An outing to the beach is a special treat for HIM boys
HONDURAS INTERFAITH MISSION
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused vast devastation in Honduras and other countries in Central America. It left more than 12,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands of people with damaged or destroyed homes. Massive destruction to the infrastructure set Honduras back at least twenty years. Because of the devastating flooding and poor soil, many rural families sent their children to the cities in order to beg for food rather than starve in the countryside. Many of these small children ended up on the streets of El Progreso and San Pedro Sula.
In addition to overwhelming poverty, disease has also orphaned many children in Honduras, as the country is recognized as the AIDS capital of Central America. To exist on the streets, children do whatever it takes to survive, which causes them to beg, steal, eat out of garbage cans and prostitute themselves.
Most of the street children sniff or huff shoe glue to take away their hunger pains. For a few cents a week, a child can purchase this illegal and toxic glue at many shops in the cities. This glue is as addictive as heroin, kills brain cells, causes organ damage, and drastically shortens the children’s lifespan. Once the children become regular users of the glue, they are often led into other drugs and the drug culture that surrounds the drug trade, including gangs and violent crime.
In response to this overwhelming problem, two parallel initiatives were begun. The first was to establish the PRONINO FOUNDATION in El Progreso and its parent organization by the same name in the U.S. PRONINO. The Proniño Foundation was established by George and Betty Mealer, a Honduran-American couple living in Honduras who have dedicated their lives to helping the poor. The Proniño Foundation is a community-supported organization which helps orphaned, abandoned and at-risk children on the streets and gives them a home environment, education, vocational training and spiritual growth.
The second initiative was to create an all-volunteer organization, Honduras Interfaith Ministries (HIM), to support the Proniño Foundation. HIM, founded by Fr. Joseph Maurizio in Johnstown, PA, was established as a ministry within the Altoona-Johnstown St. Vincent de Paul Society which strives to save the children of the streets of northern Honduras by supporting the Proniño Foundation through child sponsorships, mission trips, publicity and fundraising efforts. In addition, the St. Joseph’s Chapel, Proniño Orphanage Conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Honduras was established as a twin-sister conference to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Altoona-Johnstown.
HIM has made a commitment to help support the goals of the Proniño Foundation in a number of ways, keeping in mind the need to involve and gain support from the local community in El Progreso as well. In addition to working closely with the Proniño Foundation Board of Directors in the U.S. and Honduras, HIM supports the Proniño Foundation through:
HIM helps to fund construction of new buildings and other infrastructure improvements on the site of the Mountain Home and Educational Center (which will also offer spirituality, education, and vocational training). The Proniño Foundation matches funds from HIM dollar for dollar through donated labor, building supplies, donations, and discounts. Funding to support the Proniño Foundation is provided in large part from generous sponsors in the Altoona-Johnstown, PA area.
Child Sponsorship Program
HIM manages a Child Sponsorship Program to provide funding to children in the Four-Phase Program by matching sponsors in the United States with children of the streets. Sponsorship of a child living at one of the Proniño sites costs $50 per month. This funding provides for the comprehensive needs of a child, including food, shelter, education, medical and dental care and counseling. Individuals have the option to fully sponsor a child at a cost of $50 per month or co-sponsor a child at a cost of $25 per month. Sponsors in this program receive letters and artwork from their sponsor child as well as periodic photos and progress reports on their child. [More photos of the children of HIM in the two Proniño Foundation sites are available in the photo gallery HERE]
Since 1999, HIM has been organizing and managing Mission Trips, in which volunteers from the United States travel and work in northern Honduras for periods of up to twelve days. The Mission Trips are primarily designed to assist the Proniño Foundation with the construction of buildings on its two sites: La Montaña and Las Flores. For more information on how to become involved in a Mission Trip, clickHERE [More photos of volunteers from previous Mission Trips are available in the photo gallery HERE]
HIM works to increase the exposure of the Proniño Foundation internationally through fundraising letters, presentations to community groups and through the Honduras Interfaith Ministries website.
About Father Joe Maurizio
Rev. Dr. Joseph D. Maurizio, Jr. is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He has been Sacramental Advisor to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese for eighteen years. Over the years, he has actively participated in all aspects of ministry with St. Vincent de Paul Society and their De Paul Interfaith Caring Ministries. Fr. Joe works closely with Rev. Mr. John Sroka, Administrator of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Altoona-Johnstown. Deacon Sroka is the Spiritual Advisor for the Society and, along with other Deacons and lay persons, helps to direct Honduras Interfaith Ministries (HIM).
Traveling to the developing world is no new experience for Fr. Joe. Over the last 35 years, he has visited approximately 100 countries and has personally witnessed poverty and suffering in many places around the world. In 1996, Fr. Joe Maurizio began to participate on the mission brigades to Honduras and assist in the medical, dental and construction ministry to the poor. Fr. Joe founded Honduras Interfaith Ministries in Johnstown, PA in 1999.
Visit the website: HONDURAS INTERFAITH MINISTRIES
ORPHANS INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE
Orphans International (OI) was created in response to the crisis facing children around the globe today. With the AIDS epidemic, natural disasters, low world health standards and immense poverty, OI operates with a mission to confront head-on the incredible demand for improved opportunities to benefit the world’s disadvantaged orphans.|
Our model of ‘Raising Global Citizens’ and bringing up each child as we would one of our own differentiates OI and makes a significant difference in both the short-term needs of children and the long-term improvement of disadvantaged areas throughout the world.
Orphans International Worldwide is the committee that sets the global worldview, mission and standards for our organizations in different countries, comprised of the leaders of those organizations. Orphans International is made up of cooperating organizations in both developing and developed nations.
OI Worldwide oversees the annual World Congress, the e-newsletter OI InterNews, and this website. OI Worldwide also approves global NGO and Corporate Partners in Progress. Orphans International was founded by Jim Luce.
Our mission is to help orphaned or abandoned children grow into solid citizens of the world through a sound structure that is simultaneously Interfaith, because there are many paths up the mountain; Interracial, because there is but one race -- the human race; International, because our neighbors are our family; Intergenerational, because there is much to learn from our elders; and Internet-connected, because the world today is at our fingertips.
Orphans International affirms the need for balance between globalism and national pride, advocates service to humanity, and attempts to instil an appreciation in our children of both modern technology and traditional arts and crafts.
Visit the website: ORPHANS INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE
JEWS AND ARABS LIVE AND WORK TOGETHER IN WOLFSON, ACRE, ISRAEL
Carol Brauner admits that the Sir Charles Clore Jewish-Arab Community Center, in the Wolfson neighborhood of the northern coast Israeli city of Acre is not one of the large, charismatic peace projects that attracts headlines. It's just a small, modest community centre in one of Israel's poorest mixed Arab-Jewish cities. But to the people who use it, the Acre center is a lifeline, providing much-needed services to a sorely neglected area.
The Acre Jewish-Arab association was founded in 1990 by Mohammed Faheli, an Arab born and raised in Acre, with Jewish and Arab residents from Wolfson. The center, which provides a range of educational, social and youth programs, began life in two bomb shelters. In 1993, Dame Vivien Duffield of the Clore Foundation visited the scheme and decided to donate money to build a new 825 square meter community centre above the bomb shelters.
One third of Acre's 47,000 residents is Arab; the other two-thirds are Jewish, primarily new immigrants. The steel and paint industry is the city's main employment backbone, but the industry is flat. Tourism is also flat. The city may be a UNESCO world heritage center, but nobody visits.
"Most tourist buses don't even stop at Acre," says Brauner, the center's director of development. "It has a treasure trove of the most amazing architectural digs from all different periods, and could almost be a Caesarea of the north, but no-one goes there."
Unemployment, crime, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse are widespread in Acre, and the educational system is substandard. Some 30% of all Arab elementary school pupils are illiterate, and only a low percentage carry on to higher education.
"This isn't a city where Arabs are against Jews or vice versa. Everyone is in the same plight. There are many people with no hope," Brauner told ISRAEL21c. "The people, like the city, are totally neglected."
The Wolfson neighborhood is the poorest of Acre. Built in the 1950s as a home for new immigrants, the intervening years have been harsh and the neighborhood has become increasingly neglected. Today 60% of the population lives below the poverty line, and the remaining 40% hover precariously near it. Some 40 percent of local children drop out of school at age 15, compared with the national average of 25 percent.
Once a mixed community of Jews and Arabs, Wolfson is now predominantly Arab, with a small minority of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The people who remain are those who cannot afford to move out.
As a result, the emphasis at the non-profit Acre center is on educating the new generation. The center's goals are ambitious -- to achieve Arab-Jewish coexistence in Acre; improve the social, educational and cultural structure of Wolfson; promote sexual equality, develop Arab-Jewish youth leadership; reverse the city's school dropout rates, crime, violence and unemployment; and to promote Acre as an integrated Arab-Jewish city of diversity and opportunity.
These are not goals that can be achieved overnight, but the center is working steadily and hopefully towards its objectives with a series of early childhood, youth and parenting programming. Every day after school, for example, the centre offers an after-school enrichment program called Transitions for 200 Jewish and Arab children with language difficulties aged four to eight. Though the Arabic and Jewish children do not work together -- they are educated for the first years at school in different languages -- they come together for holidays and celebrations.
The program, which was designed to try to reverse negative attitudes towards school among young children, has been running for six years, and has already generated considerable success. "We have had a great deal of feedback on the Transitions program based on school evaluations," says Brauner. "They have found a huge improvement in the attitudes of the children towards school. Our goal is for all the kids to be at the same level in school and for them to have a chance of making something of themselves, whether they are Arab, Jewish or Russian. In the long term we expect that this will help lower drop-out rates at schools, and should have a long-term impact on unemployment and crime."
This is important because according to Israel Police statistics for 2005, Acre is Israel's number one city for youth violence and crime. Drug pushers often stand outside schools, enlisting children to be their runners.
"We try hard to encourage the youth not to drop out of school and not to get led into the attractive aspects of crime," says Brauner. "The drug business is very big business in Acre and young children go into this world to make money. We want to show children that if they stay in school and strive towards university and a career then it's a really viable option to crime, which will ultimately end up in prison."
Aside from workshops that focus on the dangers of drugs, the center also runs a daily youth club in the afternoons, to help keep the children off the streets, and give them access to computers and other facilities.
One of Brauner's favorite programs for the center's children is Peace Child Israel. The national organization was founded in 1988 and uses theatre and the arts as a means of teaching coexistence. In Acre, 22 children aged 14-16 are involved in this project, 11 Jewish and 11 Arab. The children undergo two months of preparation where they are taught conflict resolution, and given advice on overcoming stereotypes. Then they come together as one theatrical group to create an original piece of theatre dealing with their conflicts. In the early summer, the group plans a public performance of their production, in Hebrew and Arabic, in front of a local audience.
Another interesting program is Patriots of Acre, a community responsibility and youth tourism program. "We teach children to become ambassadors for their own city," says Brauner.
In the summer, the center holds a three-week Arab-Jewish summer camp for 120 disadvantaged children aged 5-11. The camp, which has activities in both Hebrew and Arabic, takes place at Kibbutz Nessamim and in manned by 25 camp counselors, ranging from University of Haifa students to army-aged women doing their national service, to seniors in high school. The camp's objective is to promote understanding and tolerance between Arabs and Jews by creating positive shared experiences for the children.
Last year it was cancelled because of the war in Lebanon, and the neighborhood children of Wolfson spent most of the 34-day conflict hiding in the center's bomb shelters. With the beginning of the school year this past September, the center has turned into a school every morning, playing host to 70 Arab high school students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, and literacy problems. The mayor of Acre approached the center with this proposal last year because the Arab high school in Acre is overcrowded, and simply did not have enough space for children with special needs.
About 1,000 children take part in the Acre Center's youth club and youth programming every week, most of them Arab. A token payment is required -- "It's a community responsibility thing" says Brauner -- but this payment can be in goods or kind. One father who is a house painter with three children pays for his children's membership by helping to paint the building whenever necessary. Other parents are involved in gardening or even guarding.
Aside from these courses, there are classes helping Arab women study to complete their high school education, acquire computer skills and prepare to join the workforce. There are also mothering and childcare courses. For new Jewish immigrants there is a successful club, which includes a music and dance ensemble; and various community projects, including community clean-up projects that focus on the local area.
Brauner, a British-born Jew who immigrated to Israel some years ago, joined the Acre Centre in July last year. It has been an unusual experience for her. "This is the first time that I experienced what it felt like to be the 'other' in Israeli society," she explains. At the center she is the only Jewish Israeli in management. The language spoken around her is Arabic, which she does not speak. "Kids come in and if they have a question they ask it in Arabic," she explains. "Suddenly I feel isolated and handicapped. This is a very interesting opportunity for me to experience what they so often feel."
This year, the center, which receives grants of $500,000 a year from the local municipality and from foreign donors like the Clore Foundation, has many new goals. The first is to try to re-establish the Arab-Jewish youth orchestra, which was forced to disband during the intifada due to lack of funding. The centre already provides children with music lessons for the piano, violin, flute and drums. "We want to turn that into something significant," says Brauner. Another goal is to set up a Jewish-Arab football team. "We believe in harmony through music and sport."
There's also a larger goal of building an early childhood nursery for 18 Arab and Jewish children. "The need for this is huge," says Brauner. "By establishing a serious day care centre, we would release so many women into the workforce. It would have a large scale impact." Brauner is keen to publicize the work of the Acre center.
"People don't realize that there are so many Arabs and Jews working together in Israel to try to make things better for the kids. That's the starting point," she says. "Arabs and Jews live together in Israel. They go to the same shops and restaurants, and when the bombs fell in Acre last year in the Lebanon war, they fell on Jews and Arabs alike and we crowded into the same bomb shelters. We are not always divided, and we must show our children this. This is what our centre is trying to do - to provide Jewish and Arab children and their parents with a reason as to why they should be mixing together."
MAP OF ACRE
INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL ON SOCIAL WELFARE
The International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW), founded in Paris in 1928, is a non-governmental organisation which now represents national and local organisations in more than 50 countries throughout the world. Our membership also includes a number of major international organisations.
Our member organisations collectively represent tens of thousands of community organisations which work directly at the grass-roots with people in poverty, hardship or distress. Almost all of them are independent organisations working in their own communities rather than branches of organisations based in other countries. Many have been established by people who are themselves experiencing hardship.
Within their own communities, our network of organisations provides help for a wide range of people who are poor, ill, disabled, unemployed, frail or oppressed. They help young people, older people, families, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees and others who are experiencing special hardship or vulnerability.
ICSW’s constitution and by-laws make us a fully democratic and accountable organisation. Our governing body, the Committee of Representatives, is elected by all members and comprises more than one hundred people. It selects a President, Treasurer and Executive Committee to take responsibility for detailed implementation of its programmes and policies. Similar governing structures apply in each of ICSW’s ten regions – Central & West Africa, East and Southern Africa, North Africa & the Middle East, North East Asia, South & Central Asia, South East Asia & the Pacific, Europe, Central America & the Caribbean, South America, North America.
Our staff is headed by an Executive Director and our principal offices are in Kampala (Uganda), and Utrecht (The Netherlands). We also have special representatives to the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
ICSW’s activities are funded by membership fees as well as grants from private foundations and from governmental or intergovernmental sources. Current major donors include the Governments of Finland, Norway and Sweden.
ICSW has the highest level of consultative status with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. We are also accredited to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, International Labour Organisation, UNICEF, UNESCO, World Health Organisation and a number of regional intergovernmental organisations.
The International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW) is a global non-governmental organisation which represents a wide range of national and international member organisations that seek to advance social welfare, social development and social justice.
ICSW’s basic mission is to promote forms of social and economic development which aim to reduce poverty, hardship and vulnerability throughout the world, especially amongst disadvantaged people. It strives for recognition and protection of fundamental rights to food, shelter, education, health care and security. It believes that these rights are an essential foundation for freedom, justice and peace. It seeks also to advance equality of opportunity, freedom of self-expression and access to human services.
In working to achieve its mission, ICSW advocates policies and programs which strike an appropriate balance between social and economic goals and which respect cultural diversity. It seeks implementation of these proposals by governments, international organisations, non-governmental agencies and others. It does so in cooperation with its network of members and with a wide range of other organisations at local, national and international levels.
ICSW’s main ways of pursuing its aims include gathering and disseminating information, undertaking research and analysis, convening seminars and conferences, drawing on grass-roots experiences, strengthening non-governmental organisations, developing policy proposals, engaging in public advocacy and working with policy-makers and administrators in government and elsewhere.
Visit the website: INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL ON SOCIAL WELFARE
Some Members of the Interfaith Cooperation Forum
THE INTERFAITH COOPERATION FORUM . . . . WHO WE ARE
Realizing the importance of building religious unity in the Asian region, the Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) was formed to facilitate the examination of different religious perspectives on the root causes of some of the threats and conflicts we experience in community today such as poverty, consumptive lifestyles, and unjust distribution of land.
Interfaith Cooperation supports regional religious partnerships in working together for the transformation of society. It is an endeavor to find alternatives through listening, learning, and discerning messages from the grassroots and the development of cooperative efforts to achieve these alternatives together through involvement and action.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
The basic goals of Interfaith Cooperation are to support a regional inter-religious Asian movement for justice and transformation that focuses on marginalized communities; confronts the roots of violence; and promotes justice in the economic, political, and social spheres.
Violence, often mislabeled as religious violence, has increasingly rocked our world since the terrorist bombings in New York and Washington DC. While such violence was a reality in much of the world long before 9/11 became a word synonymous with terrorism, the 9/11 attacks changed the nature of the violence. Now, more than ever, religious differences are, rightly or wrongly, blamed as the culprit.
This serves to increase tensions and misunderstandings between people of different religious faiths. At the same time, those in power have found the war on terror to be an easy excuse to carry out repressive policies when their own people become restive due to frustration with coercive and/or manipulative government policies. This environment of division, distrust, dis-information and repression does not bode well for the future of our threatened world.
We in Asia have also felt the brunt of this "religious" violence, but at the same time we find many common elements that compel us to work together for inter-religious cooperation. Religious and ethnic conflict in many parts of Asia have existed for many generations, but external factors such as the "war on terrorism" have exacerbated this environment of conflict and will continue to do so. Such conflicts shatter patterns of communal harmony that have existed for centuries. A common factor that underlies these conflicts is when one group seeks to dominate and impose its will on others.
The lack of a functioning democratic process on both the local and global levels hinders inter-religious cooperation in many places. The concerns of marginalized people are frequently not heard and attended to by those in power. Economic disparity and the unjust control of resources often compound this lack of representation, leaving financial and intellectual resources in the hands of a few elite individuals and countries. Globalization of the market economy has widened the gap between the rich and poor, which in turn intensifies social conflict.
The increasing prevalence of violence in our world underlines the importance of cooperation across religious lines. This refers not only to communal violence, but also to everyday violence toward those sectors of society least able to defend themselves - women, children, the poor, and ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities.
Religion in itself is not the cause of conflict and violence. However, we must face the sad reality that religious identity and emotions are too often manipulated to further the self-centered goals of vested interests. Religion thus gets politicized and manipulated by powerful groups and individuals to promote political ambitions and the pursuit and maintenance of power and domination. Attitudes of superiority, whereby some religious groups consider themselves better than others, are easily exploited by the unscrupulous to foment unhealthy competition, hatred, injustice and conflict.
In this situation, the basis of inter-religious cooperation must be those religious values that we hold in common. All our religions teach peace, justice, compassion for those who suffer, equality, love, human dignity and solidarity, non-violence, sensitivity to others and the oneness of the human family.
We all believe that humanity and nature are interdependent. However, we must humbly acknowledge that our own communities have often failed to be agents of peace and to live according to our shared values. Such a self-critical attitude must be accompanied by a love and renewed commitment to what is best in our own tradition, as well as genuine respect and esteem for the spiritual and humane values enshrined in all religions of the powerful.
The challenge we face is whether we can work together on the basis of these shared values to build more just, peaceful, harmonious and sustainable societies.
As people of different faiths, we should be concerned that life is not about control (of the environment, of goods, of the world) but it is about our relationship with God and our common humanity. We should realize that we are not talking about absoluteness, nor about fundamentalist views of what is right and what is wrong. We need to learn how other religions understand and live out the common values that we all share.
For more detailed background information on Interfaith Cooperation, please see our additional reading page.
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Visit the website: INTERFAITH COOPERATION
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