José Luis Aguilar
Year Joined MKLM: 2018
Ministry: Apoyo Escolar (school support) program. Centro Integral Santa Vera Cruz
Ministry Area: Education & Leadership Development
Ministry Goals: to grow the students’ self-esteem through the development of skills and critical thinking, to help them understand that every right entails a responsibility and motivate them to gain independence.
We work with children in one of the most marginalized areas of the metropolitan area of the city of Cochabamba. Many of the children come from families headed by one parent or a close relative, sometimes dysfunctional and often lacking appreciation for formal education. Many of them are children of indigenous migrant women whose main destinations are Argentina or Spain. They live in poverty—sometimes extreme poverty—and their social environment is very precarious.
My work focuses on helping children develop their self-esteem, promoting their freedom and contributing to their pursuit of happiness. In the morning I work mainly with the younger children who are not yet of school age. Through music and song they are taught songs that invite them to learn, value study and sharing above individualism. In the afternoon I do something similar, but with a group of children that includes others that don’t come in the morning. I concentrate on doing individual work with those whom the head teacher indicates need work on something other than the academic.
As needed, I help the children to do their homework. At the same time, I also try to reinforce with them how important it is for them to do the work and that we are only there to support them by helping them detect and correct their mistakes. This will help them gain independence and increase their self-esteem by developing their intellectual capacity. At other times I work with those who already work harder—doing their homework individually or with very little help from the support staff—offering them the possibility to learn music, guitar, charango, tarka, quena, zamponas, chess, sports (soccer, basketball or volleyball) or poetry. It all starts with a decision they must make to want to learn. Our approach is based on the theory of multiple intelligences (vs. the traditional one that only measures verbal and mathematical abilities).
The Centro Integral Santa Vera Cruz is part of the ministry of Maryknoll Father Paul Sykora and provides school support in three community centers: Centro Nueva Vera Cruz, Centro San Francisco Javier and Centro Tinkuna Wasi.
My motivation to be part of Maryknoll stems from the compatibility of the mission and vision of Maryknoll Lay Missioners with my own vision of life and my values. The first branch of Maryknoll, like the subsequent ones, was established to focus on the mission in the world, a mission at the service of the poorest and most marginalized people. That’s how I understand life as a whole.
I can not imagine a life of following Jesus, in which we do not start from the prophetic attitude of Luke 4:18-19 (which echoes Isaiah 58:6): “The spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to announce freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor.” All that has led me to this ministry.
For me there is no act more liberating than the promotion of a critical consciousness that allows us to analyze the reason for the evils we are suffering and how we can put an end to them—a vision that helps us understand that we are, in large part, the forgers of our own conditions, whether they are oppressive or liberating. And that when we are choosing the path of our liberation, we must do so with love, celebration and joy, as Pope Francis invites us to do, being a church that goes out to the margins full of faith and joy.