An RYS update on a peace initiative in Indonesia

John Gehring
Religious Youth Service
Monday 9 September 2002

During the summer of 2002 the IIFWP has been very active in the field of public service and the Religious Youth Service (RYS) has provided an important element to that public outreach. This worldwide summer of service included RYS projects in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, New Zealand, Australia, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia and joint projects with the IRFF in Albania and Zambia.

The RYS projects involved nearly three hundred youth whose contributions included repairs, landscaping and construction on numerous schools, a clinic, a character education center, a church, a Bahia center, and a hospital. A common bond that ran through all the projects is the desire to promote peaceful cooperation among people of all faiths. The efforts recorded in the Mayan village in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala or the rural village near Ndola, Zambia and in Banten, Indonesia all are unique models of the beauty, the spirit of reconciliation and joyous excitement that is generated through the RYS.

The IIFWP and the Ambassadors for Peace have helped in moving forward the RYS so that it is currently drawing the attention and support from both the NGO community and numerous government ministries. The following is a short report on the 110th RYS project that was held in a nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia.

by Fazida Razak,
RYS Director Southeast Asia

They came almost clueless, without any real understanding of RYS, and the program's purpose, mission and vision. Even as the project moved to its midway point some of the 28 participants continued to struggle with the toilet conditions, food and the punctuality and no-smoking rules. Yet as the program continued and the clarity of purpose grew all of these young people caught the true spirit of RYS. In the waning moments of the project all were crying, not wanting to finish the RYS project and hoping the day would last just a little bit longer.

The Indonesia RYS project in Banten was held on August 22-31 and co-organized by the (MATAKIN) Indonesian Confucius Society, the Ministry of Women Empowerment, the IIFWP of Indonesia and YJIMS. RYS volunteers worked to transform an old somber house, once used by the first president of Indonesia, into a cheerful kindergarten. Our work included building a playground, a kindergarten, repairing furniture and redecorating the house.

The project provided a very good opportunity for youth from various faiths, races, and nations as well as representatives of various organizations to be of service to the community as one. Besides Indonesia, participants came from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Sri Lanka and represented Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and ancestral worship.

In addition to the central service project many other activities were held. A family talk was conducted especially designed for rural villagers and teacher training courses were conducted for 10 kindergarten teachers. A ceremonial offering of a goat was made following the tradition of Abraham and Ishmael and basic food items were distributed to nearly 50 families. The cross-cultural programs were enhanced when seven Japanese delegates joined the project for two days and one Singapore participant prepared sushi for the participants.

At the end of the project, participants were brought to a quiet hill area for reflection. Reflection is an integral part of the RYS experience. At one of those reflective moments by a campfire, Roy, a member of the minority Chinese community, shared that the RYS has helped him as a minority to achieve dreams that alone he felt unable to actualize. Fannie, a young Buddhist admitted that this is the first time that she had been away from home with people of other races and religions. Fannie noted her surprise on how those who had been strangers to her were now so close that she did not miss her family. Many of the group were surprised at how RYS had created bonds that tied together regardless of race or religion. Indeed, their experience proved that there are more essential things that bind us together and serve as a bridge to cross over the streams of difference.

During the reflection period, participants made commitments and shared additional testimony of their experiences. Among the participants, some made personal commitments to become future organizers and trainers of RYS. Others shared parts of their experiences that on reflection made them laugh at themselves. One participant testimony clearly illustrates the internal journey that was made to go beyond fear and suspicion into the realm of trust and friendship.

"I was fearful when I heard we would be sleeping at the Muhammadiyah headquarters, (a major Muslim organizations in Indonesia). My perception of this organization was that they did not tolerate Christians. But look at me! After only one night, I was so at ease in the headquarters that I can even make jokes with the members of Muhammadiyah. Perceptions can be so wrong! If it were not for RYS, I would not have set foot here and get to know this Muslim organization and its members better".

One female participant who had suffered because she lives in the conflict area of Madura said "I had looked forward to this program because it gives me opportunity to meet other ethnic groups. There is so much that I wanted to know and share".

But one of the most touching events was when they all presented two hand made cards to John Gehring and Fazida Razak. On the card they thank us who are non-Indonesians, for caring enough about their crisis laden country and wanting to promote inter-religious peace and tolerance. They were touched that we left our family behind to be with them.