Unification News for November 2003

RYS Paraguay

Shoeless children with runny noses and bright smiles eagerly helped the RYS volunteers in building their new school in Puerto Diana, Paraguay this August. The volunteers, mostly high school students from the United States, readily embraced these children, hoping they could make a difference in their lives. Assisting in the construction of a primary school in Puerto Diana, an indigenous community on the Paraguay River in northern Paraguay, was the primary work of the volunteers. Additional experiences in Puerto Leda, Asuncion and Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil made this a trip to remember.

The project had a rough beginning as the black out in New York caused some travel delays, but the intrepid volunteers made their way and started with a busy Sunday where they visited three religious communities in Paraguay’s capital. A cordial welcome by the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification started the day. Then an afternoon visit to the Pueblo de Dios, a local Paraguayan spiritual community which advocates prayer and sexual purity, introduced the volunteers to more traditional evangelical practices. An evening visit to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was the highlight of the day for many, as LDS (Mormon) Elders shared about their lives and mission work, allowing the RYS volunteers an opportunity to reflect on their own life of faith.

On Monday, we visited ‘las chacaritas’ – the slum areas of Asuncion - an area some people warned us not to visit for its dangers. Beyond a tall iron gate, we discovered a local primary school and requested a meeting with the directors. The director and teachers were so happy to have visitors and pleaded with us to stay. They told us that no one comes to help them because they are in the ‘red zone’ (i.e. danger zone) and that the children are very hungry for attention and love. We stayed the entire afternoon, playing with the children, reviewing their work and embracing them every moment we could. When school finished, there were no parents waiting to greet the children by the iron gate. We walked some of the children home as we made our way out of las chacaritas.

We traveled in two groups to Puerto Leda, a terrific development in the Paraguay’s desolate Chaco region. We heard the story from native people of the ‘miracle of Leda’ – how in four short years, Rev. Takeru Kamiyama and his team of pioneers had transformed a difficult area into a thriving ranch and center of employment for the region. It was Rev. Kamiyama himself who invited the RYS to come to Paraguay to learn about the region and offer service to local indigenous communities. We discovered that local people considered it an honor to work in Leda and hoped that the development would continue to expand, providing economic stability and improved living for the greater region.

After a day in Leda – where the Japanese pioneers had successfully created a water purification system and brought in generators for electricity – we took a three hour boat journey to Puerto Diana, a community of Native Americans of the Chamacoco tribe. In Diana we had no running water, no electricity and no telephones. Many of the local people had no way to understand the concept of Internet – the children who were often sick and hungry were delighted with the simple technology of a flash camera.

Although the children lived simply, most with no shoes to wear, they were incredibly friendly and hard working. Eight and ten year old Chamacoco boys and girls helped us carry 50 kilogram sacks of sand for the construction. They showed fearlessness at the sight of tarantulas and dangerous snakes (like the one the old lady said would kill us if it pinched us). The children also showed us who was boss on the fútbol (soccer) field, beating our older, yet less skilled, USA team 4-1 in a lopsided match.

We discovered that most of the children in Diana have no opportunity for high school, even though the annual registration fee is only eight US dollars. Many families are stuck in poverty. Although they have plenty of land available, they have not yet learned rudimentary farming and animal husbandry techniques. Fortunately, a Catholic NGO is now working to teach gardening in the community.

Our time in Diana was too short. We returned to Leda for a day of fishing and relaxation before making the journey back to Asuncion and then to Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil. Iguaçu means ‘big water’ in Guaranie – the indigenous language of most of Paraguay and some part of Argentina and Brazil. Foz do Iguaçu is Portuguese for Iguaçu Falls, considered by many as the most spectacular water falls in the world. On our return we visited Cacupe, the spiritual capital of Paraguay where a Native American hero paid homage to Mother Mary and sights of Mother Mary have occurred over the years. Pope John Paul II visited this site during a visit to South America.

This Friendship Americas project provided more diverse experiences than many other projects. Our work with children was most memorable. Working with a community struggling to develop helped us all be grateful for what we have and expanded our desire to love other people throughout the world.

A follow-up project is planned for July 1-10, 2004. This project will increase the international participation bringing volunteers from Japan and South America to make the program a more diverse inter-cultural experience.

For more information on this or other projects in Paraguay, about Puerto Leda or Puerto Diana, send an email to paraguay/@/rys.net .

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