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Peace Education

Conference in Panama on Regional Cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean

Panama City, Panama - “Regional Cooperation in Latin America and the Caribbean for Peace and Development,” was the title of the UPF conference that took place June 22-24, 2012 in Panama City, Panama. UPF International President Dr. Thomas Walsh convened the meeting, with Regional Chairman Dong Mo Shin, former First Lady of Uruguay Graciela Rompani de Pacheco, and representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela attending.

Dr. Walsh began with a summary of the areas where UPF is concentrating its efforts: interfaith peacebuilding, strengthening marriage and family, peace and security, service and culture of peace, and partnering with the UN and other NGOs. He continued with an overview of recent activities of UPF around the world.

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Lic. Ricardo de Sena reported on the current status of UN reform efforts, starting with the historical background on proposal to create an interreligious council and highlighting the growing awareness UN ambassadors and associates of the need for more interreligious dialogue: especially after the 9/ll tragedy. Ample time for questions and answers was provided at the end of the morning sessions. One participant highlighted how the lack of cooperation between Catholics and Evangelicals in some countries is being exploited for political purposes. Another suggested that although the Venezuelan government has in general rejected the presence of international observers during the presidential campaign and election scheduled for October 7, it might be willing to accept the presence of UPF observers.

The third session featured representatives from several countries presenting best practices in their countries. St. Lucia reported on their introducing character education into the public school system as a way to combat teen pregnancy and vandalism.

The Brazil chapter shared their experience focusing on one city, where one very active family was able to accomplish a great deal of change in attitudes because they became very excited about the UPF vision. Comments followed about how religion and politics have been the two greatest forces for division and conflict. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict but must also include an improved quality of life.

The Venezuelan chapter presented one of their lectures on sexuality for adolescents. All were fascinated by an image of the area of the brain of a 15 year old which responds to a situation requiring urgent and emotional decisions. This was contrasted to that of a mature brain facing a similar decision. This dramatic visual helped us everyone understand the crisis youth experience when they are bombarded with sexual stimulation when they are physiologically unprepared to make important, life-altering decisions. They desperately need moral orientation to help them through this mine field.

The Argentina chapter shared about the many different activities promoting peace that they have held in the past year to bring together Ambassadors for Peace and others, including single persons, the elderly, children, and teens. It was impressive to see the wide range of age groups they were able to involve.

The Panama chapter described their work to support marriage and family through seven annual Marriage Forums, a presentation about the Seven Benefits of Marriage. and the program Casate con tu Pareja (a program to facilitate common-law couples getting married). Maestro Fabio Perez introduced his program (which is celebrating its 40th anniversary) of character education and peacebuilding through teaching martial arts to 3000 young people every year in the Hisao Lee program. Panama is very excited that the Regional Headquarters of the United Nations is moving to Panama City in 2014. Construction is well under way on their new building in the capital, which is known as the “City of Knowledge.”

The Trinidad and Tobago chapter talked about their crime-prevention project in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank; they are doing in-depth work in 22 focus communities to motivate more women to get involved in the political process. By identifying moral and ethical women leaders and supporting their efforts to take responsibility in their communities, they aim to increase the moral and ethical forces that percolate through the entire society to promote its renewal.

Costa Rica has been extremely active giving lectures on values and offering various other programs during the past year. “Senderos de Paz” (Peace Paths) is a program on their TV station. They have also been able to directly intervene with 30 “at-risk” families which they selected as worthy candidates for special attention. People who don’t experience peace cannot pass it on to others. Private industry was approached to help targeted families with better jobs, and special values education was given them to help them cope with the various crises they are facing. In another program, “Comunidades de Paz,” many meetings were held with elected representatives of local communities, some of whom also heard values lectures about how to make their communities more peaceful.

Dr. Walsh followed with a fascinating, in-depth analysis of the “Pacific Rim Era." His timely remarks were appreciated by all for raising awareness about the important issues of our times as civilization and the world’s future marches eastward.

Some final comments were offered by the Hon. Senator Pilar Porras from Costa Rica. She had been advised by at least one close friend to not attend this conference, but she said she was extremely grateful that she did not heed the advice and said she felt very committed to continuing her participation with UPF. She will make a positive report on her return to Costa Rica.

The Hon. Yonhy Lescano Ancieta, a Senator from Peru, had some practical recommendations about ways UPF can work with national governments and explained the difficulties that elected representatives face when debating policy and creating new legislation.

The Honorable Senator Teodoro Ursino from the Dominican Republic commented about his upbringing in an impoverished family and how that affects his perspective as a legislator striving to increase peace. He reiterated that peace is not merely the absence of conflict and was very moved by the quote in Costa Rica’s report by Dr. Martin Luther King that even if he knew the world were going to end tomorrow, he would still plant a tree today.

Sterling Belgrove of Trinadad and Tobago in his closing observations agreed with Senator Lescano that legislators have the difficult task of taking what technicians recommend to them as good policy and turning it into law. This is the challenge of creating ethical and moral societies.

The former First Lady of Uruguay remarked how the proposal of Rev. Sun Myung Moon for a council of religious leaders advising the UN was ignored when it was first made in 2000, but after 9/11 its need became much more apparent. She was moved by the part in his autobiography when as a small boy he would fall asleep out in the countryside and his father would go looking for him, put him on his back, and bring him home. She believes that that same security that Rev. Moon felt as a boy is what he feels the world needs today.

Rev. Shin made final remarks using a most memorable analogy of how each Ambassador for Peace is like an oyster with pearl on the ocean’s floor, and how there was a difficult road that each of them traveled to be able to produce that pearl. He said that many grains of sand enter an oyster but few end up becoming pearls because most oysters try to avoid suffering and spit out the sand. He encouraged everyone to understand that as oysters, more sand (difficulties) may come to them as they work for peace with UPF and encouraged them remember the words of wisdom of Rev. Moon, such as to give and forget that you gave, and then keep on giving.

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