A day of community service, started by the Church last year to honor the Pioneer Sesquicentennial, has become a tradition in the stakes and districts of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Because of their successes last year, members in the South America South Area performed additional service this year during the months of July, August and September. And because of members' service, a number of cities in this area are brighter and cleaner.Those who received the benefit - often dedicated community or school leaders struggling to operate on low budgets - were generous in their praise and gratitude.
The largest of these service projects involved some 2,000 members in Cordoba, Rio Cuarto and Villa Maria, in central Argentina, who painted 24 schools.
"This has been a very positive thing," said Silvia Roma, a stake director of public affairs. "First, members of the Church have become strong in their testimonies and are more enthusiastic to continue in service. Secondly, the community is able to see that we are a part of their society, which we love and hope to contribute to its development."
The huge painting project was the subject of a major article in La Voz del Interior newspaper, titled, "Mormons paint 24 schools to look like new," and noted, "On Monday, students will begin classes in a very different scene."
In Mendoza and Godoy Cruz, in western Argentina, 1,400 members painted the Eva Peron Home for orphans and disabled children, and laundered clothing and bedding. They also cleaned parks and streets.
"I saw the joy of service reflected in the faces of each adult, youth and child," said Pres. Luis Wachman of the Maipu de Cuyo Argentina Stake. "We have planned this activity for a long time, and the benefit was obvious each moment for each stake that participated in the service."
Hugo Palacios, secretary general of the home for orphans and disabled children, commented, "I didn't think you would have enough people to do this project. At 8 a.m., I saw just a few people coming from the buses. But within an hour, they were all here. I don't know how you do it, nor am I able to express in words that which I feel. I will only say, thank you."
`Thank you for what you have done for our children," echoed Sofia de Herrera, the home's director.
One of the youth who participated was Viviana Sanchez of the Bermejo Ward, Maipu de Cuyo stake. "The youth hope for an opportunity to serve and work, and the leaders have been good to provide us with these opportunities," she said. "It has been magnificent."
In Buenos Aires, 700 members from eight stakes cleaned various locations in the city. Supervising these projects were Elder Richard D. Allred of the Seventy and first counselor in the South America South Area presidency, and Elder Carlos Aguero, Area Authority Seventy.
Cecilia Felgueras, government Secretary of Social Promotion, thanked the youth for their exemplary service. "I believe that your Church has demonstrated with this remarkable participation from the youth an undertaking of a high level of vitality and promise that is not easy to see among the youth today. I saw the vision of hope and the quality of work that this Church is accomplishing."
One particularly meaningful project in Buenos Aires was the cleaning and painting of a rehabilitation center operated by the Methodist Church. Pastor Hugo N. Urcoca told the youth: "Never have I seen a group of such significant numbers of volunteers serving for the good of the community. This is a center where such institutions as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous function. The presence of all of you today is a help to the community. I give thanks that you are a spiritual people who have come to strengthen this social intermix of people in a project for the community."
In Asuncion, Paraguay, where some 250 youth from five stakes completed an extraordinary service project in the center of town. The Paraguay River, which flows next to the city, frequently rises, and with each rainstorm drives those in nearby homes to set up temporary homes in a once-scenic downtown plaza. So the Church members took cleaning tools and helped the displaced people clean up their homes, and then worked to bring the plaza back to its original splendor.
"Youth from five stakes worked together, and this has been a marvelous opportunity for them to show that we are part of the community and that we want to have a good community," said Pres. Jorge Villalba of the Asuncion Paraguay Stake.
Other notable projects completed in Argentina and Paraguay were in:
- Neuquen, in central Argentina, where 300 members cleaned a park, painted toys and renewed flower gardens.
- General Roca, in central Argentina, where 120 members cleaned and refurbished a home for the elderly and a downtown sector.
- San Rafael, in central Argentina, where 200 members cleaned and refurbished a city plaza.
- San Luis and Villa Maria, where 100 members cleaned and beautified a local cemetery.