"Estás acostumbrado?"

by m.donovan / 10. August 2015 12:15

Coming to Peru for the first time I had little if any idea what I was getting myself into, but even knowing that going in I was very surprised with what I found. When we first arrived especially, and even on occasion now people ask "¿Estás acostumbrado?" which means "Have you acclimated?" I always answer with apprehension because to me they were asking if all of this seemed normal, if Chulucanas was really my home or if I was still a North American living in South America. This acclimation has been a slow process for me and the truth is I will always be a missionary in a foreign land, but at least I can say I am no longer just a visitor.

This process of moving from visitor to missionary, has been gradual. Things that I thought would help me to acclimate, proved to be great hurdles for me to overcome. Things that I thought I might struggle with became the things that supported and comforted me. Spanish, which I considered to be a strength of mine going in proved to be a great challenge, acclimating to dialects and accents and encountering new situations with new vocabularies and grammar, made me quickly realize how limited my "conversational" Spanish really was. But with time and patience, I have been able to improve. I can have deep and meaningful conversations in Spanish now instead of merely polite casual exchanges as I had had in the past. Another major hurdle for me became the Mass, having traveled to Europe and Central America before, I was no stranger to the Mass in foreign languages, and had attended Mass many times in Spanish. When traveling I always found comfort in the familiarity of the Mass, and even though I couldn't understand it often, I still enjoyed it. But in Peru, the unfamiliarity of something that should have been so familiar only served to further demonstrate how far from home I really was. However, this too would pass. The strength I received from the Bread of Life and the Blood of Salvation in the Eucharist sustained me in my studies of the ordinaries and the learning of the responses. With time I have even acclimated to the singing style, and the clapping and cheering during Mass. 

My work has proved to be an incredible source or strength for me. While extremely challenging and frustrating, having the opportunity to see the rewards of my labor have been indescribable. Before the year started, I was very concerned about my ability to help in Peru, I am not a doctor, I am not a priest, I am not a teacher, I am not a social worker, I am not a pharmacist, but to the people of Peru I am all those things. And while I don't do surgery or hear confession, I am treated with the same level of respect and expected to have the same level of expertise as if I did. The skills that I brought with me were simple, I speak English and I work hard. How I was going to translate that into tangible good for the people of Chulucanas was a mystery to me. I put my faith in God and asked him to make me an imperfect tool in his perfect hands, that he may work through me and that I have the strength to follow his will. 

This faith has been most rewarded in my work with the First Hand Foundation, a non-profit from the U.S. primarily funded through Cerner which gives money to children in need of medical treatment who would otherwise be unable to receive treatment because of their economic situation. Through this program I met Josner a two year old from the countryside who has cerebral palsy, a condition that will greatly impair his mental and physical development and will prevent him from living a normal life. And while no one can cure him of this, as a result of this he had a seized left achilles tendon which prevents him from walking. Through Firsthand I was able to get the funding for him to have surgery to repair his achilles and one day soon he will be able to walk. The process of applying for this funding was arduous as every document, of which there were many and some of which were hand written doctors notes (unfortunately poor handwriting among doctors seems to be a cross cultural phenomenon), had to be translated into English. To be able to go from an initial interview with Josner and his mother when we were both trying to figure out how this was all going to work, and then a few months to be at the hospital with the same mother waiting for her son to come out of the surgery that was going to dramatically improve his life was an unbelievably wonderful and rewarding experience. My work has given me a purpose, a reason to be in this foreign land and though I may never completely acclimate to Peru, I have found a home in Chulucanas.

Michael Donovan

Chulucanas, Peru 2015


Internationals 2015

Making a Difference

by a.mall / 5. July 2015 14:15

This past June I had the privilege of working as a medical translator for Global Health Ministry´s mission in Chulucanas, Peru. Translating was a challenging but rewarding experience. 

Throughout the two weeks of the medical campaign, I translated for the same pediatrician. Day after day, we saw lots and lots of sick kids together, and we formed a very special bond.

She mentioned to me that this was her third campaign. When I asked her about her first experience abroad, she said, “To be honest, it took me most of the two weeks to decide that I would do it again.” When I asked her why, she said, “Well, I suppose that I was incredibly ignorant, and kind of thinking that I was just such a nice person, and going to save the world or something like that. And then for two weeks all I treated or saw was worms, worms, and worms. You know, what the surgery team does- that really fixes something. I would like to be able to do that.” 

Throughout the week, I had been inspired by this pediatrician. She had used her vacation time and her own money to come to Chulucanas on this mission, and even with my limited medical background, it was obvious to me that she was an excellent practitioner. 

At different times, my community members and I have discussed our common sentiment of not feeling useful enough in our service here in Peru. Although we are all grateful for our jobs and the good that they do, we see the huge needs that exist and wish that we could do more. 

My conversation with this pediatrician made me realize that no one, not even the most accomplished of doctors, has the privilege of seeing or totally understanding the final product of their service. 

Yet, although prescribing worm medication is not nearly as dramatic as providing a cleft lip surgery, freeing a child from parasites does substantially affect his day-to-day reality. 

For me, this moment I shared with the pediatrician held the lesson that as volunteers or professionals, all of us will sometimes wonder whether we are truly making a difference. However, if we continue doing “the next right thing,” to the best of our abilities, we have good reason to be hopeful. Mother Teresa’s wise observation on the significance and limitations of our service is especially pertinent in light of this year:  “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

Lyssa Mall
Chulucanas, Peru 2015


Internationals 2015

Directing the Fourth

by b.dillon / 4. June 2015 02:31

One of my greatest joys of this year was when I was allowed to direct the final Kairos retreat of the year, as is customary for the St. Augustine High School AV to do.  Though it was challenging at times, I was lucky enough to very much enjoy the process as a whole and even found joy in the challenges themselves.

The previous Kairos that myself and others in Campus Ministry had helped lead was the biggest Kairos in a few years, with 36 retreatants. As that Kairos had not gone quite as smoothly as I would have hoped logistically speaking, I was weary about accepting more students on this final one. Despite this, my supervisor, Fr. Mark, and I went ahead and decided to allow 42 retreatants to attend. It seemed almost absurd, then, when I considered adding the additional five seniors who were on the waiting list. I talked to one of the assistant principals about the matter. He strongly recommended I not take the last five. I talked to the former head of Campus Ministry. She recommended that I absolutely should. In the end I finally decided that despite the logistical problems it might pose, it was worth to give those seniors the chance to go.  Thus, including the student and adult leaders attending, the total number of people coming on the retreat was now 62.  Soon after, of course, it was learned that one of the rooms where we would be meeting had a listed capacity of 38 people.

Throughout all of this chaos, however, I really did enjoy the work. While new problems seemed to arise nearly everyday, I found myself able to view them more as challenges that would be solved rather than obstacles that could not be overcome. Running around and seeking various opinions was not only exciting, but I felt that the work I was doing was something that actually mattered, as in the end it could result in making some difference in students’ lives. I knew God was on our side, and that with his help, it would all work out. And it did. The logistics ended up playing out fine and we were able to fit everyone into the meeting room snuggly. What are fire codes anyway?

Another part of retreat preparation I very much enjoyed was working with the team of student leaders.  It takes a lot for me to willingly interact with members of my own species at 7am, but these guys made the meetings worth it. They showed real humility and leadership skills, both following directions well and stepping up to take charge when appropriate.  Possibly most importantly, however, they were courageous. (If you are some overeager underclassmen and Googled my name or something, stop reading here, I am going to spoil some secret Kairos stuff). One thing required of the student leaders is that they all share their faith journey in front of the entire retreat group. As this often includes sharing some of the most challenging times in many of their lives, they were all understandably nervous to give their talks. Working with them on this was certainly difficult at times, but once again, it was also a really great process to watch unfold.  After encouraging them to be open, honest, and brave, they all came through and delivered wonderful talks on the retreat. It was awesome to watch them not only give their talks but the confidence boost they received from being able to share their stories in front of everyone. Therefore, all in all, I considered the retreat a success.

Brendan Dillon
San Diego 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

Voices of the City

by b.larose / 15. May 2015 15:48

Philadelphia VIP is a nonprofit legal service agency. At VIP I have worked with a variety of clients seeking assistance with a multitude of legal problems. I have been honored to hear the stories of so many lives. I’ve witnessed family reunions in our office, and seen the pride that comes when a client has finally signed their name on a deed giving them title to a home they have lived in for twenty years. I have even signed as a witness to these documents- leaving my mark on Philly forever!

I spend a large amount of each day calling clients and gathering information on their lives. I obtain documents from city hall, and pull dockets from online portals, and most importantly I ask extensive questions. Through these questions and documents I am able to catch a glimpse of my client’s life. Although I work with some clients longer than others, a relationship of trust is always built and managed. As a case progresses I start to look for a volunteer attorney to carry out the legal work that needs to be done for the client. Once a volunteer generously accepts my client’s case, I have the privilege of calling the client to let them know.

The joy in my clients’ voices makes all of the work that has taken to build their case worth it. I look forward to each and every one of these calls I make. At a time when it feels like I am giving something to the client, they are actually giving something to me. Each call giving a client good news makes up for any struggle or challenge that I am facing that day. It is a reminder that the work being done at VIP is so important and life changing and that I am a part of that work. That reminder, given by the client to me, gives me the motivation to wake up and go back to work day after day.

As my volunteer year is coming to an end, I carry worth a vast array of new knowledge and life skills. I am forever grateful to the clients who have challenged me and encouraged me. I am humbled to be surrounded by such an amazing group of colleagues and astounding number of eager and open hearted volunteers. I leave with the confidence that Philadelphia VIP is changing the world, one client at a time. 


Brittany LaRose

Philadelphia, PA (2014-2015)


Domestics 2014-2015

Standing at the Margins, Sitting down for Dinner

by m.bucaria / 4. May 2015 20:00
Each Wednesday the volunteers at Many Meals gather to pray before serving dinner to the 150 or so guests who assemble for dinner. The volunteers rarely change, except from the four or five students from St. Bonaventure High School who signed up to fulfill their service hours by working that week. Although these students differ weekly, their contributions at our post-project group reflection rarely change.

The students are moved by the guests’ cheerfulness and gratitude, are inspired by the volunteers who go week after week, and are thankful that such a program exists. As of last week I have brought students on 25 different Wednesdays, and even after that many Many Meals I am still stirred by this indigestibly profound experience. I have learned a lot while refilling glasses with punch or getting seconds of shepherd’s pie, but the most impactful morsel I have taken away is this: “I smile because I don’t have any reason to frown.”

Sue tells me this as she gives me a hug hello. She stops to greet everyone she sees on the way to her usual table with a hug, and one week I comment on how happy she is. She shrugs and tells me that she hugs because she’s happy, and she’s happy because she has no reason not to be. Sue sometimes struggles to be understood because a developmental disability affects her muscular control, including her speech. Although her speech sometimes challenges the listener, her smile never does.

By Wednesday afternoon, I’m usually pretty tired. I love St. Bonaventure High School and I love facilitating its Christian Service Program, but high schoolers can be – and usually are – exhausting. We participate in various types of service projects ranging from community garden cleanups to Special Olympics tournaments, but few energize and inspire both me and the students like Many Meals does.

Guests like Sue who always smiles, Peter who loves talking with teachers for their “stunning intellect” (how he confused me in this category I’ll never know), and Justice who may be the happiest baby I’ve ever met all shape Many Meals and make it unique. Unlike some assistance programs which merely pile on a tray and send people to quickly eat by themselves, Many Meals offers the community of a dinner table and the hospitality of a home… to 150 people from all corners of the community.

While chaperoning a group of students who went to LA Youth Day in March, I had the privilege of listening to the keynote speaker Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries. He said that if we stand long enough with those at the margins, “we’ll notice the margins disappearing under our feet.” By encountering our neighbors who we may otherwise never meet, the students encounter the truer reality of what their community actually looks like and what their role in that can be.

When Wednesday at 5:15 (well, 5:20 since I’m usually running late) strikes, I’m definitely the most tired I will be that week, because after leaving Many Meals at 7:30 I am energized, inspired, and motivated to meet any challenges that the rest of the week and weekend may offer. Likewise, because of experiences like Many Meals, as my volunteer year draws to a close I feel energized to take this year worth of lessons with me to whatever comes next.

Mike Bucaria
Ventura, CA 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

The Power of Children

by t.keefer / 13. April 2015 18:52

As I was getting ready to head into my volunteer year, I was pretty excited at the chance to work in a parochial elementary school. My own experience as a student in a parochial elementary was awesome, and I wanted to see what it was like from the other side, as a teacher. Little did I know that working in a grade school would be one of the most joyous experiences of my life.


This has been a tough year for my family, and being away from them has not been easy. Two of the biggest male influences of my life, my uncle and grandfather passed away within four months of each other. My uncle’s death was early in my volunteer year, September, and just as it seemed I was beginning to get comfortable at St. Augustine’s in Andover, I found myself on a train home wondering if I was going to be able to continue this year knowing the rest of my family would be miles and miles away mourning. On my first day back at school after being home for two weeks, I wasn’t sure what to expect and was nervous that the students would not respond well to my absence. I kept thinking to myself, “Should I be here right now?” My mom had just lost her youngest sibling and I wanted to be able to comfort her as much as I could. As these thoughts pondered in my head on the ride to work that morning, my answer came within a matter of seconds as soon as I walked into the schoolyard for morning prayer. A second grader named Emma ran up to me and immediately threw her arms around me as she shouted “Mr. Keefer I missed you!” She was quickly followed by a high-pitched voiced that came from a kindergartener named Kendall as she said “I’m so glad you’re back!” After her there was Sophia and Ben from first grade, Lauren from third grade, all the eighth grade boys whom I try to influence the best way I possibly can as they look up to me as a role model, and countless other students who made me feel right at home. That 15 minute period in the school yard before morning prayer took place completely erased any doubts I had about not continuing my volunteer year. It also would make my Grandfather’s passing that much more bearable.


The power of children is indescribable. They look at the world with such wonder, such beauty, such excitement. I find myself learning more and more from them each day than them learning from me. As soon as I walk into that school yard each morning, my mood is instantly changed positively and any tiredness is quickly turned into high energy. The students at St. Augustine have changed my life and I hope that when my year is over, they remember me well because they will be in my thoughts and heart for the rest of my life. 


Tom Keefer

Lawrence, MA 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

Kissing Dirt

by k.vanspankeren / 30. March 2015 22:25

Recently I began practicing an equally beautiful and difficult part of my day, the “Heroic Minute.” In these few moments of the morning, Saint Jose Maria Escriva challenges us to conquer our flesh by winning the first battle of the day: getting out of bed. When my alarm sounds, I do my best to sit up, recite my daily prayer to St. Rose of Lima, and get out of bed and onto my hands and knees to kiss the floor. In kissing the floor I am reminded that Jesus walked the very same ground that I am touching with my lips. I am moved to gratefulness; I am moved to service. I am humbled at the very beginnings of my day.

I have kissed a lot of floors in the past few months. From Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago, to crazy places on a family RV trip, and all the way to South America, I have been pursing God in this journey of mortification. I fail more times than none, but Blessed Mother Teresa reminds us that we are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.

I have even kissed a variety of floors here in Chulucanas. The floor at the obispado where we stayed for a week was clean and cold; the one in my current bedroom in our community home is dusted with crumbs and holes like craters. In between these in the month of February, I had the great privilege and joy to live with a family. Pelao, Socorro, Anabel, y Rafaela welcomed me with hearts wide open and an amazing generosity I had never experienced before. I soon found myself in this foreign, intimidating place with new, caring family. I found myself with love.

Love in these days with the Mendoza’s also meant something very new to me: kissing dirt. The floor in my bedroom was the same floor that extended outside the walls of my home. My floor was dirt. When I first went to get on my hands and knees and put my face to the ground, I stopped in awe. I was shocked. I was confused. I was scared. This moment is only an example of the various times I have felt this way in Peru. From buying raw chicken from a woman on the street, to understanding the Peruvian school system as a teacher, to building a new life with two strangers-turned-community-members, I am uncomfortable to say the least. No matter how many times I do it, transition is hard for me. It’s like kissing dirt.

I think God asks us to kiss the dirt. He asks us to intimately embrace the exigent, the daunting, the painful, because He is inviting us to greatness. He offers to teach us real joy that comes through suffering, through getting uncomfortable, awkward, and vulnerable. In this way, He encourages us to know and trust His Son. I am recently trying to greet God with a smiling heart in all these circumstances, for I feel His strong and gentle hands holding me through these mysterious challenges. I also know that the day arrives when you become grateful for the dirt. The day arrives when the dirt becomes beautiful. The dirt becomes love. It may even become your home.

Kristin Van Spankeren

Chulucanas, Peru, 2015


Internationals 2015

Comfort zone? Where?

by a.macdonald / 22. March 2015 22:30

My heart was beating fast. My hands were clammy. I was caught up in my own thoughts. 

These are all symptoms, I have discovered, of being outside of my comfort zone. Some people hate these feelings, some thrive off of them. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I love putting myself in new situations as it is an opportunity to learn, but I am always concerned how I am doing. These symptoms first showed up during my phone interview a year ago with the Augustinian Volunteers. The interview must have gone well because in August, I was off to a new city with new roommates and a new job. My comfort zone was nowhere to be seen. My heart was racing on the way to the airport, until I heard the comfort of my favorite song, Let it Be. It immediately reminded me to welcome the new change and embrace my decision to stray from the norm. 

The symptoms quickly disappeared when my roommates went from strangers to friends.  Don't get me wrong, we still took a while to get to know each other, but these girls have undoubtedly seen me at my most vulnerable, something that I normally try to avoid around new people.  While we were getting used to our jobs and being away from home we relied heavily on each other for support. It was comforting knowing there were people near that were going through the same process as me. 

I wasn't surprised to feel my heart race and my mind wander the morning of my first day at work. Starting a new job is intimidating for most people. ADROP has been an incredible experience for me. From day one I have felt welcome and appreciated for the work that I do. Not everyone is so lucky. 

Last Sunday I found these symptoms resurface. It was an average Sunday, the girls and I found ourselves at 7pm mass but something was different. Something was causing my hear to race, my hands to get clammy. I was a going to be a lector for the first time. I could have finished my year in the comfort of the pew we sit in each week. I could continue with my normal routine at work without pushing myself to make an impact. I could have kept a happy-go-lucky facade around my roommates to avoid being vulnerable. Yet I do none of these things. I find myself somewhere in the middle of loving and hating being outside of my comfort zone. It is out here that I learn and grow most. It is out here that I find the strength in my faith and presence of God.

Abby MacDonald

Philadelphia, PA 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

Help! My Rabbits Are Still Peeing Blood.

by m.mccormick / 8. March 2015 18:54

It’s a Friday, and the phones are ringing like mad. It seems everyone in Ojai Valley has a crisis, and my boss Karen has been shooting all over town in the Ferrari (nickname of her rickety Ford pickup), doing her best to put out the fires.


We’re holding down the fort at the Community Assistance Program (the only social services site in the valley), but there's a full moon tonight and things are reaching critical mass. There are no slow days in social work, but this one is extra hectic – our clients face evictions, medical emergencies, and other calamities.


Karen is the captain of this ship, and she’s trained her crew well. That being said, we’re rudderless without her, and it shows as we scramble to get our passengers into the right lifeboats.


Todd’s balancing two food boxes on his shoulders, tiptoeing over the toddlers who play on the floor by Alicia, who’s filling out a rental assistance form in Spanish for the mom, who’s handing birth certificate copies to Whitney, who’s sprinting past Paula, who’s pacifying a full waiting-room… who all want to know, is Karen in yet???


The phone rings – it’s Karen! 


“Hi, Mick-Mack!” she shouts. 


Something’s happening with a Vietnam vet, a refrigerator, and a bag of tomatoes… but there’s a siren in the background and I don’t quite get it all.


“Back in a while,” she says.


In the meantime, we offer everyone the chance to leave a note with name, number and message on Karen’s desk, with the promise that we will consult and help as soon as possible. Some understand, others are disappointed.


One of the harsher truths at a walk-in center is that not every emergency has a same-day fix, but I try to remember what Karen says – “We didn’t cause the problem, Mick-Mack, we just do our best to help fix it.”


So I press on, knowing that we’ll do just that. It’s late in the day when our fearless leader finally walks through the door and hugs us all.


“Wow,” she says of the messages on her desk. She won’t get to them all in the half-hour remaining, but she flips through anyway. The notes are serious – people need help with food stamps, tuition, funeral services, etc. Then, a single note at the bottom sends Karen into a fall-down riot. 


No name. No number. Just this: “Karen, Help! My rabbits are still peeing blood.”


The stress of the day combined with the absurdity of the message puts us all into hysterics. What rabbits? Why are they still peeing blood??? 


As it turns out, the message was from someone who heard about our ARF grant (animal rescue fund), and would make total sense within the proper context.


But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that these people I work with are special souls –they can weather the storm of every desperate circumstance, use every God-given talent to solve our clients’ crises, and still, at the end of the day, have the lightness of heart to find humor in the absurd.


I wouldn’t want to be serving anywhere else.


Mikey McCormick

Ventura, CA 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

Inspiration (ft. Ariana Grande)

by d.callahan / 7. March 2015 16:55

As a teacher, my goal in life is to never stop learning. I certainly have not stopped learning since I’ve arrived in San Diego, and quite frankly I have gotten more than my moneys worth in life lessons since arriving in California six months ago.  


Working at a Catholic school and living in community provides more than its fair share of funny stories, triumphs, and challenges, along with some ah-ha moments sprinkled in.  When presented with the assignment of blogging it was extremely difficult to pin down what I wanted to write about.  After some internal deliberation I decided to write about a seemingly small moment that has inspired me to be a better teacher and a better person.


It happened in the teachers’ lunchroom one day. All 7 of us teachers sat in our usual spots around the oval table and chatted as we usually do at lunchtime.  Somehow the conversation turned to Ariana Grande (I know this may sound strange, but just stick with me here). For those of you not familiar with Ariana Grande, she is a pop singer (I think!).  It was then that one of my co-workers, Molly, mentioned how she didn’t really like Ariana Grande. She did not go on a rant, but simply said made a small comment about her. One of my fellow teachers, Debbie, looked puzzled and asked , “hey, wait...who is Ariana Grande?” After we explained that she was a singer, Debbie replied with relief, saying “Oooh, okay. At first I thought Ariana might have been one of our students, but I knew she couldn’t be because I’ve never heard Molly speak badly about a student.”




Again, I know that still may not seem like a profound or life-changing moment, but in that moment I was taken aback. As a teacher it is just about inevitable that you will become frustrated with a student, or have to vent and spill your frustrations with other teachers. But, in all of Debbie’s years working with Molly, not one time has she heard her say a negative thing about a student. Debbie’s comment made me really take a look at myself and what kind of person and teacher I want to be.  When people ask about me, what would they say? Would they be this shocked if they heard me speak badly about someone? 


I have come to see God in co-workers such as Molly and take time to notice their overwhelming love and concern for their students. I see her hug each student as they walk in each day, and hug each one as they leave. In her eyes, no student is a nuisance, or a burden but a child who needs love and encouragement, regardless of their behavior or temperament.  


In a world where is it easy to give in, to gossip, to get frustrated, it is refreshing to see and feel God’s love in such an apparent way through Molly and others. It is little moments like these that have shaped this year into a year of seeing God’s love in the most unexpected places.   


Danielle Callahan

San Diego, CA 2014-2015


Domestics 2014-2015

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