Honduras Peace Park Project - Phase I part 1

Cosponsored by FFWPU New Jersey and Northern California

and PeaceIN – a project of UPF

 December 28 – January 10

Theme: Una Sola America – There’s Only One America

Goal: To create a park designed and built by young people from North, South and Central America, representing their solidarity.

History of the Project

Many years ago, UPF founder, Rev. Moon spoke about building Peace Zones on the borders of nations.  My mind caught this idea and I began to think that though it might be difficult to create an entire “Border of Peace,” perhaps we could build “Parks of Peace” on the borders where nations, even conflicting nations could engage in cultural exchange – music, dance, visual arts, sports, a conference center, etc. I thought at that time that these parks should be built by young people from those bordered nations so that the park would be a reflection or expression of their solidarity.

For years, I spoke about this vision and created art/service projects around that vision but I never actually got close to creating the park.  Finally, last year I made a trip to Honduras (my lottery nation) together with the national leader of Honduras, Mario Salinas, to look for a place to establish this park. To our delight, the mayor of Tela, Honduras offered four properties from which we chose a small property to create our first park. The theme of the park is “Una Sola America” – “There’s Only One America.”

This location was significant to us in that it is in Honduras, which is at the center of Central America, which is the center of the Americas. The property we were given was a small park, generally in disrepair and otherwise locally known as El Way Park – The Way Park. In Spanish, the meaning is The Y Park because it has a triangular shape since it is situated at a Y – or forked intersection – the meeting of five neighborhoods, and was the rail station stop that connected the country’s major port cities.

The Project

The project was attended by 17 participants from North, Central and South America, who gathered first in the colonial city of Comayagua where we were housed by the mayor of the city in the Hotel Plaza Futura. There our orientation was held covering topics of problem solving, creative solutions and leadership. We also visited local sites including the Catedral de Comayagua bell tower and clock – the second oldest working clock in the world. The mayor arranged a city tour for us on seven-seat bicycles. Meals were prepared in a local home so that our North American participants could experience the local culture first-hand.

Since the project dates included New Year’s Eve, we joined the crowd in Central Park Square to ring in 2017 with music and dance, jugglers and stilt walkers, and lights and selling stands. It was a delight to see two of our participants, who were part of the local entertainment, play in a samba band. At midnight, we joined in the countdown to cheer as firecrackers sounded all over the city and fireworks lit the sky.  

On New Year’s Day, we boarded our bus for Tela, our worksite city. Accommodations were very near the beach; therefore, we were soothed each night and woken each morning by the sounds of the rolling Caribbean waves, as well as by the sounds of the many tropical birds typical to the area.

The park we were given was littered and somewhat dilapidated.  Community President Don Rafael was impressively invested in his community and was excited to refurbish the park.  From the first day, the team took measurements and also solicited ideas from the community to find out what hopes and expectations they had.  Don Rafael and others in the community quickly caught the vision of the project and invested themselves in the work with the same or greater fervor than even our participants.  We were not on-site for more than 10 minutes when a little lady approached us with a cold bottle of cola and a package of cookies, and also offered her home for toilet breaks.

We worked diligently from morning until early evening to clean and prepare the area for our project activities, and by evening the space already appeared quite respectable.  That evening, taking into account our vision and the needs of the community, our two teams met separately to finalize their proposed designs and, to our surprise, the designs were almost identical. They included mosaicking the benches surrounding the area, painting the road around the park, building a gazebo in the center to host community gatherings, entertainment, festivals, and or even marriage ceremonies. Five paths were proposed to lead away from the gazebo representing the five communities surrounding the park, and otherwise dividing the park into five distinctly landscaped areas to accommodate different activities. The vision for the park is that the five areas will eventually be landscaped with shrubs, grass and flowers.  One area is reserved as a children’s play area. Finally, an old dead palm tree at one corner of the park was encased in cement to become the park sign – standing as a concrete obelisk declaring the park name on two sides, in English and Spanish: “El Way Peace Park”, Parque de Paz El Way, and proclaiming the unity of the Americas on the other two sides “Only One America” and “Una Sola America.”

Participants worked on the project each of nine days until 4:00pm when we returned to our lodging for either free time or, for special trips, which included horseback riding on the beach and a trip to Punta Sal (involving a speedboat tour, hiking in the rainforest, swimming and snorkeling, and a meal cooked on the beach).

Work completed

During this project the participants, together with the community, were able to do much of the foundational work – cleaning and clearing the park, repairing the broken roadway around the park and liberating the curb of six inches of hardened, accumulated dirt. They also removed a large broken bench along with three palm trees.  The previously mentioned obelisk was created to introduce the park and three benches were mosaicked. Because two of our work days were rained out, we were unable to complete the mosaic work on the obelisk and the painting of the road. Therefore, three participants from a nearby town will be returning to the project area to complete this work together with the community during this next week.

Final visit

Before leaving the country, Mario Salinas and I returned to EL Way Park to survey the work done by the returning 3 participants.  To our surprise they and the community members were excitedly working to finish the mosaic on the obelisk by flashlight, because it was already dark outside.  The swing set had been erected, and one inspired community member offered to donate additional playground equipment for the park.  The group was able to complete most, but not all, of the road design since they had run out of paint.

The following day the community gathered for a celebration and dedication of the children’s play area.  About 50 children were on-site with the adult community members. Edgar Castillo, one of the participants, was interviewed on national TV.

In Conclusion

In the past, when we have gone into a community and done a project, even actively working with the community members, our efforts were appreciated but the local people were not greatly motivated to continue these constructive efforts initiated from outside their community. But, in our current project in Tela, only a few of us came from the U.S. working with other young Honduran participants and we were able to considerably inspire the local community members to participate substantially to the point where they felt strongly motivated to continue making restoration efforts even after we had departed, thus, one of the exceptional things about this project is that the local residents were inspired to own the vision of the park and to continue to work enthusiastically and tenaciously to complete phase one.  The local citizens truly owned the project.

Now, plans are being made to take another group to Tela in August to continue the project. Projects are tentatively scheduled for two times a year for the next 3 years or until the park’s completion.

Last Blogs

Day 10: January 7th, 2017

Today was our adventure day. We spent the day going by boat to Punta Sal. There we went on a hike in the rainforest, swam through a tunnel in the ocean, went snorkeling, and had lunch at the beach. It was an exciting day for all us! We have two more work days before we conlcude this trip. Depending on the weather we may or may not finish painting the sidewalks. 

Day 11: Sunday January 8th

The weather changed today.  Heavy rains poured down, and the sea swelled and it was impossible to work on the park.  So, we spent the day practicing  our performance, which we are planning to present to the community; and doing reflective activities to share and review our experiences.

Despite the weather we  made the most of the day.  Some participants even went swimming in the pool despite the storm.  In fact, it was warmer in the pool then it was outside.

Day 12: January 9th

The heavy rains let up today long enough for us to go to the park for a final time to polish the mosaic benches.  As we finished our work the rain began again - great timing!  The participants felt some disappointment because we were unable to paint the sidewalk and mosaic the obelisk however, we made a plan for two of the Honduran participants to return next week and work together with the community to paint the sidewalk and finish the work on the obelisk.

 

We concluded the project with a community gathering at the Cultural Center not far from the park. There we performed a song titled "Colores de Esperanza" (Colors of Hope) and we danced to the song "Happy" by Pharrell.  It was a very joyful event.  The community people and project members took many photos together within a frame we made for the event. Others sang and danced with us creating a strong sense of solidarity. Everyone had the "time of their lives."

In the evening we gathered for two more reflective activities followed by a written evaluation of the project. Finally we participated in a flower exchange as we thanked one another for their contribution ito the project.  The next morning a short graduation ceremony was held on the bus with the handing out of certificates.

 

Pictures can be found on the Facebook page: "Honduras PeaceIN Peace Park Project" 

The link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-2vsBvFq8c

 

Day 8

January 5th, 2017

The benches have been a great success to gather the community together. We got more colored tiles and began filling in the surroundings of the designs we made yesterday. It took the whole day to work. People were passing by and helping out putting pieces of ceramic on the benches to create the designs. Children came to help and some stayed the entire day. More people came asking and commenting on what we are doing. One TV reporter came for an interview today and another returned to update his report. In the mean time part of the group worked on building an obelisk, a large rectangular form, that was put around a dead tree. Cement was poured into the form in order to create a rectangular pillar which we will put a mosaic design later this week. 

In the late afternoon we each got to go horseback riding on the beach right by the hotel we are staying at. For some of the participants it was the first time in a horse and others not. This project has provided first time opportunities for many of the participants. 

Day 7

January 4th, 2017

Day 7

Our designs for the mosaic were finally put into action. We chose three different designs to put on three of the benches. To start off we had to sand down all the dirt from the cement benches to make it easier to stick on the ceramic pieces. We drew the designs on the benches using chalk. One design consists of a dove and the words ''Peace'' and ''Paz'' on either side of the dove. The other says, ''No hoy Camino para la Paz. La Paz es el Camino'' which means ''There is no way to peace. Peace is the way''. On the third bench there is a design of circles on the bench. Once that was complete we broke the ceramic tiles and placed them on the benches. We only placed the white tiles for the dove and letters. The tiles we have are white and different shades of brown. More of the community came today that were interested in our project. Many mentioned how grateful they are for the work we are doing. Children would walk around in curiosity. A little boy was on a small bike and his parents told him to say thank you. Two little girls who are sisters came up to watch us while also helping us place the tiles on the benches. They were very excited and eager to help. They came the previous days as well watching us and interested in what we were doing. Tomorrow we will continue filling in the designs with the colored tiles with the help of the local community. It's great to see the community coming together to help. They are all very impressed by our work because no one has been investing into the park for a long time. 

Day 6

January 3rd, 2017

 

Today's project was to clear out the dirt in the cracks of the cement. It was tough work using a hammer and chisel to break the cement. We spent the entire morning hammering away preparing the foundation for painting and mosaics. Two more TV stations came to visit to get interviews. Interest in our project is increasing. When we first arrived at the park there was little activity. But now since we have been working here people are gathering around the park inspired by the activites. Faces light up when we say, ''there is only one America' - any devision between the Americas exists in our minds, as fear or misunderstanding. One man came out to say thank you for your help. We responded saying ''we are working together with you, we are in this together'''Una Sola America'' (This is only one America), Neighbors came today with a tray of sandwhiches, another came with coke and water, and yet another brought a bag of bananas for us. People here are warm and welcoming. A lady from the mayors office came to visit after our work was complete for the day. She took us for a tour of a museum of Tela, explaining it's founding and develpment. After work we were again able to enjoy the beach and pool. Our day ended in shared reflection on our impact in this community and with prayer. 

Day 5

Jan 2nd, 2017

The first day working was focused on cleaning up the park. We gathered all the garbage, weeds, and newspapers around the park using brooms and rakes. It took us the entire morning to clear the majority of the trash into big garbage bags. On the sides and cracks of the side walk there was a lot of extra dirt which we broke apart using shovels and a pickaxe. The community came out to help us and also offer us drinks and snack! We showed our blueprint of the park to Raphael Ruiz, the leader of the community, which he really liked and agreed with. While we were there, two TV stations came to interview Carol Pobanz and Mario Salinas the leaders of this project. We will start tomorrows work by putting mosaic designs on the benches and painting the side walk.

The rest of the afternoon we spent swimming, building sand casatles, and playing soccer on the beach. Excitment was filled in the air as we laughed and enjoyed each others company. In the evening we spent time creating designs for the mosaic benches around the park. There will be around 15 cement benches around the perimeter of the park. Overall it was a great way to start our project working at the park with the local community.

Day 4

Day 4: January 1, 2017

 

Comayagua to Tela

 

Traveling to Tela was a bumpy ride. We were able to get a bus donated to use for this trip that can fit over 30 people yet our group consists of only 15. The bus ride was a long 4 ½ hour drive but we were constantly surrounded by beautiful scenery and made the most out of it enjoying our trip together, taking pictures, listening to music, and sleeping. We passed by many mountains and hills, as well as a banana tree farm which looked like it would go on forever. Along the way we made multiple stops to stretch our legs and use the bathroom.

            We finally reached Tela, Honduras in the afternoon where we met with Raphael Ruiz, the president of the small town in Tela called ‘El Way’ (The Way). We met at the park where we will do our project. While we were there we measured the perimeter of the park and brainstormed ideas on how to construct and design the park. This park is at the center of the town connecting to five different neighborhoods. The idea is that this park can be the central meeting place for the town in order to bring them together.

            In the evening, we all came together to share the ideas we came up with and separated into two groups to format a blueprint of the park. It will take a 3-year period to construct the entire park which will consist of mosaic benches and floor, gazebo, garden, and a playground for the children. Tomorrow we will get started with cleaning up, prepping, and finalizing the designs for the mosaics.

            The park represents bringing people together from different neighborhoods but at the same time it is representing the solidarity of the Americas.

Day 3

December 31st, 2016

New Years Eve in the City Town Square of Comayagua, Honduras

                What a great way to end the year in Central America, sharing culture, and making many new friends. We began the day watching a video titled Everday Creativity which went through 7 steps of creativity and problem solving. It gave us a new perspective to look at what creativity is and how to explore and develop our creativity for this project.

                Year End in Honduras is huge like in every country, however Honduras huge is very warm and personal. Two of our participants were performing for the Comayagua celebration in a Samba Band. Throughout the night there was music and dancing, jugglers and stilt walkers,food and a lot of laughter for the celebration. Edgars mom, Bianca, prepared an outstanding buffet for dinner consisting of tamalles, vegetables, tortillas, ribs, and chicken. On the way to the town square our group made stops to visit homes displaying their nativity scenes and ´old guy´ mannequins (ano nievo).

                As the year came to a close there were lots of noises and lights. As the countdown began excitement filled the air. The clock struck 12 midnight and the bells in the church began to ring, fireworks blalsted off into the sky, lights were blinding, spot light designs moved across the church, people cheered and offered New Year greetings. The air was filled with joy hugging one another in celebration for the New Year. People danced and laughed amongst friends and family. It was a pleasant sight to see and a wonderful expereince to be a part of all together. The mayor of Comayagua, Carlos Miranda Canales, invited us to the city towl hall for socialization and food. He has been working and investing into the youth here in the community, including our group.

                It was a festive night for us all enjoying each others company and ending the year on a good note! ¡Feliz ano nuevo! Happy New Year!

Day 2

Day 2 December 30th, 2016

Comayagua, Honduras

Today we spent the day involved in a variety of activities to strenthen out teams ability to work together and unite more as a group in preperation for the peace park project. We started the day hearing about how the project came about.  The morning was spent doing a problem solving and brainstorming activity. The mayor of Comayagua who was inspired by the idea to build a Peace Park has been helping us make it a reality. A lot of the people here in the community are helping us make the dream happen through various donations. It is great to see everyone contributing to make this project..

The afternoon was spent exlporing the central historic town in Comayagua. We first visited the famous clock called the Antiguo Reloj De La Catedral (The Old Cathedral Clock). It is the second oldest clock in the world and was constructed in the year of 1100. It was a great sight to see the clock and the great view the clock tower provided us. The next exciting activity we did was going on a bike tour. It was a bicycle built for seven - 7 bikes all attached to each other which made it an even more thrilling expereince. It was the first time the city ever offered this experience to anyone. We all had to work together to make the bikes move since they were all connected. Many of us were laughing and screaming as we road around on the streets. We thought we would fall off because of the many quick and sharp turns we made but we did not! Along the way we stopped at different historic sights. It was definitely a memorable experience for all of us!

Our PeaceIN Peace Park Project – phase 1 has successfully began:

December 29th, 2016

Participants from North America traveled to the colonial city of Comayagua as local participants traveled from the south meeting for the first time as a group. The country is now preparing for the New Years Celebration. One of the ways that is observed is the making of the human mannequin that is called the “Ano Viejo” (all year old guy). This mannequin is filled with fireworks that we look forward to seeing go off on New Years Eve! There is a bustle in the city as people are preparing for the year to end.

We began our orientation today getting to know one another by breaking the ice with games and coloring the mosaic on the back of the project T-shirts.  A group from north and central America agreed to dismiss the idea of borders and divisions from our minds and to adjust our thinking to the theme of ‘Una Sola America” (Only One America).