peace through our work efforts.
We fulfilled our project theme, "Caring for the community, a shared responsibility," and we gave meaning to the RYS motto, "Young leaders of all faiths, serving together for peace." If a group of young people can make this happen in St. Lucia, there is truly the possibility to create a peaceful world.
After our final lunch, we had a beautiful graduation and gift-giving ceremony. In closing, participants were given the challenge to host Religious Youth Service projects in their own countries and hometowns.