The Words of the Kittel Family
Colombo, Sri Lanka -- International participants joined a Religious Youth Service project in Walapane, central Sri Lanka, Dec. 13-20, 2013. The service-learning experience included educational presentations, leadership development, learning about Sri Lanka's diverse religions, and constructing a floor a village medical clinic.
The Religious Youth Service (RYS), a project of UPF, has been conducting service projects in Sri Lanka since 1996. These annual projects have provided immense assistance to the people of Sri Lanka in healing the wounds of the civil war and reconciling various communities, especially their young generation. A rural village consisting of tea plantations in the Nuwara–Eliya district of Walapane was chosen as the venue for the 2013 RYS project in order to encourage the residents, a microcosm of the major religions and cultures of the country, to work together harmoniously towards a prosperous and progressive future in spite of the challenges they face.
Fifty-three participants and staff from five religious traditions spent the week of Dec. 13-20 in Walapane working with local villagers and health-care professionals to construct a new treatment center for the local Ayurvedic hospital (Ayurvedic is a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent). "Healing Touch Towards Reconciliation" was the theme for this year's project. This topic was significant as it addresses a persistent need in this remote mountainous region. This theme is an attempt to respond to the need for reconciliation among the multi-religious and multi-cultural communities in Sri Lanka after three decades of civil war that ended in 2009.
Hon. C.B. Ratnayake, Sri Lanka's Minister of Private Transportation Services, graced the opening ceremony as the chief guest. On the previous evening, he met with the staff and participants and addressed them on the theme of "Inspiration of a youth leader." His sharing of his experiences at the grass-roots level in his political career was highly appreciated by the youth.
The opening ceremony began with prayers and blessings by representatives of all of Sri Lanka's religions. This was followed by a welcome addresses by the former principal of Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya, Nildandahinna, and the former zonal education director of Walapane, Mrs. C.P.H. Kumarihami. Opening remarks were delivered by Dr. Robert Kittel, Education Director of UPF-Asia. The chief guest's address was delivered by Hon. Minister C.B. Rathnayake. Delightful dance and musical presentations were performed by the village children, and the show went on in full swing. The opening ceremony was concluded with a vote of thanks by Dr. W.M. Ranbandara, Justice of the Peace.
Dr. Robert Kittel, who has been an inspiring presence in many RYS and UPF projects here and elsewhere, conducted the education programs in an exemplary manner. His vast and varied experience as a leadership trainer was clearly evident in all his interactions with the participants. The young participants had a profoundly life-changing experience as he expounded on how to live a meaningful life based on universal principles formulated by UPF founder Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon.
After the opening ceremony, some icebreaker exercises were followed by an orientation program about RYS, its guiding principles, its founder, history, policies and norms. Other educational programs, including Developing Communication Skills and Leadership Traits, were conducted by Ms. Dinesha Liyanasuriya, secretary general of RYS-Sri Lanka. The participants were able to learn many valuable life skills through these well-appreciated programs.
In building the treatment center at the village Ayurvedic hospital that offers its services to patients free of charge, the RYS team was responsible for laying the concrete slab for the first floor. At the work site, the team realized that once they began laying concrete, they could not stop until it was finished. It was more difficult than some of them imagined, and they had to work non-stop until it was done. Nevertheless, the never-die spirit of RYS proved more than sufficient to finish the job well. Everyone worked hard in unison till late afternoon until the slab was completely laid. Every participant, veteran and newcomer, thoroughly enjoyed the experience of serving people in need without expecting anything in return. The doctors and hospital staff along with community elders all praised and sincerely thanked the RYS team and told the RYS staff repeatedly, "Every patient who is healed at this hospital will contribute merit for your good karma."
Religious teachers from the four major religions in Sri Lanka -- Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity -- led prayers and meditation each day. The participants were able to better understand their own religion as well as the other religions during this part of the program.
Also the participants were taken for religious site visits on the second day of the program. They visited a Methodist church, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu kovil and an Islamic mosque. It was a very interesting discovery for most of the participants, who had not previously visited worship places of other religions.
The day before the program ended, there was a field trip. It was a wonderful day filled with fun and laughter along a stream in Rantambe, about an hour away from the camp site. The participants and the staff bathed in the stream and toured the wildlife sanctuary. Following some photographs at the scenic Randenigala Dam and reservoir after lunch, the officers of the National Cadet Corps led the participants in fun-filled activities and outdoor exercises.
Later that evening, in the midst of rain, a campfire was lit that blazed through the night until the early morning hours. Participants reflected about their experiences, shared highlights with each other, and ended with music and dance. After breakfast on the last day, the morning was spent in reflection at a beautiful area overlooking the dam. Certificates were presented and the closing ceremony took place at the auditorium of the wildlife sanctuary. Thus, RYS-Sri Lanka 2013 came to a pleasantly tearful end with goodbyes and promises to meet again.
Sajideen Sarrajh, a teacher at a Muslim school in the Northern Province who was participating in his sixth RYS project, and Rehman Abubakar, an HSBC staff who was on his fourth project, were named as overall team leaders based on their leadership potential and offered substantial help to the staff in conducting the project.
"I learnt everything I can, from everyone I can. There will
always come a time when I will be grateful for what I did. Then I
will proudly say it was the RYS which made a good change in my
Mohommed Naseef, student from Colombo -- Age 19
"The most heartwarming part is not how much work was done, or
how much time was spent together, or even how much people learnt from
the program, but instead, how people positively changed during the
week-long period. Although I participated in four national and two
international programs before, this was the toughest service project
I've ever worked on."
Rehman Abubakr, banker at HSBC bank -- Age 20
"My mother would be so surprised to see what I did today. I
met the challenge and grew because of it. RYS is the best place to
give and gain."
Nathaliya Perera, primary school teacher -- Age 24
"A hand for the needy, a change for the world, expressing
love and care, from every religion to make the world a peaceful
place! Through RYS I am learning to lead, inspiring for a better
Dilshard Nizar, student from Colombo -- Age 19
"We joined for service and made a family… love RYS and
you will be loved. Long live RYS!"
Ahmad Yehiya, Student from the Northern Province -- Age 19
Tharunyata Hetak (literally, Tomorrow for the Youth) a non-profit organization supporting education, social service, sports, environmental and cultural programs for youth. It is chaired by the Member of Parliament for Hambanthota District, Attorney at Law Hon. Namal Rajapaksa, who was an outstanding participant of RYS 2005 and the eldest son of the Sri Lankan president, H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Working Director of the National Lotteries Board, Mr. Janaka Sri Warnasinghe (RYS Alumnus and Ambassador for Peace) through the National Lotteries Board provided additional financial support and generous in-kind donations.
Minister of Private Transport Services Hon. C.B. Ratnayake, his private secretary and son, Mr. Abheetha Ratnayake, and staff provided local support and coordination.
Note: Mr. Abheetha Ratnayake promoted, prepared, planned and participated in this project in his home town. Despite his grandfather's illness, hospitalization, admission into the intensive care unit of a hospital in Colombo and his untimely passing away on the last day of the program, Mr. Abheetha Rathnayake continually attended programs and made sure arrangements were finalized until the very last day. Only then did he leave the program and start to prepare for his grandfather's funeral and cremation. Everyone's heart was deeply touched by this level of sacrifice and commitment. On behalf of all the RYS participants, four representatives visited the home and paid last respects to the grandfather: Dr. Chula Senaratne, Dinesha Liyanasuriya, Champa Cumaranatunga and Dr. Robert Kittel.