Unification News for October, 2001

Youth Ambassador's for Peace Launched in Trinidad and Tobago

Nadine Andre

On August 5-17, 2001 eighty young adults from twelve nations volunteered to take part in an innovative and challenging peace initiative, the Fourth International Island Friendship Service Project (IFSP) in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago. This project also launched the First Ambassadors for Peace Youth Initiative that will pave the way for many other such initiatives in the future.

The youth-based peace project is designed to build leaders of character and vision who are willing to get into literal ‘trenches’ in an effort to serve the people of the community. The action oriented program combines public service, character education, interreligious and intercultural exchange. The program includes a practical examination of issues regarding development and empowerment and graduates return to their home communities with a better ability to lead others on a path of peace and co-prosperity.

Call for a Culture of Peace

The environment for success was created by the collaboration of organizations from both the NGO and government sectors. The projects’ co-sponsors, the Religious Youth Service (RYS) and the International Relief Friendship Foundation (IRFF) offered experience in the field of interfaith work and cross-cultural cooperation. The hosting organizations in Trinidad, the ROSE Foundation (a nonprofit organization) and the Ministry of Human Development, Youth and Culture (a government agency) offered housing, transportation, staff and program support. In addition, working with the Trinidad chapter of Habitat for Humanity, participants could experience and learn from a successful, world-renowned faith-based volunteer organization.

The UN designated ‘Year of the Volunteer 2001,’ has brought sustained and substantial efforts to promote activities that directly lead to ‘Building a Culture of Peace,’ another UN designated theme. The Island Friendship Service Project embodies the ideals of the UN goals while the Ambassadors for Peace Initiative draws together participants from a diverse cross-section of faith and cultural traditions and sets them on a path to model the heart of a volunteer and ‘live for the sake of others.’

The Religious Youth Service (RYS) recruited international volunteers and built its interfaith service program based upon 16 years of facilitating projects in forty nations. Throughout this time, RYS has successfully upheld its motto "World Peace Through Interfaith Action." Founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon of Korea in 1985 at the Assembly for the World’s Religions, RYS has held nearly one hundred projects since its maiden project in the Philippines and its work has involved youth from 140 nations.

Trinidad and Tobago with its numerous ethnic and religious groups and its unique level of tolerance and cross-cultural cooperation provided participants with unique personal encounters in cultural diversity. The participants (16-19 years of age) came from twelve nations and created an environment of intercultural living and learning. Participants from various Caribbean nations, the United States, Japan, Korea, and China, joined twenty participants from the hosting nation. Many of these nations sent their youth leaders to the project in hopes that they would bring back home a deeper understanding of the qualities and challenges needed in order to build a culture of peace.

Work Service Within a Community

The work service component of the project mobilized the volunteers and members of the local community at three different work sites. The central work project took place with the gracious support of Habitat for Humanity and their Guaico Affiliate where participants joined numerous volunteers in the task of building two homes during the International Leadership Build. A second work project brought our volunteers to the Saint James Mounted Police horse stables where the foundation for a stable wall was dug. At the third site in the impoverished Aripo Heights area participants refurbished and painted a neglected community center.

The staff had the opportunity to join with the Acting President of Trinidad and Tobago and a host of community leaders in breaking ground at the start of the project to construct two modest homes for low-income families This project was held during the International Leaders Build, when leaders in 62 nations would join other Habitat for Humanity projects around the world. Our volunteers shed a lot of sweat under the hot Caribbean sun and with the support of skilled volunteers the homes quickly rose up and were completed in 11 days. The building process included a wide variety of tasks such as creating human chains to pass bricks, buckets and other building materials up a steep hill. This all took place among the local residents who so generously brought refreshments and prepared lunch and snacks for the volunteers.

At the closing Habitat Ceremony, in which the President of Trinidad and Tobago attended, it was moving to see the new homeowners ask for the young workers and thank them personally with tears in their eyes. Ann Maria Thomas, one of the new homeowners, took a picture with the young people in her new home and told them any time they visited Trinidad and Tobago, "they definitely had a place to stay."

At the Mounted Police Site in Saint James, the policemen were particularly grateful. The Branch is known for their community service, so the fact that young people were giving back to them was especially appreciated. The site was visibly located on the road that was traveled frequently by Members of Parliament and the Prime Minister en route to their offices. Everyday you would see the official cars pass by and they in turn would see the youth working hard by the side of the road. This prompted Channel 6 to come out and do a story on the RYS and the work of the young people. The story heralded a media frenzy that paved the way for a radio interview and two half-hour segments on primetime television shows in Trinidad and Tobago where International Director, Rev. John Gehring and Dr. Ron Burr, the Program Director were interviewed along with a number of youth participants. Miss Mi-ae Schanker and Mr. Kevin Brabazon, both children of interracial couples spoke movingly about their experiences growing up in America and how the RYS and Trinidad project had changed their outlook on life.

The participants also engaged in two additional service projects but of a very different nature. Teams of volunteers visited a local orphanage and a home for children with the HIV virus. Participants sang lighthearted action songs and presented gifts they had brought especially for the children. The interaction between the volunteers and the children was a deeply moving experience. Through the exchange the young adults took time to play and listen to some of the children’s stories. Undoubtedly, this was a special moment of happiness for many of the children but it was also a time of reflection for all the participants, something that will not be forgotten.

Youth Rally Promotes Moral Uplift

Midway through the project, a youth march and rally was organized at Sangre Grande under the banner of: Renewing and Rebuilding Our Youth. The march celebrated the U.N. International Day of Youth. Project participants stood side-by-side with local youth groups and marching bands calling for the healthy and moral empowerment of youth. This was the largest youth rally ever held in Trinidad. Various religious leaders exhorted the youth to "take a stand for goodness and virtue, as the future leaders of the next generation." Young people spoke from their hearts and Mr. Roger Bowles, the youngest Member of Parliament, gave the concluding speech. His talk highlighted the importance of youth training, going over and through difficulties and taking a leadership role that will help them to become role models for other young people.

The rally was topped off by music and dancing. Trinidadian youth and the international participants danced side-by-side showing each other the latest steps, moving and grooving to the beat of the island. The international participants loved the music of the steel pan, the official instrument of Trinidad, the only new instrument invented within the last 100 years.

Project Coordinator, Ms. Rhonda Thomas, who serves as a Youth Officer in the Ministry of Human Development, Youth and Culture shared the following observation. "This kind of celebration of purity, family and fidelity in marriage is important for our culture and we would like to mobilize the entire youth population of Trinidad and Tobago to participate in the future."

International youth experienced and enjoyed the culture of Trinidad and Tobago through music, indigenous crafts, sightseeing and meeting the people of Trinidad. As one of the young participants from China stated, "I want to connect with the heart and soul of Trinidad." The emphasis was also on building long and lasting friendships between all the participants.

Visits to Religious Sites

As part of the RYS interreligious focus, the group-visited places of worship of different religions, exposing the participants to different faith traditions. These visits included question and answer periods, discussion and sharing. The first visit was to the Bethel Spiritual Baptist Church in the San Fernando region. The Spiritual Baptist’s blend of traditional African religion, centered upon Christianity with the flavor of the indigenous traditions of the island made for an interesting service unlike the Christian churches in the U.S.A.

The Sunday service that the group attended was known as a day of pilgrimage. This is when one church sojourns and travels to join in worship with another church. The two congregations, all dressed in white, meet each other in the street in the form of a procession where there is singing, chanting and dancing before the two groups come in to worship together at the host church. The spirit is lively and high and the young people were acknowledged as honored guests of the service.

Trinidad has a large Indian population with many Hindu’s and a substantial minority who are Muslim. It was important for the participants to have an experience with these faiths so a visit to a Hindu Temple was arranged that included being graced by an explanation of Hinduism through the Temple’s spiritual leader. Islam plays an important role in the Trinidad culture and the participants visited a Mosque, which included a talk and lively question and answer period. For many of the participants, even local participants, this was their first experience to be in a place of worship of another faith. More importantly, this was a rich opportunity to learn about other faiths through those that held those beliefs as sacred.

Cycle of Life

The program provided numerous opportunities to experience the wonders of nature and the beauty of Trinidad, yet the trip to Moruga the nesting place of the 500-pound leatherback turtle stands as a clear highlight. Once a year, huge female turtles migrate to this area of Trinidad to lay their eggs. Since they come out of the water during the cool of the night we walked the beaches around midnight and saw four of these gigantic turtles lumbering out of the ocean. The nesting process takes from one to two hours as the turtles dig holes about three feet deep, lay between 80-100 eggs, bury them and then slowly go back into the ocean. At a certain point each turtle goes into a trance and it is at this time one can safely touch them and marvel at the beauty of nature. The group also saw hatchlings, the little 3-4 inch long turtles that had just come out of their shells. The whole cycle of life was on view to the group’s enlightenment and delight.

Closing Ceremony: Ambassadors of Peace

The closing banquet and program of the two-week project served as the penultimate moment of the hard work, dedication and sacrifice of all those involved. Attended by a variety of dignitaries, the keynote address was offered by the nation’s former Prime Minister, H.E. Patrick Manning. Joyful and excited participants performed by singing, dancing and sharing traditional songs from their countries. The event was highlighted by a presentation to all the participants of the Young Ambassador for Peace Awards. The Ambassador for Peace movement is an integral part of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) and their efforts to promote family, community and global harmony.

The Young Ambassador for Peace Awards will for many of the graduates mark a major step in a training process that seeks to guide a new generation of peacemakers in this vast and interdependent world. The award signifies that the bearer has demonstrated the desire and the ability to work with groups of people from various nations, cultures and traditions.

It is clear that participants and staff grew from their efforts to serve Habitat for Humanity, the Mounted Branch of the Police Service, the Aripo Heights community and by sharing with orphans and children with HIV. Through their rallying together in the public square and drawing together in conversations, games and sharing, a new level of friendship developed that knew no boundaries. These friendships are a true sign of the projects success and provide hope and inspiration for the future leaders of tomorrow.

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