Frustrations from South Africa

by Admin / 3. August 2006 08:13

Wow. Where do I begin to talk about the many frustrations that I have felt since arriving in South Africa?

Hospitals in South Africa can be one of the most frustrating experiences. There are cues everywhere and no one seems to be moving. On one occasion I accompanied one of my roommates to the hospital because it was over an hour away and she had never been there before. The day started at 5:30 am. We were told that the patient had an appointment to get her results back from blood tests and x-rays at 9:00 am. We arrived at the hospital a little after 7 am and waited in a cue to get her medical file. After that we were told that her appointment was in room 5. After looking for that room, we were told that room 5 no longer existed and we needed to get in cue. After waiting for an hour the patient walked to another room and then was told that she already had all the tests completed and we just needed to wait for the doctor to arrive to read the results and then we could be on our way. Logically our next question was when are the doctors supposed to arrive. She replied 11 am. It was 9 am. At 11:20 am the doctors began to call names. At this point, the patient was getting tired. The doctor informed us that they had lost all the tests and they needed to be redone. After a frustrated laugh, we took the patient where she needed to go. Forty minutes later, we were completed and waiting to see the doctor again so that he could read the result. After waiting another hour we asked the nurse how long results took to get back. She informed us two to three hours. At this point, I left the hospital in search of food for the three of us. I returned and found out that the doctors had all gone to lunch. This was at 1:30 pm. I couldn’t believe it they had only been working for two and half hours. At 3:00 pm, we were finally seen and the results were read. An Appointment that was supposed to take about 3 or 4 hours with travel ended up taking 11 hours with travel time.
This is just one example of the daily frustration that we and all the people here in South Africa face each day. Here is a list of other frustrations:

- 5 donated computers on Monday. 4 stolen by Wednesday.
- Watching people wait hours to catch a Kombi to take a ride that should take 15 minutes, but rather they have to transfer in Pinetown so it takes an hour or more
- Someone trying to break into the house only a month after we got here
- Seeing children go hungry
- Children not being able to afford tuition for school. Its 75 rand for the year. Only 10 US dollars
- Seeing a disease ravage someone’s body
- Seeing a child get hit by a parent
- Listening to children say that they will not go to the local High School because it is that big of a joke and they know that they will not learn anything, but also knowing that other high schools cost 10,000 rand to go to
- Having a roommate try desperately to get one of the students into a good high school, but because of his age being denied left and right.
- The list could go on for a while

The funny thing though is that all those frustrations go right out the window with the smallest of things. Listening to the children of St. Leo’s singing in the morning, reading a book with one of the children of St. Theresa’s, or just putting a smile on a person face that is dying from AIDS. Yesterday we had a farewell at St. Leo’s and even though some the children would not eat that day, they still sang and danced and continued to make us feel welcome. From the first day to the last, the people of Molweni and Kloof have made us feel a part of their community and that acceptance and welcoming has made it much easier to deal with the frustraions of everyday life in South Africa, and instead of giving up, continuing to learn from and help where we can.

Pat DiDomenico

South Africa 2005-2006


Internationals 2005-2006

A trip to the Meseta Andina

by Admin / 7. June 2006 08:14

There is a place that exists, hidden from the rest of the world by a formidable mountain rage, forgotten, or maybe, simply, yet to be acknowledged. Lacking electricity, the millions of stars that appear every night in the heavens are the only primetime shows the people have ever known. Survival depends on the land, thus the weather dictates the extremity of the poverty these people are exposed to daily. The sunrise can find a whole family huddled in their small kitchen with no windows or ventilation, braving the smoke for a chance to sit closer to the fire while tortillas are flipped in the skillet. Silence becomes a remarkable companion for anyone visiting from below, who has unconsciously become accustomed to a constant stream of noises and distractions.

Up until two weeks ago I had no idea that a place like the Meseta Andia existed. I had heard tales from my good friend Padre Kevin (a Priest from England) who has made two visits to “Las Altura” (the Heights, as the Meseta Andina is referred to by the people in the town below). Padre Kevin works in the Parish of Frias in the Andes Mountains. His parish includes about 100 small pueblos scattered throughout the mountainous terrain, 14 of which are on the Meseta. Padre Kevin, along with the another Peruvian Priest, deacon, and 3 Marist Sisters spend much of their time traveling to each pueblito, ensuring that each one is visited by a priest or nun at least once a year. Padre Kevin showed us pictures and told us tales of sitting around for hours waiting for the person from the next town to come with the horses to lead you to the next pubelito, eating small potatoes, cheese, and tortillas for breakfast lunch and dinner, and staying in the house of a local, sharing food, shelter, and sometimes a bed with these generous people, willing to share what little they have. The stories were impressive, they sparked my imagination and my interest, but they were never able to convey the immense beauty of the Meseta and the people who have made it their home.

Padre Kevin invited my roommates and me to experience the Meseta, accompanying him on one of his pastoral visits. Brenden and I traveled with Padre Kevin while Roger and Ellen went with Hermana Palepa on her visits. We planned to visit three villages, helping Padre Kevin to hold meetings, talk to school children, hold mass, and, yes, sing (a lot). Walking up to the Meseta, it is hard to imagine that anyone lives on the summit of the mountain peaks. The five hour walk up seems to lead to a dead end, the top of the mountain, and nothing more, but the efforts are rewarded, and as the last bend of the trail opens up a whole different world is revealed. As though from a storybook, green hills and small brooks and bright flowers can be found 3,000 meters up, at the summit of a mountain. This place is so cut off from the outside world, only accessible by foot or horse due to a heavy rainy season, it is a sensation unlike any other, as though you have been lead into a different world, where time is slower, and the petty stresses of the world below become insignificant.

In our 4 days, we were welcomed warmly into three different, yet beautiful and generous families. I never appreciated the simple beauty of a mass, a blessing I have taken for granted my whole life, until I celebrated with people who know that this is their own chance to receive Eucharist, talk with a Priest, and celebrate sacraments for an entire year. After mass, instead of rushing off to their busy lives, the people gather, and out of nowhere they begin to pull out food, whatever they may have, and put it all on a table. The people who have just shared the Bread of Christ break the bread of their own hands, of their own sweat, and of their own land; with their neighbors. The food my appear meager by normal standards, but becomes, like the loaves and the fishes, sufficient to feed all of the eager mouths, and everyone leaves knowing they have eaten food given and made of love, shared with neighbors and friends.

Our experience in “Las Alturas” was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. It opened for me new perspectives and expanded my understanding of the world in which we live. I will never forget the people I encountered on the Meseta. Though I doubt I will ever be able to make the trip again, it is a memory I will return to countless times in my life. The tranquility and peace I felt during my visit is something I will always remember and strive to maintain despite the stresses and distractions the sometimes try to overpower.

Katie Pheasant

Chulucanas, Peru 2005-2006


Internationals 2005-2006


by Admin / 29. April 2006 09:49

Well I just spent the last half and hour or so writting up this blog thing only to have it disappear before my eyes. To be honest I would like nothing more then to just throw this computer to the floor. However, in my tieme here in Chulucanas I have learned patience. Therefore I will try to rewrite what I had written before. I apoligize if its a little short. Today we had the privelledge of being able to go and see the ordination of two new Augustinian priests in Morropon. Monsignor took the lead in the mass dressed in his bishop costume. It was a lovely ceremony with the cathedral filled with family, friends, and random people like us. It was great to be able to meet and greet so many Augustinians from all over Peru. There is definatly something about these Augies that they all have in common, they are all wonderfully nice people. We were able to share a mass and lunch with them and had a very nice time. The strange thing is that this might be a typical Saturday for us. But only in the fact that there is no such thing as a typical day in Chulucanas. One week to the next is a new adventure with new things to learn everyday. It is something that I have come to love about being down here. Never really knowing what type of interesting and amazing circumstance you will find yourself in from one day to the next. This is always true in our teaching.

Currently we are teaching first grade through sixth grade in Santa Rita in Morropon. We are teaching English to around 500 hundred children every Thursday and Friday. The trip to get out to Morropon is an interesting one that begins with a 5:45 wake up call, which is mighty early for me. Then we hop in a car and head to the bridge. Now the bridge is really only half a bridge, with a set of stairs in the middle. After getting out of the the car we could either be getting to these stairs on foot, donkey cart, or boat depending on how high the river is. Once up and across the bridge we jump into a mototaxi and head to school. All in all this takes about an hour to an hour and a half. I teach 5th and share 2nd grade with Katie. Let me tell you these kids have lots of energy just not so much motivation. I guess its just a difference a see between the education system in the US and here. Its tough to explain but its definatly a disadvantage for these kids. On example is when Katie and I were teaching the English alphabet to the second graders. They were having a difficult time and it was very frustrating. Then the teacher comes to us and says that its going to be very hard to teach these kids the English alphabet when they don’t know the Spanish one yet. What?!?!? They don’t know the SPANISH ALPHABET in second grade. So sometimes its frustrating trying to teach these kids. But I am seeing some improvement and that gives me hope.

With our time left here dwindling down I find myself wondering what have I done here. Have I done any good at all? Its a tough question that I still struggle to find the answer to. But Kevin Martin told me one good piece of advice, look at the relationships you’ve made down here and the good you’ve gotten and given from them. That is something that is tough to quantify but I know its out there. Maybe I won’t be able to really see it all till I’ve left this place. But I know that I am making every day I have left here count and not regretting anything. I hope this has given you some insight in to the madness I live in down here in Peru. I miss you all and can’t wait to see you. CÃao y cuidate.


Brenden Alexander

Chulucanas, Peru 2005-2006


Internationals 2005-2006

The Way of the Cross...

by Admin / 20. April 2006 09:52

In preparation for Easter, I recently went to the Stations of the Cross at the Marianhill Monastery Cloisters on Good Friday. This community was founded in 1882 by a Trappist abbot and was taken over in 1909 by the Marianhill Missionary order. It is now situated in the slum quarter of Pinetown (about 20 minutes outside Durban) and has developed into an important training center for Black South Africans. Having heard about the Stations early in Lent, I marked it on my calendar and was looking forward to it even before I really knew what it was about.

We arrived on Friday morning and soon, a locked door was opened for us, an entry into the beautiful gardens on the inside of the cloisters… a reflective setting for what we were about to witness and participate in. The German priest who lead the Stations with the help of two young African brothers prefaced the meditation by telling us that ten years ago, the Archdiocese of Durban had used HIV/AIDS as the Stations theme, using adapted, real-life stories to reflect each Station of the Cross from the Gospel in a modern way. They were able to use genuine names and life situations of those infected and affected by this disease and because of this unexpected version of the Stations, I was deeply affected in a way I was not anticipating; it’s meaning went beyond just praying the Stations of the Cross. As the priest spoke, I could think of someone I know or have taken care of that would fit the appropriate Station. So instead of using the people intheir reflections, and with my ministry to HIV/AIDS in mind, I am going to create my own reflection with those who have become a part of my life here in South Africa.

The First Station of the Cross… Jesus is condemned to death. Ntombizonke’s mother, severely affected by post-partum depression, comes to the hospice with Thulani, the baby’s father. She is disinterested in the baby, not wanting to hold or even look at her AIDS affected, beautiful child. Thulani is surprisingly HIV negative, leaving me 99.9% sure the mother is positive. I do my first HIV test, after having just learned how to earlier that day. The lines on both tests turn red within the 5 minutes required to wait, indicating she is HIV positive. I counsel her about how it will affect her life, who her support systems are, how she will now take care of herself. Yet, just like Jesus, she received a death sentence that day in the small room we sat in.

The Fifth Station of the Cross… Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross. Mzwakhe, weakened by the constant diarrhea and vomiting, only has enough energy to make slight movements in his bed without assistance. So getting him from the bed to the wheelchair, from the wheelchair to the car, and from the car to his small home down the side of a mountain was quite a physical challenge. He could not do it alone. Despite the fact that I worried about his physical well-being even if it was just for a one night pass out from the hospice, I knew the emotional benefits of spending a night at home with his wife and children would heal him in a way no medication could. So we carried this man of about 100 lbs. down a steep dirt path to a small home made of tin, mud, and wood. Just like Jesus, Mzwakhe could not do it alone.

The Twelfth Station of the Cross… Jesus dies on the cross. The gift of the lives of Joseph, Roy, Bongekile, Shalazile, Zodwa, Thulisile, Mhakosi, Rose, Sibusiso, Qomofuka, Nontobeko, Zandile, Dumisani, Roseline, Tholasile, Malcolm, Stanley, Bulelani, Bonisiwe, Tholakele, Ngenzeni…. and so many more. Just like Jesus, they died on their cross… the burden of AIDS.

Each Station now has more incredible meaning for me… keeping in my mind and heart those from my ministry here whose sacred lives and deaths fit so appropriately into each step of Christ’s path right before He died for us.
Let us be mindful of the new life in this Easter!

Tierney Echelmeier

South Africa 2005-2006


Internationals 2005-2006

america de sur

by Admin / 24. January 2006 10:02

Hey everyone, I hope that you are all doing well in all your sites, I love reading all of yall’s blogs and hearing updates about how everything is going for each of you.

I can’t believe that our year is already half way over, but, Chulucanas has definitely become my home throughout these previous five months. Here’s a little synopsis of what’s been going on with me in Chulu…

My community and I spent the first month living at the bishop’s house, the second month with a peruvian family, and we didn’t actually move in all together until Novemeber. As I thought I would, I have definitely learned a great deal living within a commuity setting in a new and foreign environment. Every day, I am thankful for having them here to learn from them and to share this experience with them.

We don’t really have a set job or schedule, because that would just not be Peruvian. As a community, we have been building stoves for families who were chosen to recieve the cocina mejorada. We’ll hopefully build 24 stoves in Chulucanas, but the hardest part is choosing the families who will recieve them. All of these families are poor, so it makes it difficult to choose the poorest of the poor when each of them are in need of a better and healthier environment. The next part is to teach them that this stove can give them and their family a longer and safer life. The family is being forced to change their culture of cooking on the groud to using the stove that we’ve built for them, and many times it’s easier for them to revert back to thier comfort zone.

We ususally build the cocinas 2 or 3 days a week, and then Katie and I have been working with the Mercy Sisters with women in some of the rural areas on the outskirts of Chulucanas. The four of us, Katie, myself, and two other Marist Volunteers , give a speech based on self-esteem once a week to 20 women. The talks are based in order to help raise their self-esteem, because these women are so shy and timid. We want to give them a positive sense of their own self identity, and the talks are on a very basic level. For example, the first week we talked about our own individual likes and dislikes, and one of the women said that she liked ironing. She then said that it’s not about liking or disliking things, but they are forced to work every single day so it’s just things that have to get done. Any ways, we are just trying to teach them that it’s okay for them to like something that their friends or husband doesn’t like, which is a new ound idea for many of them.

For a third project, I have just began working at this organization for abused women and children. I’ve only been there for two days so far, but I was thrown right into the swing of things. There is a lot of legal stuff involved with, as far as getting both parents to help support the child. I’m sure it’s difficult in any country, but the difference here is that they are fighting for money that neither of them have. Another difference is that there is not much justice in the law, the police can easily be persuaded either way with a small bribe. So, we try and work out some of the problems between the mom and the dad in order for what is best for the child. It is a challenge for me though when they are both yelling at each other in fast spanish and using a lot of slang, and then they both look at me with a blank look of how I can fix their situation. Let’s just say that it’s a learning experience for all of us.

Allright, that’s a little about my time here so far, and I look forward to reading about the rest of yall’s lives as well. 

Ellen Donohue

Chulucanas, Peru 2005-2006


Internationals 2005-2006

Sawubona eAfrica

by Admin / 2. November 2005 10:18

A place I thought I would never have to wait more than 2 hours in; a place that is supposed to take care of their patients with attention, with carefullness, with, for the most part, a smiling face; a place that is supposed to simply help, a place called the hospital; a place that I have come to learn is quite different in this country.

Tierney and I and one of the Sisters from the AIDS Hospice, spent 7-8 hours in the hospital, about two weeks ago, when we brought a girl, for confidentiality purposes, “G”, from the women’s shelter that we work next to when at the AIDS hospice, because she was suffering from severe stomach pains. Once there, now 315pm, we waited about 30-45 minutes just to be spoken to by the receptionist because of the 15 other people that sat before us. We were lucky enough to have had a medical note from the clinic that “G” had received early that day or else we would have waited 4 additional hours aside from the 7-8 we were about to experience. After we were registered, “G” went to another room to have her blood pressure taken and, because the Sister worked her magic, “G” was seen by the doctor faster than it would have usually have taken.

But the day does not end. After the doctor saw “G,” she had to go and have blood taken and then reviewed. So we were off to another room where we waited almost an hour or so for a bed for “G” to sit at and wait for the nurse to come and take her blood. Once the bed was made, “G” waited. I ended up sitting with “G” while we waited and was told by her, about her sad childhood story. In this time, a woman two beds over was choking on, what I thought was, foam. I went to the nurse to tell her that the woman did not look okay and that she was choking on something and she said not to worry because the woman was sick and would be fine. Not ten minutes later the woman passed away from choking on her own vomit.

About 10 minutes from then, Tierney had at this point joined us, we, Tierney and I, had to tell the nurse that the woman passed away, otherwise they never would have known. We said our prayers and continued on with our night because there was nothing more for us to do. However, we did continue to check the other patients that surrounded us in fear that they too passed away without anyone realizing. Luckily, we did not have to worry.

The nurse finally came around to take “G” blood and in the time she was taking the blood she needed to switch vials. Well, she needed to cap the one vial and because she did not position herself correctly, she needed assistance and asked me to hold the vial of blood. I do not know what this nurse was thinking, but in a country that is filled with HIV/AIDS, and not wearing protective gloves, I was not about to hold anyone’s blood. So I thought quickly and told “G” to hold her own vial of blood.

Once the blood was taken, 8 pm at this point, we had to wait another hour to get the lab results. I decided to go out and sit on the bench, which I am thankful that I did. During this waiting period, Tierney and I sat among those waiting to see the doctor, sang isiZulu songs (ones Tierney and I knew), spoke the words that we knew in isiZulu, made people laugh and smile, talked and heard some stories. We experienced the system of the hospital in South Africa, a way I thought I would never come to know, but am thankful that I have. “G” finally got her results, 9pm, and then waited another 30-40 minutes to see the doctor again, just to tell her that she was fine and probably has a bladder infection. We made it home for 11:15pm.

Things are not always the same in other parts of the world. Patience brought us through this day and as said before, I am thankful I experienced it, because now I have a taste of what these people go through each time they need to see a doctor.

Peace and Love,

Amy Phelps

South Africa 2005-2006


Internationals 2005-2006

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