The Words of the Saunders Family

CARP's World Student Service Corps In Guatemala

June Saunders
July 30, 1987

The WSSC volunteers pose with the local children at one of the project sites.

The World Student Service Corps (WSSC), launched by Hyo Jin Nim at CARP's Third Convention of World Students in 1986, got underway this summer in Guatemala. In a project led by Steve Kennett, a two-story community center was built to serve as extra classroom space for a nearby school and as a clinic for medical workers. At another site, two buildings were constructed to provide a work area and a kitchen for a widows' sewing cooperative. The construction work required close cooperation among everyone involved -- the participants and staff, local Unification Church members, and many of the villagers themselves.

The impact of the WSSC was immediately apparent in the positive front-page news coverage it received and in the warm reception extended to the volunteers by high officials of the government and the Catholic Church. Even the local congressman became directly involved.

CARP member June Saunders, who participated in the project, describes some of her experiences.

From June 30 to July 30, the CARP-inspired World Student Service Corps brought approximately 30 volunteers to Guatemala, Central America, in order to help build three community-benefit buildings. Nine countries sent representatives, mostly students: Guatemala, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, the United States, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Colombia, and Argentina.

The participants in the project ranged in age from a tender 14 to a redoubtable 50. They lived and worked in three villages surrounding beautiful Lake Atitlan in southern Guatemala.

Guatemala has been dubbed "the land of eternal spring" because of its year-round temperate climate. The sun-drenched afternoons were followed by cloudbursts that draped the volcanic mountains in mysterious white veils and made late-afternoon swimming a near-spiritual experience "I felt like I was swimming in God's lap," said one participant. Lake Atitlan is actually a volcanic crater filled with sweet, fresh water. The region surrounding it is steeped in Indian legend and lore. On one rough and windy day, the natives of the area refused to cross Lake Atitlan by boat. "Why?" they were asked. Rougher days had been seen. "The lake is upset," said the Indians.

Besides the construction work in the villages, the students participated in many cultural events, including talks on the indigenous peoples, Guatemala's economy, and its new democratic government. They also experienced bargaining with Indians for bright handicrafts in the famous marketplaces. The program ended with a journey by airplane and bus to ancient Tikal, where the mighty Mayan empire, considered by many experts to ha% e been on a par with the ancient Egyptian and Greek civilizations, had its seat of religious worship and government. Mysteriously, Tikal was abandoned, left to be reclaimed by the alternately singing and silent jungle, which has kept many of its secrets to this day.

The construction of a building -- using shovel, axe, and muscle.

Transforming Experiences

Participants from outside the Unification movement were inspired to join this project through campus newspapers and video programs. For most of the volunteers, this summer's experience was a transforming one. One student of archeology found himself thrilled to be learning about an indigenous people from real life instead of from books or scientific study. The living beauty and simplicity of the Indian people dressed in their native garb, its style unchanged for centuries, intrigued him. A scientist who thought that "anthropomorphic notions" of God were ridiculous said he could not deny the presence of certain "forces" there. We know that the bold-shy, giggling, loving Indian children certainly set off some inexplicable "forces" in his heart.

One participant from the United States found her political views of Central America and her feelings toward her own country's policies undergoing major revisions. As a leftist human-rights activist, her view of the world was definitely one-sided. After a real encounter with the Guatemalan people as well as hard-won facts supplied by Carmen Zuniga (a Guatemalan church member who trooped through El Salvador and Nicaragua with Lee Shapiro in the making of the film "Nicaragua Was Our Home") she saw there was another side to the story.

Another student, who toted a copy of The Road Less Travelled around in his backpack, missed Kellogg's Cornflakes so much that his team leader finally tracked down a box of it for him (no mean feat in these isolated villages). Yet at the end he confessed he could have survived without the cornflakes, "but not without the love of my companions."

The students said they hope to become staff members on next year's project and to help generate more interest in the WSSC on their campuses during the school year.

A cooperative spirit in an unmechanized land.

Claimed by God

For the staff members themselves, this project was a time of testing, love, disappointment, victory, feelings of futility, and feelings of great hopefulness. In the midst of the heat, the hard physical work, the language and cultural barriers, the bedbugs, the unsanitary food, the diarrhea, and the inevitable frustrations of an ambitious project, the international staff members sometimes had to ask themselves whether a victory had been won or not.

But on the last day, two Unification Church sisters who worked as staff went into a cathedral in Guatemala City to say a good-bye prayer for the beautiful nation they had come to love. Standing before a life-sized statue of Jesus, they said they prayed that someday statues and pictures of the True Family would decorate the countless churches of Guatemala and stand victoriously on its 400-year tradition of Christianity.

As they stepped out into the church plaza and faced the noon-day crowds of busy Guatemalans, one sister felt a white light in her heart and spirit that communicated to her: "You are the saviors of Guatemala."

Then they knew that this first project of the World Student Service Corps had been claimed by God in the one-world spirit of our True Parents. 

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