IIFWP Convocation 2002 - Young Ambassadors for Peace Mark the International Day of Peace in Harlem

by Rev. John Gehring

On September 21st an Ambassadors for Peace initiative took place in Harlem, New York with the support of twenty volunteers from the Religious Youth Service (RYS), Service for Peace (SFP), and the Martin Luther King Community Center. Volunteers from New Jersey and New York, and as far away as Washington DC joined hands with local community members in cleaning, planting and beautifying both vegetable and flower gardens in the Harlem Housing Project. This joint cooperation was achieved in an effort to support the U.N. International Day of Peace. The Ambassadors for Peace initiative is a project of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP).

Last year, the General Assembly of the UN resolved that beginning in 2002, the International Day of Peace should be observed on the 21st of September each year. The purpose of this special day is that government and non-governmental organizations observe a day of global cease-fire and non-violence. The IIFWP wished to support this peace initiative in a substantial manner and chose to do a service project in Harlem as a way to solidify the spirit of the resolution.

Harlem in many ways is the capital of African American culture. In the past decade Harlem has been on the rise and it has the potential to be a model community. The work in Harlem sought and succeeded in bringing Black, White, Asian and Hispanic participants joyfully together with a heart of service that yearns for the day we all can celebrate peace together.

Messages of support and appreciation of the project came from Muslim and Christian communities. The need for such projects is clear to all, especially those that live in the extended shadow of what was once the Twin Towers. The sincere work of the volunteers was later reported to attendees of the IIFWP conference, "Convocation 2002: Governance and the Role of Religion in Peace and Security," being held that weekend at the Hilton Hotel in New York City. Over 200 world leaders representing 75 nations convened to commemorate the International Day of Peace and discuss the creation of an Interreligious Council at the United Nations.

Putting the Project Together

The project coordinator was Ms. Juanita Louis Pierre who is an activist that has lived in and served the people of Harlem in a variety of ways during the past two decades. Juanita reached out to the local community to find an appropriate project and environment to work. Juanita's choice of project was excellent for it brought us in contact and cooperation with local residents Mrs. Kitchen and Mr. Isaac and others who were essential ingredients in making this project a success.

A garden in a densely populated housing project provides a link to soil and the sight and smells of nature. Gardens are important to a community, as they serve to counteract the imbalances created by concrete and asphalt. In this environment a garden is much more then the sum of the vegetation grown.

Mr. Isaac, a tall and sturdy man who looked much younger then his 76 years, uses both his creativity and his studies in agriculture to annually introduce urban youth to a wide variety of crops such as cotton, lettuce, rhubarb, corn, tomatoes and assorted types of potatoes and lettuce. He volunteered much of his time to the vegetable garden but the struggle to keep his garden ahead of the strangling growth of weeds was getting more difficult with each passing year.

Mr. Isaac reminded us of the purpose of our visit with a few simple words, "I am so glad to know that there are people like you who come and freely give your hard work and effort. Your group must return for the spring planting season in April."

In response to his heart felt request, we will return and continue taking part in the process of life and growth. Within the framework of gardening and beautifying, we are creating links of concern, respect and affection that will also bear fruit in the season of harvest.

RYS and Service for Peace are organizations that acknowledge that prevention of future conflict greatly depends upon today's youth developing the capacity to resolve resentments, enmity and misunderstandings that so often lie at the heart of conflict. Therefore the IIFWP through its Ambassadors for Peace, the RYS and Service for Peace will continue hosting work projects in honor of the International Day of Peace to further highlight service, or "love in action" as a corrective to conflict.