February the 6th was the last time we went to visit the St-Jude’s school for girls. We only planned to visit for an hour or so. Why bother visiting them for only one hour? Because there was one last thing we had to finish before we said our goodbyes, and that was to leave behind a lasting impact. How? Creating notebooks for each girl and writing a personal message in each. Therefore, the very morning of that day, we scrambled to gather magazine pictures, construction paper, and tape, to make more than 50 or more notebooks. It was quite a stressful task, but when our purpose was kept in mind, our creative juices started to flow. Later, at around 2 o’clock, we just barely finished the notebooks during the bus ride, and walked into the school to meet the girls. A little notebook ceremony was held ‘GPA style’, and each girl was able to receive a notebook with a personal message that they can keep as long as they want, to remember our visit, and our care, hopes, and love for them. After this day, I personally felt glad that we chose to take this extra time from our schedule to leave something behind that would not just disappear after we leave, but last forever. I believe it was quite an important event for our whole group.
Sometimes, God works through simpler and softer actions. People often look towards bold and external actions for change, but through even ‘quieter ’actions like singing, there is still the hope in bringing about internal change. On January 27th, everyone dressed in our Generation Peace Serves t-shirts and presentable jeans for a single reason: to sing for the people present at the re-opening ceremony of St. Joseph’s Elementary School.
The school, standing as the oldest on the island of Trinidad, provides education for the children whose families cannot afford proper schooling. 95% of the kids come from single-parent homes and some with an abusive background; a lot of them come for the breakfast and lunch provided, rather than the desire to learn. With such a difficult situation present, it was hard to believe that our songs would provide any impact for the future of the children or the people there. However, Uncle John (an alumni core staff of STF and GPA), told me of a beautiful experience he had with one of the young students that he and our blogger Trinton oppa met last year.
The student, a boy named Kevan, really loved the participants of last year when they spent two days painting the school. So when he saw Uncle John today, he dashed up to him and begged to meet the GPA group. Of course, Uncle John gladly took him to the participants, and when Kevan recognized Trinton oppa from last year, he excitedly ran up to meet him-like ‘finding your long lost older brother again’ (Uncle John’s words.) But what brought most joy to the boy was that Trinton oppa was able to recognize him. If something seemingly insignificant, like playing with a child can bring that kind of joy and lasting memory to one’s heart, perhaps our voices could have brought a small light to another.
Tomorrow, we are going to St. Jude’s school for girls who have been placed there because they’ve been rejected and honestly- a lot of us are really nervous to start this project. Many of us doubt ourselves that we can actually do something for them, especially because of the lack of experience that these girls have gone through. But at the same time, if we can be open to the idea that we can even give some kind of light to the girls, maybe God can work through and show them something. Who knows. After all, life is made up of small acts.
On January 25th, our project with the community of Lady Hailes Avenue was a completely different experience. The first major difference? The physical labor required to tackle the task was door to door Girls Scout style surveys, and playing sports with the people of Lady Hailes.
The first sight that greeted GPA when the bus pulled into the community was row after row of faded apartment buildings with their brightly painted verandas, and the children and adults occupying the front steps of their home as well as the parking lots. We were immediately welcomed by the KV Lifeline Foundation, who then ushered us into a room and explained our mission.
Basically, the GPA participants, armed with our trusty manila envelopes filled with blank surveys (loaded each with roughly 50 questions), razor sharp pencils and blinding grins, were to infiltrate every apartment blocks and cover as many people as possible to participate in the surveys. It was like fundraising all over again, but less intense in emotional distress; the residents were surprisingly friendly and open to their share in what they believed could be improved to the community, as well as what they individually could do to help if the opportunity called-whether they liked Lady Hailes of not.
While waiting for the other teams to conquer their share of apartment blocks, the brothers and sisters who already finished crowded in front of a block and limed away; some taught the children romping about how to dance while others searched for ways to kill time. Something interesting that quite a few of us noticed, was that there was a mini grocery store on the top floor, and the people hanging around underneath would shout out to the family living there what they wanted. The customer would then place the appropriate cash amount into a makeshift soda bottle bucket and the ‘worker’ would reel it in with a string, put the change and their order into the bottle bucket and lower it back down to the customer.
After enjoying a delicious lunch and finishing up interviewing all the available residents, the KV Lifeline Foundation arranged for GPA a football (or soccer) game with the entire Lady Haile community, which took place on their relatively small basketball court. With the hilarious Victor being our commenter, the GPA team (starring our blogger Trinton, staff Francis oppa, as well as a few young Lady Haile men) played it out with Lady Haile’s own football team. It was very moving to see how such a simple sport could bring the players closer together and generate unity and brotherly love between the players, who had just met for their first time.
After much fierce action, eventually the GPA team won, but by then the victory didn’t hold much importance; everyone was just having a good time. The spectators flocked to the court, and everyone danced together to enjoy each other’s company. When the sky began to dim, we all gathered hand in hand to offer a prayer, as well as “We are the World”, before parting and saying our goodbyes to the resident. While making our way to the bus, one elderly member of the KV Lifeline Foundation expressed his thanks to our help and how, ‘this moment right now is what they’ll always remember of GPA.’
That actually brought up a memory of how, throughout fundraising, our captains would constantly remind us that, “it’s not about how long you spend time with the people, but how much heart you can give to them in the moment.” It was so true when you looked back and saw the children dancing with GPA while the adults quietly smiled nearby. Yeah, maybe we weren’t spending seven hours each day digging trenches and mixing cement, but the short time we spent with the Haile community, is the one day they’ll remember, someone decided to take time to care about their community when no one else did. And that kind of change is something time cannot replace.
January 20th was our first day of going out to a community and starting a service project. Before that, we had our daily Hoon Dok Hae study of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s autobiography; “As a Peace Loving Global Citizen”. I’m mentioning this because I think what we read and discussed definitely impacts our day. The main subjects of our discussions were the different issues of our world that concern us. I personally really found that studying this helped me find the bigger picture, thereby permitting me to understand what kind of heart I want to have as I served Trinidad and Tobago. Therefore, I could feel that I’m not just here to work for the specific communities we are visiting, but I’m here to work and fight for a vision of a better, more peaceful world. With that kind of mindset, we set off to the community of Mon Repo. Before starting our work, a member of the community named Williams brought us on a little tour of what the past groups from GPA have accomplished. The best part of that tour wasn’t really seeing the different projects of our predecessors, but actually meeting and greeting people from the Mon Repo community who were present in the past years and saw the past GPAers. We were very warmly welcomed by these people, and it just goes to show that our work there lifts the hearts of the people who live with very few reasons to have hope.
By now, you probably want to hear a little about what we actually did. Our project’s goal is to help solve the tension between Mon Repo and the neighboring community by creating an internet café and setting up many banners with messages of peace and hope. The café will be open for anyone from either community to come and relax, or hang out (‘lime’ as the Trinidadians would say). We are hoping this can lift the spirit and morality of the two communities. Therefore, we did our best to clean up the building being used for the café, prepare the yard for the creation of a peace garden, and also prepare and paint the poles that we will use for the banners. It wasn’t the most difficult labor, but as Harumi Miyakawa, a third year member of GPA, said: ‘every stroke of paint represents my hope for peace in this community’. We certainly had a good time with each other and the members of the Rose foundation, but more importantly, we finally kicked off our 3 week service project in the beautiful country of Trinidad and Tobago!
January 19th was our first full day here in the beautiful island country of Trinidad. After arriving last night to Port of Spain, we were picked up by our bus driver, Sam, in his air conditioned bus, considering the humidity of the place. Once we arrived at the church center, we were greeted by a few members of the ROSE Foundation, who had prepared us dinner to satisfy us from our long day of travel.
The next morning we woke up to do our first Hoon Dook Hae overseas, had breakfast, and were then driven to the beautiful Maracas Beach (Trinidad’s most popular one). On the way there we passed through many neighborhoods of Port of Spain, once we left the city we climbed into the mountains, where we drove on narrow winding roads with high drop offs, and spectacular views of the land and Caribbean. When we finally reached the beach we jumped right in to the warm Caribbean waters. It was quite fun riding the waves, especially the huge ones. For lunch we were treated to a local delicacy called Bake n’ Shark, a sandwich with fried shark, vegetables, and different hot sauces. I will admit that I sacrificed my vegetarianism for this unique meal. All I can say is that it pretty much tasted just like what I remember fish to taste like, other than that it was tasty, there I said it.
Afterwards we returned to the church center, where we had an orientation/introduction from the head of the ROSE Foundation Sterling Belgrove, where he talked passionately about his country, and for the fact that we came here to make an impact on his country.
Well, this is only the beginning of our adventures here. Tomorrow is when we really buckle down to do service work. Stay tuned folks, we’ll be updating you every few days. Until next time Mansei!
ARLINGTON, Va, November 28, 2011 – A few days before Thanksgiving, three Washington, DC area young people traveled to the Caribbean to contribute their enthusiasm and talents in public service work there.
James Abendroth, volunteer.
James Abendroth, volunteer.
Nineteen year-old James Abendroth from Bowie, Maryland, and Rachael Boothby, 18, of Annapolis, along with other volunteers and local young people, are helping to renovate the St. Barbs Community Center on the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, in cooperation with the Ministry of Community Development and the Rose Foundation.
Cynthia Jones, an 18 year old aspiring physical therapist from Gambrills, Maryland, is working in the fishing village of Anse-la-Raye in St. Lucia. She and other youth will be teaching young people in the village basic computer skills as well as arts and crafts, and working to empower them through character education. She and others will also paint homes for elderly residents. This effort is being conducted in cooperation with the Anse-la-Raye Village Council and a local Catholic group, the Youth-on-Fire Ministry.
Mr. Abendroth, Ms. Boothby and Ms. Jones are part of a group of 48 young men and women doing public service projects for three weeks in the nations of Trinidad, St. Lucia, and Guyana. Another group is working in Georgetown, Guyana, where they are building a laundry facility for the Joshua Children Center, a local orphanage.
All are participants in Generation Peace Academy (GPA), a character education program of the Unification movement.
Rachel Boothby, youth volunteer
Rachel Boothby, youth volunteer
Mr. Abendroth, a graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School and an Eagle Scout, is currently a student at the University of Maryland. Concerning his effort to serve in Trinidad, he says, “I’ve spent so many years focusing on my own life and insuring my own wellbeing, so now it’s time to do my part to give back to the world.”
Ms. Boothby, who graduated a year early from South River High School in Edgewater, plans to enter the University of Maryland as a business student following her work with the GPA. She looks forward to her work in Trinidad as a practice of “citizen-to-citizen diplomacy in another country.”
In describing her motivation for serving in Trinidad, she says, “My greatest desire is to leave this world [a] legacy of love and as someone who was a compassionate person towards others. Reverend Sun Myung Moon introduced to me the motto, ‘One Family under God.’ To me, it means loving all people equally because we are all sons and daughters of God. This year I am trying to discover my true potential and help my peers discover theirs as well.”
Ms. Jones, who served as a senior patrol leader in her Girl Scout troop and as a youth leader in her local church, plans to attend Anne Arundel Community College in 2012, following two years with GPA.
She hopes to learn a great deal from her work in St. Lucia: “My mom is Japanese; my dad is American. I believe that the world is my family and this is my opportunity to inspire, encourage and to learn to love those of different cultures … The only difference I can make in this world is through my sincerity and compassion towards others.”
Yet another volunteer for the service effort in the Caribbean is Ami Stair from California. Ms. Stair, who plans to study broadcast journalism at San Francisco State University, will be one of those working in St. Lucia.
Cynthia Jones, youth volunteer
Cynthia Jones, youth volunteer
Ms. Stair commented, “Growing up, I would see the quote from Gandhi, ‘Become the change that we want to see in the world’ on a poster in one of my classes. I remember looking at the poster every day and thinking, ‘How can I be that change?’ I know that by going to St. Lucia, I am making a change. With this attitude, I hope to inspire other youths to get out there and do the same.”
Postscript: I would like to ask any interested reader to keep the 48 volunteers in your prayers. Often when prayers are requested for a young person, it is because that young man or young woman is in serious trouble.
In this much happier circumstance, I’d simply like to ask for your prayers that each and every one of the volunteers has a meaningful and unforgettable experience during their work in the Caribbean. I hope that each one will be able to make “living for the sake of others” a life-long habit and a source of happiness, strength and inspiration. Thank you!
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