Unification News for December 2001

Creating Models for Peace in Thailand

by Delia Javanasundara & John W. Gehring

The need to create models of religious cooperation and harmony is greater then any time in history. Many of the regions of the world are experiencing a growing tension and episodic violence. The IIFWP has unique resources to bring to the field as a result of the involvement of a wide network of leaders who are active in the realm of religion, and in the fields of politics, media and the academy.

One approach to the IIFWPís peace building effort is mobilizing young adults from various religious and ethnic backgrounds and drawing them together through a program of public service . The service element is enriched with activities and programs that promote cultural and religious understanding, provide leadership training and pass on insights on building bridges to cross barriers that exist between people. The Religious Youth Service (RYS), a project of the IIFWP, has been practically implementing such models for more then 15 years.

The RYS embodies the idealism and energy of youth while drawing its strength from the shared spiritual treasure that the Worldís Religions provide. Those involved in its work have gone into the edges of conflict in Sri Lanka, Belfast, and Croatia, they have worked substantially to promote reconciliation n Guatemala, Honduras and South Africa and have provided hope to others in over forty nations. The work of the RYS has become more effective over time and the support that the Ambassadorís for Peace and others are providing has lifted its ability to move larger segments of society.

Thailand RYS

On October 13-20 the IIFWP in cooperation with Thailandís Ambassadors for Peace, mobilized seventy young peacemakers from seven nations to contribute to a Religious Youth Service (RYS) project in Thailandís Phrae Province. The project volunteers worked hard to help construct a public welfare center while their interactions and programs focused on the projects theme of ; "Building inter-religious harmony among youth through dialogue and action"

The Religious Youth Service (RYS) Project in Thailand was inspired in part by the United Nations Declaration for the year 2001 as "International Year of Volunteers (IYV)". The importance of volunteer work goes well beyond the external contribution of helping construct buildings for it provides a foundation for individuals and families to practice service. It is through the heart of a volunteer that individuals and families will gain strength and grow in character. In a strong sense, the RYS works to provide "service for peace".

The Thailand RYS project was the seventh hosted in the nation and the ninety eighth of its kind. The project was made possible through the broad based cooperation of international and local organizations. International support came from the IIFWP and the Womenís Federation for World Peace-Japan, while local and national support came from the Youth Federation for World Peace, Thailand, the Foundation for Development and Peace and the Public Welfare Office and the Association of the Public Welfare Volunteers of Phrae Province. Pulling together individuals and organizational support from a wider network helps substantial work get accomplished which could not be accomplished alone.

The Project began with a staff orientation in Bangkok which served to create a sense of unity. A long seven hour bus journey followed and brought the staff and participants together in a small mountain top village in Saipao of Rongkwang District in Phrae Province. This village is located at the top of the mountain to encourage the villagers to keep away from drugs for most of the settlers of the neighboring village of Saipao are drug users or drug dealers

Opening Ceremony

The Opening Ceremony on October 13 was held at Maeyom Palace Thanee Hotel and was attended by 51 government officials. Among those in attendance were the Hon. Amornpan Nimanantha, Governor of Phrae Province, Hon. M.R. Sukumphand Buriphatra, Member of Parliament and the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs; Hon. Siriwan Prasjaksatthru. The seventy RYS volunteers could feel the value of the work they were undertaking by the support they were receiving from such distinguished leaders.

Prior to the work portion of the RYS project, Mrs. Fazida Razak (RYS Asia Training Director) and Professor Sharifah Shakirah from Malaysia guided the staff orientation and the education program. Prof. Kirti Bunchua, president of IRFWP-Thailand contributed to various aspects of the education program.

An important element of the RYS program is the morning meditation which is assigned to a participant from each of the faiths represented on the project. After breakfast, the work was started and ran from 8 to 12 p.m. During the afternoons we visited a mosque, a temple and a Catholic Church. Through these visits and afternoon lectures from people of those faiths, the participants were able to understand the strength of each religion.

The RYS program brings people from all ages, all races, cultures and faiths together for the purpose of sharing and living for the sake of others. This RYS project was very unique because it involved 13 Muslim youth the largest group to take part in this predominately Buddhist culture. Some interesting notes include that all the Muslim men agreed to sleep one night at the Buddhist temple. We also had a chance to visit a Buddhist Monastery and observe the "Movement Meditation" where the monks use hand movement or walking while meditating and not closing their eyes.

Work Service Brings People Together

RYS participants enjoyed working together with the villagers for the head of the village assigned (in rotation) 35 men to help in the construction and an additional 14 housewives for preparing meals and snacks for the volunteers. Every morning, these 14 housewives woke early in the morning to prepare breakfast for 70 people. The environment created through this care is a good example of "One Big Family Under God" for all the fathers helped in the building of the Public Welfare Center, while the mothers were cooking the food of love to feed the family, and the children (RYS participants) helped the fathers in the morning and in the afternoon they were studying.

We divided into two different work sites with one helping in the construction of the Public Welfare Center where they joined 35 skilled workers and created human chains to pass buckets with sand and gravel bricks and blocks. The second group cleaned the fence of the Buddhist temple and the Child Day Care Center and painted it the following day.

During the project, a number of high officials came to the work site including the Governor of Phrae Province, the Hon. Siriwan Prasjaksatthru, the District Officer of the Department of Social Welfare, Rungkwang District and several officers of the Agricultural Extension. Most of these top officials brought fruits and cookies for the RYS participants.

The Closing Ceremony was held beside the nearly finished Public Welfare Center where we invited the entire village (of 200) to have dinner together with the RYS participants. Joining the dinner and the closing ceremony was the Hon. Siriwan Prasjaksatthru, mayor of Rongkwang and the Director of the Department of Public Welfare of Phrae Province. While together testimonies were shared by the village head, a village youth representative, and RYS participants from Malaysia and Vietnam.

Quotes from RYS Participants

"At first, I am expecting something different from the camp. But as I continue day by day, I was touched and felt so good. I have attended many camps, but I think this camp was perfect. It was planned well and I was impressed by all the staff and villagers for their good cooperation. They are all united into one. I was really very impressed." (Muslim, representative from Pattani, South of Thailand)

"I would like to take part in an RYS Project every year! Where will it take place and in which country? I would like to attend again." (from Japan)

"I would like to see RYS projects held often, because this kind of activity will bring unity or even peace. Through RYS, youth is like an Ďangel of peaceí." (from Phrae Province)

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