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Responding to the unrest in Sri Lanka
RYS-Sri Lanka
Ratnapura, Sri Lanka
January 10, 2008

Tamils and Sinhalese children in the city of Ratnapura whose parents abandoned them or are in jail are sent by the government to the local orphanage. Twenty-two boys, all less than twelve years old, live there; five are Tamils and the others are Sinhalese. The orphanage is managed by the Buddhist Society of Ratnapura, which depends heavily on the donations of well wishers, but the donations are barely enough for the day-to-day maintenance of the children.

This year's RYS project in Ratnapura, southern Sri Lanka, helped improve the living conditions for these children.

A multi-faith city of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, Ratnapura is world famous for its gems. Geographically Ratnapura is situated in an area of regular rainfall. Therefore, it is abundant with natural beauty in the surrounding vicinity including a virgin tropical rain forest. Surrounding it are rubber and low-country tea plantations.

On August 18, participants gathered near the Fort railway station, and the son of the president of Sri Lanka, Mr. Namal Rajapakse, paid a surprise visit to greet everyone and offer his good wishes at the beginning of the project.

After all the formalities, the enthusiastic participants arrived at the field to do their part. The work consisted of building a study hall and repairing the play area at the orphanage. Some worked hard at digging holes for the foundation and pillars, while others did landscaping. Cement was mixed and used in repairing the study hall.

The participants enjoyed visits to a Buddhist temple and also took part in a Hindu ritual. They visited a gem mine and finished their stay on August 24 in the rain forest.

"Although I've participated in several youth projects, this is the first time I was able to really be 'interreligious,'" said Ishara Guruge from the Lyceam International School in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital. She was a member of the Sri Lanka basketball team at the Interreligious Peace Sports Festival held in July in Korea.

Daniel, a school teacher from Jaffna on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, thanked RYS for the wonderful experience he had because it changed his idea about the Sinhalese people in the south, who are thought to be discriminating against the Tamils in the north.

NOTE: Sri Lanka, an island nation off the south-east coast of India, is home to two primary ethnic and religious groups, the Sinhala-Buddhist majority and the Tamil-Hindu minority in the north and east. The Tamils aspire to self-determination and an independent homeland; the Sri Lankan government seeks to maintain a unitary state. Civil war began in 1983, and despite recurring violence, both sides claim to adhere to a December 2001 ceasefire.

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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