Honduras Peace Park Project - Phase I part 2


At the beginning of 2017 the UPF PeaceIN UNA SOLA AMERICA / ONLY ONE AMERICA Project began with participants from the USA, Brazil and Honduras. The hope was to instill a vision in the hearts and minds of the local community, as well as in the hearts of inter-American youth who created this “visible seed through art” – a vision to promote brotherhood, solidarity and cooperation among all peoples of the Americas (North, South, Central and including the Caribbean) to interact as one nation and as one people.

When we arrived in the city of Tela, the small community park offered to us by the municipality was seemingly inactive, and appeared to be neglected, greatly in need of care and repair. Little by little the PeaceIN volunteers in cooperation with community members, worked together to clean the area and to formulate a plan for its future development.

With hard work, creativity, some ingenuity, a bit of color and some artistic investment, we began to see the area gradually transforming into a beautiful park.

During Phase I in January and Phase II in August, the whole working area was prepared, an obelisk was built, the benches were variously repaired, replaced dressed and/or painted. The sidewalks were also painted – becoming a “quotation for peace” runway, a three-swing swing set was installed for the children, and a gazebo base was erected to be finished during another visit in 2018.

Though the community was not financially well off and the municipality could not afford to contribute any funding, after our last visit in August, the mayor proposed to build a tree house which is now finished. In addition the proposed pathways throughout the park have all been paved, and the artificial grass carpet for the playground was installed. Also, the park is now fully illuminated for nighttime activity. All of this is thanks to the efforts of the mayor of Tela, Mario Fuentes, together with the support of private institutions that have agreed to contribute to this cause for the benefit of the five neighborhoods around the El Way Park, in the city of Tela, on the Atlantic coast of Honduras.

With our partners collaboration, we are able to witness more happy faces as a result of everyone's contributions, support and prayers.

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 together with a friend, Mario Salinas, to look for a place to establish this park. To our delight, the mayor of Tela, Honduras suggested the use of 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.

Honduras Peace Park Project – Phase 1 Part 2

Cosponsored by FFWPU and WFWP of New Jersey and PeaceIN – a project of UPF/USA and Honduras

August 7 – 17, 2017

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

El Way Peace Park was begun January 1, 2017 as part one of phase one of the One America Park project. The theme of the park remains the same, “Una Sola America” – “There’s Only One America.” One special characteristic of this project is that it has a feeling of settlement and a long-term view, since we are returning to the same worksite over a three-year period. To our joy when we returned this time, we found that the local community had continued the upkeep on the park. There is almost no time in the day that children are not playing on the swings, and it was reported to us that many more people visit the park than ever before.

Thanks goes to FFWPU New Jersey and UPF/USA and Honduras for their continued support for this project. Very special thanks to Women’s Federation for World Peace New Jersey who through their donation supported, either fully or partially the participant fee of the Latin American young adults. Finally, thanks to all individuals who supported through their generous donations affirming their solidarity with others in the Americas who are working for a peaceful and cooperative tomorrow.

The Project

This Part 2 project was attended by 14 participants from North and Central America, and was a full immersion into the local community. Our hotel stay was in Tela, and the local community provided support, including meals either in a local home or otherwise transported to our hotel. Community couple, Don Daniel and his wife Iris, with support from the rest of their family, became like parents to the group, treating us as an extension of their own family. Since our project was short, the orientation was held during the arrival evening and first work-day morning. Our orientation and daily inspirations covered developing creative solutions, becoming a public person and community building.

We began our days at 6:30am with daily inspirations, followed by breakfast, and then set out to work. Project Manager Macarry Hida-Pobanz kept the group on schedule and to task, resulting in the completion of all but one of our proposed projects, including the completion of the obelisk, painting of the sidewalks and peace quotes, mosaicking of two more benches, painting of the remaining benches (as a temporary covering until they can be mosaicked), painting of the swing set and whitewashing of the trees. One major goal for this project was the completion of the gazebo. Valiant efforts were made by all participants to complete this project, resulting in the digging and construction of the foundation. Because of unforeseen complications, the endeavor has been left to be continued by three Honduran participants in the following week to build the columns and to place the railings and roof.  Returning participants from previous projects, Edgar Castillo and Alejandro Castro deserve a shout-out for their excellent leadership as Art Director and Work Coordinator, respectively.

One curious aspect regarding this project is that in both Part 1 and Part 2, we encountered time challenges that were remedied by local participant and community support, resulting in a more sustainable and stronger community bond, whereas in the past, projects were usually supported by government institutions with no real community ownership. In both cases, we have shown our commitment to accomplish what the days did not allow us to do. In Part 1 we had three days of bad weather therefore we organized for local participants to stay to complete the work, and in Part 2 we had three days in which the municipality froze our advancement as we waited for an official decision to be made and, again, we overcame the problem since participants were ready to stay and finish the intended work together with the community. Thanks to donations gathered through GoFundMe, we had the budget to be able to offer more and to continue investing.

On our first day at the site we received an invitation from the Mayor’s office.  Though the Mayor was out of the country, his personal assistant Elba Portillo, and the Director of the Office Against Violence, Dayana Castro welcomed the new group of volunteers to the city. Dayana also invited our group to take part in a youth march and rally at the Central Park that she organized in celebration of the UN International Youth Day. As part of the continuation of the celebration, city youth participated in our project for a few hours.  TV reporters were on hand, and later in the evening, we were invited for an interview at the local TV station.

Community members and especially the children were always ready to help. Community President Don Rafael again made himself available to support and work together with our volunteers – always ready to direct the community families to bring, haul or provide what we needed.

Participants worked diligently on the project each of eight days until 4:00pm, when we returned to our lodging for free time and, later in the evening, for reflection on the day and planning for the next day. On our one free day, our group travelled to Rio Platano, Punta Izopo, for a kayak adventure into the mangroves, and then we later shared lunch and time at the beach.

In Conclusion

What most stands out about this project was the children. Of course, children are always at projects; they are the first to come out even before the mothers and fathers.  But the thing we most noticed this time was the willingness of the children to work hard. They are unaffected by the social opinion that often influences older youth. Unlike myself who did my first service project at 40 years old, and many of the volunteers who are in their early twenties, these children are being introduced to joyful service to others while they are 7, 8 and 9 years old. They eagerly dug and lugged, raked and painted, cut and cemented hour after hour. If we can instill a sense of joyful service in them now, what great men and women they will surely become in the future.

We are also grateful for the suggestion contributed by one of our community supporters to emphasize the visual representation of peace. Therefore, we painted the entire sidewalk with words of PEACE, characterizing the timeless desire of people of all ages to strive to create a world of peace. So, the park is educating whoever walks and stops to read the quotes about our vision of ONLY ONE AMERICA.

I look forward to returning to this community because it is not just another community – this community has made us a part of them. It is another home. Now, plans are being made to take another group to Tela in 2018 to continue the project. Projects are tentatively scheduled for two times a year for the next 2 years, culminating in an “Only One America” musical exchange and Youth Rally in 2019 (or 2020).