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Peace-Building in the Interior of Cote dIvoire
RYS-Africa
Attohou, Cote d`Ivoire
January 10, 2008

The entire community of Attohou—children, women, men and even the elderly people—got involved in constructing a primary school in central Cote d'Ivoire, an area that is rebuilding after five years of civil war.

The Religious Youth Service project in the West African nation of Cote d'Ivoire September 8-22, 2007, was the first held in a French-speaking African country. The project included three main activities: peace-building education for the participants, a service project, and meetings with officials at a UN office.

Through the educational component of the project, participants developed greater skills in working together as a community and understanding the necessity of living for the sake of others. The activities made participants aware of how they can become artisans of peace by taking responsibility to proactively engage in service to others. They could understand that by engaging in such service they became more and more like brothers and sisters forming one family.

The second part of the project was an exciting success as participants helped build a primary school for 300 students. The village women demonstrated their beautiful hearts by bringing food and firewood in the evening as well as fetching water each day for participants' needs. The local youth also joined in the volunteer activities. The young children had never attended school or seen white people before. Through this project, the local people could feel renewed hope.

Villagers felt rejuvenated upon seeing people from far away come to their small homes in the bush. Participants were pestered by mosquitoes, ate simple local food, and had no electricity, but conditions did not discourage them or make them want to give up.

The visitors played with the children, giving them joy. One day, in response to the community's kindness, all the participants visited each family in the three villages. In joy and gratitude the local community gave them three goats, yams, and harvest from their farms. It is remarkable how a simple action can change peoples' lives.

The third part of the project involved meetings with the UN office in Bouake, just north of the former UN-monitored buffer zone between the government forces in the south and rebels in the north. The officials were very interested in the RYS project, especially in the ways RYS works to break down barriers and build bridges of understanding with the local people to facilitate a more lasting peace. This UN partnership will be strengthened in future Ivory Coast RYS projects.

NOTE: Civil war in Cote d'Ivoire arose during an economic downturn due to ethnic tensions and immigration. UN peacekeepers supervised a checkpoint in the buffer zone between Abidjan, a southern city that is the seat of the government, and Bouake, the northern capital of the rebellion. According to the terms of the March 2007 peace agreement signed in March 2007, the commander of the rebel army became the prime minister, sharing power with the president.

Religious Youth Service brings together young adults from diverse religions and nations in service to others. Through experiential service-learning projects it stimulates interreligious and intercultural cooperation and understanding with the goal of building a culture of peace and lasting friendships. It is a project of the Universal Peace Federation.

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