Summer 2023 newsletter
Victoria Arce, Bolivia
It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Bolivia almost 18 months!
When I arrived in Cochabamba, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In my ministry at Hogar Nuestra Casa, I work with girls and adolescents who were sexually abused by a family member. I assumed I would use my experience in case management and vocational assessment or provide classes in English and computer skills.
I have started those activities on different occasions, but it seems that something else comes up after only a few sessions. I have sometimes felt frustrated, but I have since realized that my time benefits the Hogar most when I am available to accompany the chicas (girls).
I have become familiar with various areas of the city and how to navigate the available transportation options by going with them to medical and dental appointments, interviews with the defensoria (public defender), university resource sessions, group counseling sessions and practices for school dance performances. Together we run errands to purchase fruits and vegetables at La Cancha (an expansive open-air market), get shoes repaired, purchase books and other educational supplies, and rent costumes for their performances. I attend parent meetings at their schools.
The chicas and I often spend hours away from the Hogar. I hold the “purse strings” but encourage them to be independent and advocate for themselves at their appointments or in their business transactions.
My availability frees up the limited time the psychologist and social worker have available to work with the chicas. Their positions are both only half-time due to budget constraints, but their services are those most necessary to move them from victimization to empowerment.
Spending one-on-one time with the chicas has allowed me to get to know them better on an individual basis. Through my interaction with one, I learned of her obsession with Sonic the Hedgehog. A couple of weeks ago she was going through a tough time and seemed very sad. On one of my walks, I spotted a Sonic keychain and bought it for her. When I gave it to her, she told me, “No one has ever given me anything I wanted. I think I’m going to cry.”
She recently invited me to a Día de la Madre celebration at her school that included dance and musical performances, poetry readings and refreshments. Bolivia is very family-oriented, and the schools celebrate holidays such as Día de la Familia, Día de la Madre and Día del Padre in a big way. Activities included a dance competition and drawings for gift baskets. I didn’t win a gift basket, but we participated in the dance competition.
I was out of my comfort zone attempting traditional Bolivian dance moves and tried to imitate hers. We won first prize, a new basketball for the Hogar! She told me it was the first time she had ever won something. I was honored to be her mom for a day. I can only imagine how these school celebrations can make our chicas feel marginalized.
Another time I accompanied her to a medical appointment. The doctor removed multiple growths on her hands and fingers by first injecting them with an anesthetic and then cauterizing (burning!) them. I could tell it was very painful and offered to hold her hand during the procedure. She squeezed it so hard!
Afterwards, the doctor told her she had very sensitive skin. He performed a visual skin scan and found a patch on her neck irregularly shaped, textured, and colored, about 1.5 inches in diameter. He proceeded to review the signs of skin cancer with her. I thought to myself, “That’s a lot for a 15-year-old to take in!” and was so glad I could be there for her.
When she and her sister had interviews with the psychologist at the defensoria in Sacaba, a community located 45 minutes to an hour outside the city center of Cochabamba, I accompanied them on three separate occasions. We left the Hogar at 3 p.m. to arrive promptly for the first appointment at 4. The second one was at 5, and it was after 7 by the time we returned to the Hogar. They were scheduled for separate interviews with the psychologist to build the case against their aggressor and were initially extremely uncomfortable.
I brought snacks, drinks, books, markers and paper to keep them occupied while they were waiting. They also opened up to me about their situations — not only the sexual abuse but the physical abuse and neglect as well. Although these are specific to these two chicas, they exemplify how I interact with them.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux is the patroness of missions, even though she passed away at the age of 24 without ever setting foot in mission lands due to poor health. Although she was disappointed that she could not accomplish great things in the mission field, she realized she could do small things and do them with great love. She prayed fervently for overseas missions and missionaries during her lifetime, and miracles in the mission field have been ascribed to her after her death.
It is a privilege to accompany the chicas. Although I sometimes feel that what I am doing is not “important,” it is important that I humbly serve where I am most needed — with great love.
Please consider joining our circle of COMPANIONS IN MISSION. Companions in Mission are generous donors, like you, who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information visit Become a Companion in Mission. Thank you so much for your generosity!