Unification News for August 1999

RYS Honduras Cleans up Hurricane Wounds

by John GehringóNYC

Their are some problems that individuals continually refuse to deal with. Their are also difficult problems that government and local communities prove ineffective in providing solutions. In Honduras, the second poorest nation in the America's it is no different. The trauma of Hurricane Mitch which pounded the nation in November are still visible yet more subtle are the emotional scars of that her vicious attack has left on the people. The problems can seem overwhelming.

The wrath of Hurricane Mitch created enormous personal and collective problems for the people of Honduras and for its Central American neighbors. The storm pounded for five merciless days wind driven rain which flooded every river in the mountainous nation. In the wake of the storm it was reported that 20,000 people were either dead or missing. Most of the nationís bridges and infrastructure were destroyed or damaged, entire villages washed away, crop damage was extensive, the wreckage of homes and property monumental, and the population lay in a state of shock. The normally energetic and hopeful people of Honduras often stood on the sidelines as foreigners poured into the nation to initiated emergency aid and begin the reconstruction of the nation.

Honduras was faced with a huge array of major emergency projects. From the long list of critically needed projects the most desperately needed were often targeted as first priority will many of the less critical or 'smaller' problems were ignored. Tegucigalpa, the nation's capital lost all its bridges and many roads which required immediate action. While high priority projects were underway, other projects were forced to wait. The small community of "El Sapo" was not considered a high national priority. The citizens of the area waited for the government to respond to their difficulties but as time passed, problems mounted, periodic flooding continued, roads literally disappeared, and garbage piles grew daily in size and stench.

The biblical injunction from the book of Proverbs states that: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick". This is surely a timeless wisdom. The community of "El Sapo" while waiting for the things that were promised, began to lose hope, and the heart of the people suffered. As the periodic flooding continued, garbage piles grew into small hills. Flood prevention efforts were stopped twice because of funding problems. In time it became clear that most people in the community had lost heart. It was at this point that the RYS arrived in the "El Sapo" community.

RYS 6th Friendship America's Project: In Honduras, on July 3-13, forty three volunteers from fourteen nations joined RYS in its 6th Friendship America's project as a public response of support for the citizens of Honduras. Under the guidance of the nation's minister of social projects, (FHSP) the RYS was presented with the challenge of cleaning and protecting a community that for the past two decades has suffered from flooding and neglect. The volunteers took on the challenge and spent a week working on constructing walls for flood prevention, they designed and built bins for collecting garbage, and shoveled, picked up and loaded nearly a thousand bags of often vermin infested garbage. The work in the "El Sapo" area of the capital city of Tegucigalpa was called by the media as the "Healing of El Sapo" and the efforts of the 'foreigners' and the USA state representative Mark Anderson struck a responsive chord in the media.

Friendship America's projects were initiated by the RYS in Haiti in January of 1996. The RYS has sponsored six projects in the America's which have be designed to build cooperation between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christian's, provide support and cultural recognition towards the indigenous people's of the America's and serve as a link to bring the people of the America's together in a web of friendly, cooperative relationships. The most recent project was the second in Honduras and it clearly build on the foundation of the work done in the past.

Learning through experience and challenges: RYS provides participants with a living education. We learn best through experience and challenge and the RYS is all about experiencing and challenging. It is about the challenges of picking up hills of garbage, alive with crawling creatures, it about adjusting to new food, languages and unusual friends, it is about team building and visioning and most of all it is about doing, doing those things you believe are good.

Living together in an international community with people from all traditions provides numerous challenges and opportunities. Challenges are a part of the RYS, challenging oneself to reach out to others, to work harder then you believed you could, to contribute to building things, to making relationships and becoming a person who can make a real difference.

For those participants coming from the USA, the challenges that arise in a much 'poorer' nation are vast and varied. For many, they are seeing for the first time the human cost of poverty's heavy hand. Coming face to face, looking into the eye's of a street child asking to eat off your used chicken bones, running into a communities general ignorance of basic health standards, seeing lives wasted through indifference, corruption, and apathy provides a vastly different point of reference then the suburban shopping mall. These challenges can be confronting and they often lead to personal reflection and a self- judgment. Each RYS project concludes with a time given for reflection. It is usually at this time that participants get a chance to ask themselves such important questions as: 'What really is important in life?, "What is truly valuable and worth living for" and "What can I do to make a positive difference in this world? RYS works to help participants to see the problems and the solutions using their faith as an essential resource.

RYS encourages those involved to serve but also to search. Young people, often wrestle trying to design a personal vision for their life. In a rush to achieve 'something' many get trapped into doing things that have little or no real value. The RYS helps point participants to a direction in life that has real and lasting meaning and value.

Second Generation challenged to live for the sake of others: In the Honduras project, a dozen Unification 2nd generation youth took part. They invested themselves and had an opportunity to practice the ideals of unity, friendship, service and true love that is such a significant part of their faith. They accepted the challenges that came before them, digested them and came out the better for it. Among the 2nd generation, Daniel and Jini Bessell served as a fine example of a couple sacrificing as a family for the sake of others. Traveling from Guatemala in a van with their brother Chung Hee and three other participants, they willingly stepped up to take on all kinds of challenges. To watch them work, plan, laugh and share together gave a bright hope to all the participants who are looking to build a marriage based on love and service.

All the RYS participants in this project gave much to make it successful. The measure of that investment could be seen in how happy they were throughout the project despite the very difficult nature of the work. Every person left with a real sense of accomplishment. This sense of accomplishment was magnified by the extent of the national media coverage that the RYS received in the television, radio and press.

A moving climax of the work effort came when the mayor of Tegucigalpa Dr. Vilma de Castellanos personally thanked each participant for the service they gave. The mayor promised that the city would build additional garbage bins and work to see that the El Sapo area remained clean. Dr. de Castellanos warm support and the cities desire to build on the efforts of RYS was a visible affirmation that the efforts of youth can make a difference.

Media feast: RYS is a peace project, it sees religious cooperation as a fundamental element in the constructing of any true and lasting peace. It has often worked in the quiet corner's of the world, without the glare of public attention. Normally the RYS does its service projects without having the television follow around on a daily basis but in this project the RYS was national news on an almost daily basis. This was in part a result of the interest RYS stimulated in the media a month before when the President of the Congress invited RYS director, John Gehring to address the national youth representatives at a special gathering at the Congress Building. When the RYS Director spoke of international youth coming from fourteen nations and a US state representative coming from Arizona to work in the troubled area of "El Sapo" the media saw it as a good human interest story.

The media saw the RYS as a fine model of service but they also wanted to use the RYS as a way to stimulate Honduran's to believe in themselves and to encourage the people to take more responsibility for their nation's problems. The newspapers enjoyed pointed out that Arizona State Representative Mark Anderson was working hard with his daughter cleaning "El Sapo" while the typical Honduran politician's only talked about the problems while speaking at a fancy luncheon.

In its positive coverage of the RYS, television, newspaper and radio anchors saw lessons to be learned concerning the true spirit of volunteerism, of community responsibility and self-reliance. In a real sense, the RYS provided a model for the people of Honduras and also a challenge to take on the problems of making a new beginning in the aftermath of hurricane Mitch.

Future plans for Friendship America's projects: The RYS is planning to build on its existing foundation in the America's through having a project in Nicaragua in the spring of 2,000 and then having a larger program around July 1-14, 2000 in either Honduras or Guatemala. The Nicaragua project will be largely designed to involve participants from Nicaragua and its neighbors. The July project will be open to participants from all nations.

The RYS is continual expanding its program agenda and is having an ever increasing impact on society. We are still largely dependent on yours and other donors contributions. Please feel free to invest in the future through making a tax deductible donation to the RYS.

For more information on the RYS's upcoming projects please visit us at www.rys.net or email our office at RYS@pipeline.com. A letter will reach us at: 4 West 43rd St. NY, NY 10036.

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