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Young Leaders of all Faiths Serving Together in Suriname
RYS-Suriname
Paramaribo, Suriname
January 10, 2008

The Paramaribo Zoo had almost became dormant until Netherlander Rain Forest expert Auke Heilkma came to its rescue. With the help of youths from various religious and cultural backgrounds from Suriname, Guyana, French Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherlands, USA, and Jamaica, the Paramaribo Zoo has almost recovered. The zoo is home to some 200 species of animals, with a wide variety of snakes, birds, and monkeys.

Some RYS participants fed and cared for the animals, while others had the opportunity to do landscaping and cleaning. The animal houses were washed, some areas were painted, and the picking up of garbage made the zoo a litter-free zone. The group also set up seating areas for visitors to the zoo.

A second project was held at the Fatima Oord, a home for the elderly. Participants did landscaping, cleaned storerooms, and took time to share stories with the elderly ladies.

From August 18-30, 2007, RYS participants immersed themselves in diverse people among the Muslim and Christian communities in Paramaribo, the capital of this country on the northern coast of South America.

These visits supplemented the education program provided by Education Director, Maurice Burke. The education team also included senior advisor Rev. John Gehring, who led the orientation, while the Project Director, Georgia Pearson, facilitated the reflection.

The group had an opportunity to tour the Presidential Palace, and everyone had a chance to sit in the President's Chair. The President generously offered the use of the Congress Hall for the project's closing ceremony. The project received a large amount of media coverage during the ten-day visit.

Participants expressed gratitude for the great time they shared, the new friends they made, and the diverse experiences they had. Most wished the project could have lasted longer.

Participant reflections
"At first I was skeptical about attending the program due to the presence of different religions. However, I decided to continue with my plans to attend the project since I want to be a person who makes a difference in the world. I came with an open heart, willing to accept whatever the program had in store for me. The program was more than I had ever expected. RYS has taught me to be a better person and also showed me how to be a follower as well as a leader." - Shonelle Alert, Guyana

"At the crack of dawn we stood before a beautiful river. As the sun emerged from behind the massive greenery, chasing the darkness away, it illuminated the grace of this wide and flowing body. I looked at this river and I saw the start of a new me—a beautiful me on the inside; a confident lass, a continued believer and a motivator." - Joelle Jackman, Trinidad

"I love the RYS. I got to respect young people and work with them. I didn't smoke my grass for ten days, and I didn't miss it because I had to be a big brother on a project that I knew nothing about. I didn't feel old nor did I look at them as being young. We were equals; we were brothers and sisters. We need this in the Netherlands—maybe people would stop smoking grass." - Melvin Pique, the Netherlands

"The design that the RYS had made for us to interact with each other and with the directors resulted in some kind of deep connection. The way people presented themselves, the response, the togetherness—all of this was something very new to me. I couldn't imagine feeling so very comfortable among people I only knew for a couple of days. This went beyond my expectations. I was experiencing something new. At that time, it was the only thing that was real and normal. This was joy! More like inner joy." - Luker Romalho, Suriname

"I got a call from the Minister of Youth, and they said I should represent the youths of Suriname in RYS, because I had been elected as a Youth Parliamentarian. My mother said, 'Joel, try volunteering for once.' At the work days no one saw me as a celebrity but as a brother and a friend. Politics took on a different meaning in my life. If I have a friend in Trinidad and Guyana I will become a better politician. I will understand the needs of international youths. RYS took away my selfishness and give me a new life. I am learning how to serve the people and not just myself. Suriname is so divided not by religion but by culture. The Paramaribo never say "I love you" to the Binnenlanders because they blame them for the civil war, and vice versa. Only RYS can change that. I have friends/family in Paramaribo and the Binnenland." - Joel Dominee, Suriname

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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