Unification News for August - September 1999
IIFWP sponsors 7th Friendship America Program in Guatemala
by John Gehring—NYC
In a unique international interfaith peace effort from June 30-July 12, eighty five young adults representing fourteen nations worked to widen roads and lay the foundation for a new school in Chinautla, Guatemala outside the capital. As part of the 7th RYS-Friendship America’s Project (FAP) these interfaith pioneers from the Muslim, Christian and Indigenous faith communities attended education programs and offered their labor and skills in efforts to substantially promote friendship and peace in the America’s.
The international participants were also given the opportunity to connect to the original culture of Guatemala for the program concluded in the Mayan community of Santiago Atitlan. At this beautiful volcanic lake area the participants shared cultural programs, gifts and friendship with hundreds of young students and community members. The volunteers efforts were designed to promote healing, trust and reconciliation for Santiago Atitlan is the home of many families which lost relatives in the recent Civil War.
The Religious Youth Service, (RYS) is a project of the IIFWP which works to create in communities worldwide a model of civic responsibility and interfaith cooperation. The RYS brings young adults of all faiths and nations together under the theme of "World Peace through interfaith dialogue and action".
The RYS experience helps train young adults to be global citizens with wide cultural horizons and the ability to contribute to communities as active peace makers. During the program, all participants offer substantial work service while they undergo training and experiences in leadership and character education. The experience of living and working together provides a base to promote lasting friendships within the diverse team of participants and connects all to the lives of the members of the local community.
Since its initial project in the Philippines in 1986, the RYS has completed eighty-three service projects in thirty-four nations, many in areas where religious, cultural and political strife is an on-going reality. Recent projects in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, Uganda, the Philippines and Guatemala have all been in areas where deep divisions exist between different segments of the society.
As a peace project, the RYS draws together people who have been historic enemies and provides them with an opportunity to work together in serving a needy community. Education and cultural programs during the RYS are aimed at promoting understanding and cooperation and not at proselytizing.
Friendship America’s Projects (FAP):
The Friendship America’s Projects have been created and supported by RYS and the IIFWP as an effort to utilize the great spiritual resources in the America’s. The projects draws Roman Catholic, Protestant and Indigenous participants together in a cooperative effort that is aimed at promoting historic resolution of past injustices while providing substantial service to communities in need. The FAP understands that ecumenical cooperation can provide the momentum needed to create an environment for greater cooperation among all people in the America’s. Such an environment will serve to stimulate the human potential available to overcome the weaknesses in each society when they stand separately.
In January, 1996 in Haiti the 1st Friendship America Project occurred quietly as it brought together nearly thirty participants from seven nations. The vision of the Friendship America’s Program was stimulated by the words and actions of Reverend Moon who was at that time laboring through various means and interfaith efforts to establish Christian cooperation in the America’s and build a greater level of North-South cooperation. Friendship America’s programs have since been hosted by Honduras (twice), the Dominican Republic and Guatemala (third time).
Since that initial effort to bring cooperation among America’s Protestant and Catholic youth the project has grown in size and stature to become recognized by leaders in several nations in the America’s. The RYS and the Friendship America’s Projects have been frequently mentioned on national television in Central America and have received very good radio and newspaper coverage.
As the FAP and RYS reputation grew in Central America it was invited by the President of the Honduras National Congress to help inaugurate the 1st National Youth Week in May 1999. A key element to the growth of the programs is the substantial support and guidance given by the programs local advisors. Included among the advisors are former President’s of Haiti, and Guatemala and active members of government in four nations.
The Guatemala Project
The FAP choose to return to Guatemala in part as a result of the support it was receiving locally. Among those anxious to support the project’s vision of peace were Guatemala’s former President, Marco Vinicio Cereso and the mayor of Chinautla, Mr. Pepe Paramo. Mayor Paramo was so inspired that he invited the RYS to his municipality and raised several thousand dollars to help support the school construction project which the RYS would undertake.
The area around Guatemala City is experiencing rapid growth and as new people move in they build the simplest forms of housing and they have difficulty in finding room in the already over crowded schools. Chinaulta is a city of 200,000 bordering Guatemala City is experiencing such dynamic growth that large areas of wooded areas in the mountains are rapidly being turned into populated communities. These communities are in need of adequate roads, schools and medical facilities.
In Chinaulta, the RYS worked with the local mayor, Mr. Paramo and city council to help target an area where a new school and access to the school is most urgently needed. They selected a community in one of the new settlement areas on top of a very hilly area. There the RYS began construction on a school while it also worked to widen the road to allow access by school bus.
The participants of RYS where largely international students, more used to handling books then shovels and picks. They woke early each morning and traveled twenty minutes to the work site where they removed tree stumps, cleared, leveled and expanded the road and dug a foundation for the school. Community members joined in the work as the road widened and the beginnings of the school began to rise up from the foundation. Before the week of labor ended the community and all the RYS members could take pride in the progress they made.
After the work concluded in Chinaulta the program moved to the Mayan community of Santiago Atitlan where it would have a time for additional service as well as reflection and fun. During the stay in Santiago Atitlan the RYS members visited local schools and distributed large amounts of clothing and school supplies that they brought from their countries. The mayor of the community took part in some of the programs for the RYS had in past years help in the construction of several schools in that community.
The foundation for the success and continuity of the RYS and the FAP is its participants for they are in the position to bring back to their community the lessons and spirit they have learned. This project was most fortunate because of the number of highly skilled participants that joined .
Among those that came through special recommendation were four members of the Presidential Youth Organization of Guatemala (Conjuve). The Minister of Youth of the Dominican Republic also sent three leaders. Various municipalities from Latin America sent youth directors while churches, high schools and universities in Guatemala and Honduras selected top candidates. Joining this group of Latin American’s were thirty-six participants from the USA including two scholarship winners from the Newark school system.
RYS Educational Experience:
RYS is not an ordinary work service project. The vision and goals of RYS require programs that can teach and give participants experiences in the life lesson’s that are valuable to character development and promoting cultural understanding and appreciation.
By having the project hosted in Central America and specifically in the nation of Guatemala, special opportunities arose to bring in speakers and activists that could share concerns that impact the quality of life in that region. Participants could learn about issues relating to human rights, literacy, education, sustainable development and the environment. Members of the indigenous community could share and take questions while giving accounts of their life and sharing about their culture, faith and traditions.
Visits to important cultural, religious and historic sites, were part of the program.
Participants were treated to a visit to the National Congress where Mr. Carlos Cereso (son of the former President) gave a talk entitled; "The development of democracy in Guatemala" which was followed by a personal tour of the Congress. Dr. Armando de la Torre, the Dean of the Social Science at the Francisco Marroquín University gave a talk on the theme, "Building global citizens in a pluralistic world." The editor of the Guatemala edition of the "Tiempos Mundo" spoke on; "The role and responsibility of the media in Central America".
In addition, Dr. Eliane Condon from Rutgers University held several sessions which dealt with cultural differences and how to bridge them with love while Rev. Gerhard Bessell of the Family Federation for World Peace spoke on the topic: "What can religions do to help". Mr. Carlos Enrique Mayorga, of " Conalfa" the nations largest organization in working for literacy shared the realities of the nations education and social situation while stressing the importance of children receiving an academic education in Guatemala.
Although talks and visits proved interesting the participants enjoyed most the cultural program that they prepared for the local community of Chinualta. In front of three hundred members of the community ten RYS teams offered Latin American dances, American break dance, pantomime, skits and songs with several skilled performances. Joyfully returning the hospitality were the hosting Catholic Youth Club members. The energy and excitement was contagious!
The whole RYS program was held together through the efforts of various RYS alumni who were part of the central staff. Rachael Woods, a social worker from Ohio (who first participated in RYS in 1988), Mr. Mario Salinas, a teacher at the International School in Honduras, and Mr. Daniel Bessell of Guatemala were central to the success of program.
Catholic Center Hosts RYS
In Chinautla, the RYS stayed at "El Divino Salvador del Mundo" a Roman Catholic Center whose congregation helped prepare food and a warm welcoming atmosphere for the international participants. The senior priest, Padre Pedro’s had a strong desire to connect to Pope John Paul’s charge "to cooperate and promote further understanding between the world religions" and on consecutive Sundays he organized ecumenical services with the RYS that attracted three hundred and fifty people and four hundred worshippers.
Father Pedro used the RYS stay as an opportunity. He would site the actions and example of young RYS participants to encourage his congregation and he would ask the congregation to follow the RYS example of peace building. He also directed two of his seminarians to live and work with RYS during part of the program for he thought the experience would leave them better trained in service work and inter-religious cooperation.
The RYS is an exciting an unusual program that can attract the attention of a part of the media that is looking for solutions and models of cooperation. RYS shows youth doing something noble, acting as part of the solution rather then the source of a problem. In addition, the RYS creates the image and reality of young adults coming from diverse and even antagonistic religious, cultural and economic backgrounds and forming a community of peace and service. This phenomena is the stuff for a media event.
On this project media coverage came from various sources. The Tiempos del Mundo a weekly newspaper wrote a full page story on the project and they also donated special RYS hats for the participants. Several radio stations and the largest TV channel invited RYS members to give interviews. The coverage of the RYS was focused on its interfaith and international aspects of the project as well as presenting the original RYS idea and vision.
The Friendship America’s Projects will continue to develop in an effort to promote solidarity among people of faith in the American continents. The 8th RYS FAP will take place next Summer and be hosted by a nation in the America’s. If you have an interest in this or other projects please contact the IIFWP at firstname.lastname@example.org or for updated information view the RYS web site at www.rys.net or contact the director at: email@example.com.
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