IIFWP Sponsors 10th Friendship America’s Project in Honduras
by Mario Salinas
From July 2-13 nearly fifty youth and staff gathered from eight nations to help construct a community center and contribute to the building of an environment of peace and cooperation through their participation in the 10th Friendship America Project in Honduras. Working under the theme "Youth's Active Role in Building a Culture of Peace" the participants who ranged in age from 15 to 19, enthusiastically united in their work efforts as well as shared cultural and educational programs.
Since 1996 and especially in the wake of the divesting Hurricane Mitch, the Religious Youth Service (RYS) and the International Relief and Friendship Foundation (IRFF) have conducted four major projects in Honduras. These projects have drawn a wide range of co-sponsorship including the national Ministry for Social Projects, the Christian Disaster Relief, the Mayor’s Office of Tegucigalpa, the International Interreligious Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) and the Women Federation for World Peace. On this most recent project two NGO’s and the UN volunteer branch aided the project in Honduras.
This July’s Friendship America Project drew from a diverse source of resources that included an inter-religious component from the RYS and development aspects from the IRFF and education and cultural speakers and financial support from the IIFWP. Several Honduran Ambassador‘s for Peace took active roles in implementing and supporting the program. Special support was given by the Honduras Military Forces, which hosted our participants at their very new Technical Army School.
The program was filled with hard work, smiling faces and an abundance of good will. The group of fifty quickly became a team of fifty and soon after a family of fifty. The initial orientation period contained time for leadership training, education components and times of sharing was soon followed by a week of work. All the participants initially went to work in Tatumbla, a quiet community forty-five kilometers from the capital of Tegucigalpa. With shovels, picks, wheel barrows, bricks and sweet and muscle our task in this rural community is to help construct what is to become a Center for Peace and Culture.
Our arrival to the quiet, bucolic Tatumbla community came as a surprise. In the words of a local merchant; "hardly anything ever happens here." After adjusting to the surprise of fifty energetic youth the mayor rose to the occasion and offered work tools, while the school director sent a group of students to join us at the worksite for a day of work. Our participants often visited the local schools to offer time for cultural exchange and playing games under the guidance of Kelly Henzl a teacher from the Newark school system.
Our program choose this beautiful, quiet area because it is to eventually be a training area for youth and NGO leaders coming from the capital of Tegucigalpa. The center will be dedicated to the education of young people in an effort to promote leadership, character, strengthen families, and drug and AIDS prevention as well as provide economic uplift through nurturing local handcraft training. The center is inspired by the vision and effort of the FFHICCA, a Honduran NGO who under the direction of its founder Humberto Sanchez Esq. who has personally donated the land and part of the materials for the project. The FFHICCA project attracted the support of IIFWP because of its shared vision for social and spiritual uplift and its plan to be a base to coordinate NGO activities in Honduras.
Additional work drew our participants into the national capital of Tegucigalpa. Our volunteers formed a special work team of and went to the National Hospital in Tegucigalpa in response to the hospital director, Dr. Rigoberto Cuellar call for emergency help. At the hospital our team of volunteers was given the responsibility of removing large amounts of medical equipment which was taking space in the clinic rooms, halls and even the stairs of all seven floors of the building. The equipment location made a fire hazard out of the hospital and was endangering the patients and staff. The efforts made by our young volunteers were well recognized and greatly appreciated by all the medical personnel of the hospital.
An additional service of the Friendship America’s project took place in an area often neglected by others, work with prisoners. Cooperating with a local NGO and the Minister of Prisons, Dr. Francisco Amador and local RYS alumni we helped organize a medical team to go to the National Jail to give dental service to the prisoners. RYS attended the doctors in a variety of ways, which included cleaning their tools, holding the head of the patients. We also had the chance to spread some joy through sharing our musical gifts through singing, playing guitars and keyboards with the jail band. One might quote the Elvis Presley song and say "We had a real jail house rock". The prisoners were especially appreciative of having a chance to be with such energetic and happy group of people.
National Military College
In the 1980’s the nation of Honduras suffered from civil unrest that resulted in the death of many civilians. It is a sign of the profound social changes marked by healing and reconciliation the nation is going through that in Honduras a new attitude reconciliation and cooperation is emerging within the nations’ armed forces. This attitude is being marked by concrete changes in the way the military trains and works.
On the foundation of these in the relationship between the civil society and the military our community of peacemakers were welcomed and hosted as special guests of the new Honduras Military Forces. During the project we stayed at their newly constructed Technical Army School and were provided with housing, meals and transportation. This school is the Honduras equivalent of the United States Military Academy at West Point.
In a substantial way, Col. Jorge Rodas Gamero, Col. Jorge Montañola and Col. Julio Cesar Avila were the core actors who hosted us at the Technical Army School and modeled the new policy of cooperation aimed at bringing greater cooperation with the civil society.
On a personal note, when the Project Director, Mario Salinas initially approached Col. Avila, he was so impressed by the scope of the programs vision that he asked if his two daughters could participate. He worked to organize a special tour of the whole school and proudly let us know how they are training their students in many different fields more related to the civil life than military life. Our participants and staff had many opportunities to exchange with the military students especially through sports and a cultural program.
Our days had woven into them various educational programs, which served to help broaden the understanding of culture and life. These talks were enriched by academics and experts like Dr. German Espinal who spoke about The History of Honduras; Dr Francisco Amador who spoke on "The Crisis of the Honduras' Youth" and also a session with the International UN Volunteer representative Lic. Lucio Sade on the topic "The UN, Voluntarism and Youth" which gave reinforcement to the ideas of a globalization of service.
Our project concluded with a time for personal and collective reflection and commitment, which was framed by the beauty of the Caribbean coast of Honduras in Tela. Everyone spirits were lifted as we experienced directly a close harmonious relation to nature. As an inter-religious project the surroundings helped gave each of us a wonderful opportunity to find God looking high at the blue skies while reflecting on the wisdom of the saints looking at the beauty of nature and creation that was surrounding us.
We want to thank the parents of all the participants for raising up such wonderful sons and daughters who demonstrated strength for work and a vision for life. Their example has helped established a good example for the youth Honduras. An additional note of thanks to the parental presence and love of Mr. Ron Pappalardo (USA) and Alixe Ikehata (Germany); the strong spirit of Kelly Henzl (USA), the sweetness of heart and unconditional service of Julie Prenchtel (USA) and the leadership of Daniel and Chung Hee Bessell (Germany/Guatemala). Together we are greatly enriched for being part of this movement to create a culture of peace, a movement that can and will make a positive difference in the way we care for others.