Unification News for August 1996
Teenagers Serve in Haiti
by Clive Wright-NYC
The International Relief Friendship Foundation conducted its first service project for Unification Church high school students this summer in Haiti with 21 teenagers ages 14 to 17. Staff and students gathered at the Unification Church's headquarters in New York for orientation on June 29, 1996 before leaving for Haiti the following day. This began a week of what, for many of the students, was their first serious experience in living for the sake of others.
The project site was the Haitian Academy located just outside of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Directed by Dr. Marie Rene, the Academy serves as both a boarding school for students of Haitian parents as well as a day school for local Haitian children. The school covers grades 1 through 12 and recently began its university courses. The Academy also plans to develop a clinic for the surrounding rural community. Dr. Rene's vision is to create a premier educational facility that will fulfill the needs of the Haitian people. Included in this vision is a view of education that is not just intellectual but also spiritual, moral, and ethical as well.
The work schedule for the teenagers centered mainly around the preparation of a basketball court and landscaping. A level foundation needed to be laid so that the concrete could be poured. This sounds simple, but it took a lot of hard work and persistence. The landscape is unforgiving, rocky, and hard and so it took all the students' energy to prepare the field.
Our day began early in the morning and ended in the early afternoon so as to avoid the hot July sun of Haiti. Even then, we quickly learned how hot Haiti can get. All of us developed a profound appreciation for water and breezes. Throughout the project, the students learned that service projects sometime require a great deal of ingenuity - especially when tools are scarce. The teens learned creative and unique uses for such items as rakes, snow shovels and dust pans.
However, the project wasn't all work. The program enabled the volunteers to meet other Haitian students, learn about the culture, and see first hand the beauty of the Haitian countryside. Each afternoon, a different activity was planned. On some days, they were able to play sports and talk with some of the boarding school students who were in residence. One memorable afternoon was spent hiking up the mountain that was near the school. What we thought was going to be a 2-3 hour hike became a 5 hour hike. However, the view from the top was worth every agonizing minute of it!
Living at the Academy, the students experienced facets of Haitian culture that contrasted sharply with their daily experience in America. Certain comforts and luxuries that are taken for granted at home were missing. Conserving water, for instance, was something we learned from the first day. Electricity was another. Missing also were traditional foods such as hamburgers, potato chips and foods that are the usual fare of American teenagers. However, we quickly forgot about the differences because of the loving care of the kitchen staff and the Academy staff. Of course, the succulent fresh mangoes also helped!
When the time came to return to home, some of the students were sad to leave because of the bonds they had formed with Haiti and the Haitian people. While the volunteers had a lot of souvenirs from their project - rashes, cuts and bruises, blisters, sunburns, and mosquito bites the size of Mt. Olympus - they also took back with them an experience that enabled them to personally feel God's heart. Not only did they learn about the problems of Haiti, but they learned some other valuable things as well. First, they learned to recognize that everyone has something to offer to God, regardless of their circumstances. The young volunteers also discovered their own strengths and limitations. They also developed a deeper appreciation for their own lives and blessings. Finally, they discovered the power that comes from working together as a loving and supportive community.
IRFF hopes to take future groups of teenage and young adult volunteers on similar projects. Together with retreats and workshops, service projects such as the one in Haiti are the best way for the next generations to really understand who we are and to recognize the need to genuinely live for the sake of others. At least for this group, when they tell their friends about how they spent their summer vacation, no one will be falling asleep!
Clive Wright is a summer intern at IRFF HQ in NYC.
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