Last month, I was blessed to travel for two weeks with the University Mission to Bolivia (UM2B) group to Sucre, Bolivia. The group was made up of twenty two university students, staff members from the diocese and universities and myself. The students were from Benedictine University in Lisle, Lewis University in Lockport, and St. Francis University in Joliet. Most were studying either education or nursing. We worked at daycares and schools, a hospital for disabled children, and in the hospital for the poor. Much of our work was painting classrooms and playgrounds and assisting with the care of the children. A team went to the market every day to find shoes for the children at the school along with other needed supplies, supplementing the military duffel bag each participant brought full of books, school supplies, and clothing.
This was my second time serving as chaplain for the trip. It was interesting to talk the students through their reactions to the fact that life is very different there, especially in the lack of resources that those in social services face. The government there is making much needed investments in infrastructure but unfortunately that means that supplies run out, teachers go unpaid, and there is a lack of professionally trained staff to help care for those with complex needs.
The highlight of the trip was a visit to a Catholic School for Junior High aged girls. The director of the trip saw a need to find help volunteering at the sites throughout the year, as some of the sites need help beyond the two weeks we can provide. We engaged the group with witnesses by a few of our students on their experiences as volunteers on mission and encouraged the girls to consider volunteering. The discussion ended with us asking the girls if they had any volunteer experience and I was surprised to hear that some were already volunteering at the Children’s Hospital and they were interested in learning more about the opportunity to help other needy children at the daycares. It gave me hope to hear that the youth were aware of the needs all around them and that they had a genuine concern for helping the street children of Sucre.
The trip was a good experience and reminded me how blessed we are and how much potential there is out there for us to respond to the call to love our neighbors near and far, as the Good Samaritan shows us how to do in this week’s Gospel.
Note from Father Jason
July 10, 2016