Year Joined MKLM: 2018
Ministry: La Casa de Los Niños
Ministry Area: Education and Leadership Training
Goal of Ministry: To help integrate my students with disabilities into the classroom, educate the other children in the class about different disabilities, as well as to teach my students necessary life skills outside of the classroom. More importantly, though, my goal is to be a constant, loving adult presence in their lives.
Children with disabilities are often discriminated against, especially within Bolivia’s public school system. They get turned away from schools, as the teachers are not properly educated nor prepared to work with children with disabilities. Therefore, providing a safe space and educating the other children in the classroom is equally as important as teaching my students daily life skills, in and outside of the classroom.
La Casa de Los Niños is a small community within the city of Cochabamba where impoverished families cohabitate in shared housing. Many of the families have children with learning difficulties, behavioral problems or moderate to severe disabilities, and thus have been denied access to public schooling. Therefore, the children attend the alternative school (Centro Educativo Terapéutico Integral – CETI) within the community, where they are offered different opportunities to learn.
At La Casa de Los Niños, I provide disability ministry in a school and community-based environment. I work as an integrated teacher with a small group of children with disabilities in the 5th and 6th grade classroom. I help integrate them into the classroom with the other students; I teach them everyday life skills; and I constantly remind them of how loved and special they each are. I also lead workshops in the afternoons with a larger group of other children to provide them with fun and safe after-school activities.
After three years of working in the school with my kids, I now view success differently. They each have grown academically, behaviorally, and practically in regards to their everyday life skills. Rimbert can now recognize and say the names of colors and vowels; Armando is no longer scared to hold a knife and cut a piece of fruit on his own; Abraham can write his name and tie his shoes; and Minel is able to use her words to better communicate her needs. These are all skills that have taken a year to master for each one of them, but what I view as true success is their ability to express their emotions. When they see me, they greet me with excitement and hugs. They have learned to trust and listen, and can communicate with me when they are feeling happy, sad, or angry. This was the biggest accomplishment for my one child, Mickey, who passed away in June 2021. Impact doesn’t always come in the form of statistics and numbers, but rather accompaniment, emotional growth, and presence with the ones you’re walking alongside.
After graduating from John Carroll University, I chose to do a year of service with the Passionist Volunteers in Mandeville, Jamaica. While there, I worked in a small bush community and a public infirmary, where accompanying people in their day-to-day lives and building lasting relationships was my sole purpose. I fell in love with this type of service – one that emphasized mutuality and relationship-building. I went back to Ohio to teach second grade for two years and to continue volunteering in a local nursing home, yet I still felt called for something more.
After doing some research, I stumbled upon the Maryknoll Lay Missioners Program and immediately felt a sense of peace. With my background in education and my experience of working with people with disabilities, I was grateful to find a ministry that fulfilled my heart’s passion. I feel unbelievably blessed to be working with the children in the community and school of La Casa de Los Niños – they have brought me the greatest sense of joy during my time here in Bolivia.