Damaris Guaza Sandoval says her year of service in La Ceiba, Honduras, was about equipping young people to be God’s ambassadors of peace where violence is common.
The 26-year-old from Cali, Colombia, worked as a social worker with Proyecto Paz y Justicia (PPyJ; Peace and Justice Project), a ministry of MWC member church Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Hondureña, and a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner.
In her work from 2017 to 2018, Guaza prepared workshop materials for children on peacebuilding and violence prevention and equipped the older students to teach their younger peers what they’ve learned. In the end, some of the older students would become school mediators.
Guaza says peacebuilding skills are especially important. “Many of the children we work with come from neighbourhoods with high rates of violence, and it is necessary to provide alternative ways of resolving conflicts without using violence,” she explains.
Guaza, a member of MWC member church Iglesias Hermanos Menonitas de Colombia, served with Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network (YAMEN), a joint program of MCC and Mennonite World Conference. YAMEN is a year-long service opportunity for young, Christian adults from outside Canada and the USA to live in a new culture while serving with the church.
Guaza says she believes it’s important to equip youth with tools for resolving conflicts peacefully.
“In many of our communities, we have been taught to resolve conflicts through aggression. Therefore, it seems essential that, as God’s ambassadors, we can provide alternative tools to communities,” she explains.
One boy sticks out in Guaza’s mind. She says he was a troubled child whose self-esteem issues translated into violence – that is, until he took part in PPyJ.
“Now he’s a positive leader in school, helping his classmates and multiplying everything he’s learned,” she says of the boy, who is now a mediator in his school.
Matthieu Dobler Paganoni, an MCC representative in Honduras with his wife, Ilona Paganoni, both of MWC member church Konferenz der Mennoniten der Schweiz/Conférence mennonite Suisse in Switzerland, says this initiative is important in the region because Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
“It is important to support such kinds of projects that contribute to envisioning a different kind of society and that have the potential to create seeds of hope for change,” he says.
At the end of Guaza’s YAMEN term, she decided to stay in Honduras for another year and build on her work with PPyJ as an MCC staff person. She says her experiences in this past year have given her wisdom that will help her better accompany the people and processes in the community.
“It really is a gift from God to continue living and serving in this beautiful country,” she says. “I have learned a lot from the people with whom I have related. I am full of hope and love to continue the journey.”
–Rachel Bergen is a writer for MCC.
A Mennonite World Conference and Mennonite Central Committee joint release.