Summer 2022 newsletter
Victoria Arce, Bolivia
Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).
At our arrival in Cochabamba, Louise Locke — the other Class of 2021 member going to Bolivia — and I were greeted at the airport by Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Bolivia team and then whisked away to our respective host families.
I come from a large family and love animals, so my placement with a large, extended family and their many animals was a perfect transition to Bolivia. I am so lucky to have so many people to converse with. They have taught me so much about Bolivian culture and values.
Our focus for the first three months was becoming familiar with Cochabamba and its residents, the Bolivian culture and the Spanish language. We also spent many hours waiting in long lines at different government offices to be photographed and fingerprinted for the resident visa process, which involved multiple criminal background checks and a medical exam. After two months I was comfortable enough with the Spanish language to start investigating potential ministry sites.
Ministry site visits
I visited a wide variety of ministries of Maryknoll missioners. They included Cortney Freshwater’s special-education work at Casa de los Niños in Cochabamba, John O’Donoghue ministry at a men’s shelter run by the Missionaries of Charity, and Filo Siles and Joe Loney’s Fundación Justicia Social, which assists people with disabilities and older people in remote areas of the department of Cochabamba. In Tacopaya, Minh Nguyen provides an afterschool enrichment project for indigenous children, while Juan teaches classes in automotive mechanics and computers at Don Bosco, the local Catholic boarding school. Once a week, both also work about 45 minutes from Tacopaya in a very remote school in Aguas Calientes.
In addition to these ministries of our lay missioners, I also had a chance to learn firsthand about the pastoral and educational ministry of Maryknoll Father Paul Sykora at Templo Santa Vera Cruz and satellite parish centers in Cochabamba’s Zona Sur. Father Juan Zuniga is a great support at Hogar Nuestra Casa, a home for girls ages 9-17, who were sexually abused by a family member. Brother Joe Bruener assists at San Martín, a home for abused, abandoned or runaway boys ages 7 – 17.
I did not get a chance to visit Brother Ryan Thibert at Salomon Klein Orphanage, where he helps care for orphaned babies and young children, ages 0-5 years or the prison ministries of Father Paul and Father Greg McPhee.
After prayer and careful consideration, I decided that Hogar Nuestra Casa was the best fit for me. The girls there touched my heart, and I felt a sense of peace. I started volunteering part-time the last week of March, transitioning to full-time in May. The hogar (home) has six staff members: a full-time coordinator, three full-time educators, a part-time social worker and a part-time psychologist. You can find out more about it from this Maryknoll magazine article.
I have really enjoyed getting to know the girls and helping them with their English homework, other school assignments and their daily chores, including meal preparation. I also accompany them to medical, dental and legal appointments and on errands, which has given me the opportunity to not only individually bond with the girls but to explore different parts of the city and learn transportation routes.
Two weeks ago, I started providing vocational assessment and guidance to the three oldest current residents and five former residents, using my 25-plus years of experience in employment services. I look forward to meeting with potential employers to advocate on their behalf. I am currently preparing a proposal for life-skills instruction to help them transition to living independently. I will be learning to “live independently” in Bolivia along with them.
There are very limited resources available to the girls once they age out, so they need to be able to take care of themselves. I hope to inspire hope and confidence in their ability to determine their future by teaching them to set goals — not only for supporting themselves in the short-term, but also for long-term education and/or employment goals. I will encourage and assist them to put their plans in writing, detailing how they will acquire the skills, education and experience necessary to live the life they envision for themselves.
Eventually I hope to expand these services to women in prison. This type of goal setting and planning is transferable to other areas of their lives and is essential for self-determination.
I truly believe that God has led me to Bolivia. There were a few minor hiccups along the way, but keeping my focus on serving God with an open heart and mind allowed God to guide me to the ministry site perfect for me. I am at peace and have faith that the Holy Spirit will guide me how to best share God’s gifts of love, joy and peace.
My three-and-a-half-year commitment to serve in Bolivia is equivalent to about 10 percent of my professional work life. I have come to see it as a way to “tithe” my time and talent.
Because of the length of time I will be away — and given that I will live in a different part of California upon my return — it did not make sense to me to pay for a storage unit now and moving expenses later. I gave away almost all of my possessions to friends, family members and charitable organizations. It was really scary at first but very liberating.
Not everyone is called to get rid of their possessions to serve God in another country on another continent, but as baptized Christians all of us are called to mission and to put our faith into action and make a difference in the lives of those on the margins.
Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!