As an SLM back in the day, this is the phrase that I would hear over and over waiting for taxis to take me back to my mission site. It wasn’t until my second year of serving as a lay missioner that I had a chance to see some of the work that is done in Yapacaní, mainly just the radio station where a fellow SLM and myself worked on a video project. Ironically, I didn’t step foot into the radio station this visit, but I was able to see much of the other ministries that the Salesian priests/sisters run.
Yapacaní has perhaps one of the most comprehensive projects that I have seen in Bolivia. Together with the Salesian sisters (FMAs), the Salesian priests (SDBs), who are based in a town 15 minutes away, run the parish of Mary Help of Christians, a boarding home for kids from the “campo” (CEDINC), the oratory, Radio Ichilo (which includes a TV channel as well), a soup kitchen for the elderly (where the food is really good!), and visits to the communities where they do catechism, celebrate mass, and oratories. The FMAs run a technical school that offers classes in English, computers, and a couple of other trades that are escaping me at the moment.
Needless to say, there is a lot of work there.
The lay missioner (SLM) there, Chris Rodriguez, is the first SLM to be placed there. He began working there 3 months ago mainly focusing on working with the kids of the boarding home, CEDINC, with daily support from helping with getting the kids ready for school to helping to prepare project proposals to improve the site. In the afternoons he has been helping out in the parish office where they run a Canadian child sponsorship program that requires constant attention with letter translations, filing, research, family evaluations, and a host of other tasks that require the program to run. Through the program, the parish is able to offer almost 500 sponsorships to kids whose families would struggle to pay the most basic of needs for their children.
For lunch, Chris frequents the elderly soup kitchen where you can find, from what I saw, a very lively and talkative crowd! When we arrived to eat there we headed over to Chris’ table and were soon greeted by the other “regulars” of the table who demanded to know where Chris had gotten lost and why they hadn’t seen him in over a week! It was as if he were being reprimanded by multiple grandparents – which was pretty amusing to see! It was a great program to see, as I really only seen the projects that focus on the children and their needs…but it seems as though society can sometimes forget about the most knowledgeable and greatest resource of information: the elderly. This was the first of its kind that I have ever seen in Bolivia and I was happy to see it fully-functioning…and with amazing food!
As a first-time site, it isn’t without its challenges, though. It’s always an adventure finding your way and role in a new culture, but when everything is new to both the SLM and receiving community it can present additional challenges. Yapacaní is not immune to this challenge, and it is an aspect of the mission that Chris, as well as the parish priest, Fr. Arturo, are taking in good-stride. I truly feel that the mission there has incredible potential in being a permanent SLM site and I think that this could be the beginning of a great relationship with the Salesians, both SDBs and FMAs, there.
For now, it’s off to Cochabamba where I will spend some days visiting our SLMs at “Hogar María Auxiliadora” in the outlying community of Itocta, where the cows almost outnumber the people! It will be a welcomed changed from the hot and humid weather of Yapacaní and the Santa Cruz region. I didn’t bring nearly enough clothes to have to wear 2 shirts/day due to the amount of sweating that happens!
Until next time!
Peace and prayers,