RYS/SFP Join in Harlem service project
on the International Day of Peace
International Day of Peace Celebrated through Service
Thursday, 26 September 2002
by John Gehring
On September 21st an IIFWP Ambassadors for Peace initiative took
place in Harlem, New York with the support of twenty volunteers from the
Religious Youth Service (RYS), Service for Peace and the Martin Luther
King Community Center. Volunteers from New Jersey and New York and as
far away as Washington DC joined hands with local community members in
cleaning, planting and beautifying both vegetable and flower gardens in
the Harlem Housing Project. This joint cooperation was achieved in an
effort to mark support the International Day of Peace.
Last year, the General Assembly of the UN resolved that beginning in
2002, the International Day of Peace should be observed on 21 September
each year. The purpose of this special day is that government and
non-government organizations observe a day of global ceasefire and
non-violence. The IIFWP wished to support this peace initiative in a
substantial manner and chose to do a service project in Harlem as a way
to solidify the spirit of the resolution.
Harlem in many ways is the capital of African America culture. In the
past decade Harlem has been on the rise and it has the potential to be
a model community. The work in Harlem sought and succeeded in bringing
Black, White, Asian and Hispanic participants joyfully together with
a heart of service that yearns for the day we all can celebrate peace
Messages of support and appreciation of the project came from the
Muslim and Christian community. The need for such projects is clear to
all, especially those that live in the extended shadow of what was once
the Twin Towers. The sincere work of the volunteers was later reported
to attendees of the IIFWP conference on Governance and the Role of
Religion in Peace and Security.
Putting the Project Together:
The project co-ordinator was Ms. Juanita Louis Pierre who is an
activist who has lived in and served the people of Harlem in a variety
of ways during the past two decades. Juanita reached out to the local
community to find an appropriate project and environment to work.
Juanita's choice of project was excellent for it brought us in contact
and cooperation with the local personages of Mrs. Kitchen and Mr. Issac
and others who were essential ingredients in allowing everyone to feel
at home quickly.
A garden in densely populated housing projects provides a link to
soil and the sight and smells of nature. Gardens are important to a
community, as they serve to counteract the imbalances created by concrete
and asphalt. In this environment a garden is much more then the sum of
the vegetation grown.
Mr. Issac, a tall and sturdy man who looked much younger then his 76
years used both his creativity and his studies in agriculture to introduce
urban youth annually to a wide variety of crops such as cotton, lettuce,
rhubarb, corn, tomatoes and assorted types of potatoes and lettuce.
He volunteered much of his time to the vegetable garden but the struggle
to keep his garden ahead of the strangling growth of weeds was getting
more difficult with each passing year.
Mr. Issac reminded us of the purpose of our visit with a few simple
words: "I am so glad to know that there are people like you who come
and freely give your hard work and effort. Your group must return for
the spring planting season in April." In response to his heartfelt
request, we will return and continue taking part in this process of
life and growth. Within the framework of gardening and beautifying,
we are creating links of concern, respect and affection that will also
bear fruit in the season of harvest.
RYS and Service for Peace are organizations who acknowledge that
prevention of future conflict will greatly depend upon today's
youth developing the capacity to resolve resentments, enmity and
misunderstandings that so often lie at the heart of conflict. Therefore
the IIFWP through its Ambassadors for Peace, the RYS and Service for Peace
will continue hosting work projects in honor of the International Day of
Peace to further highlight service, or "love in action" as a corrective