Year Joined MKLM: 1995
Rural Area: Tacopaya and Entre Rios, Cochabamba
Ministry: Social Justice Foundation (Fundación Justicia Social)
Ministry Area: Justice and peace – disability ministry
Goals of Ministry: Empower persons living with disabilities to reach their maximum human potential.
Prevention. In our disability ministry, we work to prevent violence to people with disabilities. We collaborate with the persons with disabilities and their communities so that they enjoy equal access to health services, educational and employment opportunities, and the overall exercise of their rights as citizens.
Too often the more than 350 persons with whom we collaborate have been victims of so many exclusionary practices and policies that they begin to believe that they cannot improve their socio-economic situations and that they are not worthy of the universe of opportunities that our Creator intends for all. We work to insure that the world that our Creator envisions — of equality and justice for the children, young people and adults with disabilities — becomes a reality.
At the Social Justice Foundation, Joe oversees a project called “Moving Forward Together for the Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.” This ministry helps children, youth, adults and senior citizens who have visual, hearing, intellectual, physical and other disabilities receive self-sustaining rehabilitation in their rural home communities. One service area is located in the Altiplano among indigenous subsistence farmers; and the other service area is in a more tropical area, where great poverty exists among economic immigrants from other areas of Bolivia. The project’s main goal is inclusion and non-marginalization of those with disabilities. Services include prevention, detection, educational support, medical attention, skill training / small business guidance and teachings about their human rights.
Joe summarizes mission as being all about opportunity. He is sustained by his desire to provide an opportunity when reaching out to the marginalized. Joe says, “Mission is frequently about being able to hear God’s call and having the flexibility to heed that call.” Just a few years ago, the archbishop of Cochabamba asked Joe to take over a ministry to help those with disabilities who had gotten ensnarled in a myriad of administrative, financial and legal problems. At times, Joe felt like Jonah and wanted to flee the call. Yet his family, fellow missioners and the greater Maryknoll community in Cochabamba encouraged and helped him start a new ministry that did not even have a pencil when it began. Today, the ministry helps over 700 persons with disabilities achieve community-based rehabilitation.
Joe was born in Royal Oak, Michigan. He has law degrees in both Bolivia and the United States.
Prior to joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Joe worked for 10 years as an assistant public defender in Detroit. During his initial years with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Bolivia, Joe served as an administrative assistant and teacher at a school for blind children and youth. At community legal aid clinics, he provided indigent persons with legal services in civil and criminal matters. Joe also assisted with parish catechism programs. Just before his current ministry, Joe worked in the prison ministry of the Archdiocese of Cochabamba, helping incarcerated women and men obtain their freedom and learn to avoid the endless cycle of recidivism through restorative justice.
Joe and his wife, Filo Siles (also a Maryknoll lay missioner), met on a blind date, and after three years of mission and two years of courtship, they married in Bolivia in 1999.
Six years later, Joe returned to the U.S. to do stateside service as Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ mission services department director in Ossining, New York. He managed the recruitment, admissions and training programs.
Since 2010, Joe and Filo have dedicated themselves to mission in Bolivia. Joe and Filo have two children, Pauline and Benjamin, who just graduated from high school in Cochabamba.