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 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).
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.
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 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.