Unification News for September 2002

IIFWP/RYS Island Friendship Project in Trinidad & Tobago

by Rev. John W. Gehring

In the island nation of Haiti in January, 1996 the RYS began to sponsor Island Friendship Projects in part to pull people of various faiths and cultures together for constructive service and build closer relationships between people in the island countries. In the following year, 1997, RYS worked in the Dominican Republic to promote better relationships on the island between the Haitian and Dominican population of the island of Hispaniola. Since those pioneer projects, the RYS has expanded its Island Friendship work from the Caribbean to the South Pacific. To date, two Island Friendship Projects have been held in Indonesia and with the support of the Ambassadors for Peace; projects have been held in Australia, Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand.

In 2001, Trinidad and Tobago, a nation rich in pluralism and cultural diversity was selected as the central nation to promote Island Friendship projects in the Caribbean. In August of 2001 in Trinidad and Tobago the RYS with the Ambassadors for Peace cooperated on the 4th Island Friendship project. The program brought together a multi-faith team of seventy volunteers from ten nations who enthusiastically provided work service to communities in need while sharing their cultural and religious heritage. The experiences of the participants provided a great opportunity for learning about life through the shoes of another.

News of the projects success spread to other Ambassadors for Peace in the IIFWP worldwide network. Since that initial effort, numerous RYS and IRFF projects have garnered support from the worldwide network of Ambassadors for Peace in such varied hosting nations as Kenya, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Albania, Zambia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Building on the success of the initial project and additional seminars and programs sponsored by the IIFWP, the 2002 RYS project in Trinidad and Tobago was created to deepen the connections created from previous efforts and work to provide a clear model of interfaith and cross-cultural cooperation.

The RYS Project:

On August 5-17, an excited and enthusiastic team of fifty RYS participants and staff from seven nations joined together under the theme of "Building a Foundation of Peace Through Loving Service," to provide a substantial model of cross-cultural, interfaith cooperation and public service.

The central work task for the RYS project was done in conjunction with an effort by the Rose Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago to establish a Center for National Character Education. The center rests on 14 acres of verdant rural land in Maracas Valley that was once the Cadbury (chocolate) Estate. We all enjoyed the relaxed natural environment with its tropical trees, colorful flowers and vistas of clouds hugging the local mountains.

Participants worked energetically, restoring and painting parts of the main house and a second building, which are to be used as training facilities. Other work required around the large estate included improving the road as trucks were often sliding into the mud as they weaved their way to the main house as a result of the heavy rains. An additional task required a special team to support an environmental project set up by the Ministry of Forestry. This team marked and recorded the trees and vegetation of the area while having the ecological systems natural checks and balances explained to them by the local experts.

The RYS traveled 45 minutes to an area where Habitat for Humanity, a Christian service project, has helped construct 17 homes in recent years. Our RYS had worked in the area the year before and many were happy to see the homes they worked on occupied with families who were truly grateful for being given ownership of their house and being provided a stronger foundation to support their family. On this occasion, all our participants worked hard on two newly completed houses and provided major landscaping improvements. The physical change in the area was dramatic and the appreciation shown by the residents was deep.

The RYS also worked with the local chapter of Pure Love Alliance on Thursday, August 15th and held a major rally and concert in Port of Spain. Preparing signs, chants and entertainment took a concentrated effort from the participants. The public event attracted the attention of the business community and also those living in the poorer area of the capital. One of the main speakers on stage was the National Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Hon. Roger Boynes, M.P., who is an RYS patron. His presence and words served to inspire the youth through a dynamic and encouraging talk. Several well-known Calypso and popular performers contributed their talents and helped attract a large crowd of those in the downtown area. RYS was loaded with talented musicians and dancers who stepped up and entertained with an upbeat message. The leading newspapers covered the story of the youth rally.

Among the program highlights of RYS were presentations from former gang members who have taken to reforming their lives and contributing to the local community. Their explanation of why they were involved in crime and drugs had a strong impact on the participants, especially as they pointed out how much they wished they could be in the participantsí position of being pure. Their words hit the mark as it showed what really is important in life.

Other interesting programs included visits to the Temple by the Sea, which is a Hindu temple that was started by a single person who made thousands of trips with a wheelbarrow to fill in the land where the temple was to be. In time the whole community rallied behind him and the temple stands in part as a sign of the difference that a single person can make.

We visited under the guidance of Dr. Khan, an Ambassador for Peace, and a local mosque on Friday, where participants had the opportunity to take part in prayers and could stay to ask numerous questions to the Imam and other elders. This sharing was a great opportunity to come to understand each other more deeply, for many it was a first exposure to Islam.

We were all treated to a visit to an Environmental Center on the northern coast of the country at a site where six hundred pound giant tortoises migrate to lay their eggs. The eggs are gathered to protect the hatchlings from seagulls and other predators and they are released near sunset. The participants had the opportunity to handle the hatchlings and watch them take their journey across the sand into the vast Atlantic Ocean.

This RYS project was largely organized by Ambassadors for Peace, Rev. Sterling and Marcia Belgrove of the Rose Foundation. For two years, this dynamic team has helped support the efforts of the RYS and other IIFWP programs. Additional support for the project came from an Ambassador for Peace who is currently the Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Manning. His personal request to the RYS is that it continues to provide a model of education that will bring people of various faiths together. He reminded us that this is needed in Trinidad and Tobago as well as in all corners of the world. Mrs. Manning, the current Minister of Education, additionally stressed the need for programs and projects that actively model racial and religious cooperation. We will be returning in 2003 for another major RYS project.

Rev. Jacob David of the USA, who helped guide the programs educational component, made an observation that showed the power of RYS. He stated that unlike any program or meeting he has ever been to, all the participants blended so closely together without any barriers or divisions. This is a phenomenon that happens often on RYS, it is a demonstration of the spirit of love that is the root of all faiths and comes out when practitioners go forward in efforts to serve others. This spirit is what makes the nearly five thousand RYS alumni a vital worldwide network that has earned, through their personal sacrifice, the knowledge and experience of being one family under God.

One participant, Aaron Cater shared during the reflection period of RYS the following: "I never pursued my spiritual side, I am learning about another part of me. I was half empty. To see all the races and religions come together with a common bond puts more hope in me."

The need for these positive experiences to spread to other corners of the world is obvious as one looks at the latest newspaper and reads of the discord, dissension, fragmentation and violence. The IIFWP efforts with RYS are making a difference and the continued growth and development of the Ambassadors for Peace will provide new and greater results in the near future. For more information on RYS please check: www.rys.net or email rys@iifwp.org

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