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Cortney Freshwater

 

Year Joined MKLM: 2018

Country: Bolivia

City: Cochabamba

Ministries: La Casa de Los Niños and Hogar San José

Ministry Area: Education and Pastoral Care

Ministry Goals: to help and provide educational resources for children with disabilities to improve their quality of life and to accompany elderly men and women to improve their quality of life.

Ministry Context:

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 (La Casa de Los Niños) within the community, where they are offered different opportunities to learn.

Hogar San José is a home, or public infirmary, for elderly men and women in the city of Cochabamba.  The majority of the 150 men and women living in this home are without family, from the street, and/or suffering from some sort of mental or physical impairment.

Current Ministry:

At La Casa de Los Niños, I work in the sensory room with children with various disabilities. I work one-on-one with students on different learning skills, sensory abilities and motor skills; we practice methods of communication; we address behavioral and social needs; and we develop skills needed in the classroom as well as in everyday life. For example, when working with my students with Down Syndrome, we focus on listening and sharing and other basic skills like how to identify letters, numbers, and colors or how to use fine motor skills. With some of my students with severe disabilities, I simply use music therapy or pressure points.  I do this throughout the morning until lunch, where I then help some of my same students stay focused to eat their lunch. Afterwards, I get to run around and play with all of the kids at recess, where I basically become a human jungle gym or am counting endless games of hide-n-seek.

This work is obviously education-based and focused on improving the quality of life for those with disabilities, in school and at home. Within this work, though, there is so much love that can’t be seen or charted on a piece of paper. The smiles, giggles and hugs I receive on a daily basis mean more to me than anything, especially knowing how some of my students have suffered abuse of various sorts. My ministry is to use my educational background to help improve their lives, but more importantly, through the love that I have for them.

At Hogar San José, I try to accompany both the residents and the staff members. I do so by helping the staff serve and feed the residents during different dinner times, helping with clean up afterwards, and doing whatever else may need to be done. I accompany the residents simply through shared conversations, moments of silence, laughter, and sometimes even tears. These moments happen as I sit outside and share stories with the same woman every day; as I’m entering the dining room and greeting people one by one; when I’m carefully putting drops into a woman’s eyes; and they happen when I’m helping a woman with her nighttime routine. My goal is that my presence offers a sense of acceptance, love, and friendship for all that I encounter in Hogar San José, especially considering so many are without the love of family.

Personal Data:

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. This was a different type of service that I had not been exposed to in the States, and I absolutely loved it. I went back to Ohio to teach second grade for two years and to continue volunteering in a local nursing home, which I also loved, yet I still felt called for something more.

After doing some research, I stumbled upon the Maryknoll Lay Missioners Program and reached out to someone in admissions simply for some answers to a few questions. I immediately felt at home and knew that this longer-term, faith-based program was where my heart was leading me. Because of my background in education, my experience working with the elderly and those with disabilities, and my passion for both, I was able to find two ministries here that fulfill the calling I felt so deeply. I feel unbelievably blessed to be working with the people in La Casa de Los Niños and Hogar San José, as I continue to build relationships, share and learn from those around me, and grow in my passions and love every day.