StudentJun 23, 2017Campus News
By: Courtney E. Loughlin '19

‘Be Where Your Feet Are’

During our 10 days in Ecuador we stayed and served at the Working Boys Center known as the “Centro de Mucho Trabajo.”
‘Be Where Your Feet Are’

There are so many places I could start but I will start with the word that first comes to mind when I think of my trip. The word is “incredible.” Incredible is fitting to describe my trip because the trip was incredible in every way. The trip was incredible in the beauty we experienced. It was incredible in the injustice and oppression we witnessed and also incredible in the way we saw God in everyone we met. Most of all, it was incredible in the way we were able to give love to others and the way others were able to give love to us.
During our 10 days in Ecuador we stayed and served at the Working Boys Center known as the “Centro de Mucho Trabajo.” The center was started in 1964 in an attic by Jesuit priest, Father John Halligan, known at the center as “Padre.” Recognizing that poverty weakens one’s spirit and alters their identity, Padre set out to create an organization that could not only help families raise their socioeconomic status but also their esteem. In 1967, Sr. Mary Miguel Conway, known as Madre Miguel, joined Padre. With Padre’s initial mission in mind, the center implemented 10 core values in 1976: loyalty, personal formation, family, religion, education, economy, work, recreation, health and housing. The center is free for all and runs solely on donations with 97% of donations coming from the United States.

Since the start of the center, it has expanded greatly, serving 400 families between two centers located in Quito. The centers do not house those whom they serve rather, they provide them with the services and tools they need. For children, the centers provide education, schooling children from preschool to 10th grade (when educations stops in Ecuador). The children go to Mass everyday and have myriad after-school activities to chose from such as: religion, art, music and dance. Additionally, the center has showers for the children to bathe and provides the children with three meals a day as well as lunch on Saturday. The centers also offers day care and medical care. When children are 16 they choose a trade to pursue, working in a trade shop. The girls can chose between hair dressing/beauty care or sewing and the boys can chose between auto mechanics, wood work and metal work. To learn financial responsibility the children make chocolates, key chains, bracelets, cards and scarfs for the year long volunteers to sell on the their behalf. The children then get a portion of the money to spend while the rest goes into saving for them to receive when they leave the center. For adults, the center offers adult education classes. Finally, center members give back by participating in a Minga, where members of the center and volunteers help to build a house for a family. The Minga takes 3-5 years to complete.
During our time at the center, we had the opportunity to spend a day participating in the Minga. When we arrived at the site, we met Eduardo for whom the house was being built. The plot of land the house was to be built on was knee high in weeds, shrubs and overgrown plants. The whole plot was covered. Upon arriving at the work site, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of stomach. My feelings of defeat quickly diminished, however, once we started working. While working, my Scranton family was mixed in with Edwardo’s family (and friends). Everyone was helping one another and working hard. It was a beautiful sight to behold and embodied the purpose of service trips. Service trips are about more than giving children piggy back rides and doing good work to build up one’s resume and self image. Service trips should be about serving one another as equals, recognizing that our liberation is bound to the liberation of our brothers and sisters everywhere.

Short term service trips often can be exploitative and ineffective, so much of our trip was spent “being” rather than “doing.” We spent our time being in solidarity, living simply without cellphones and other luxuries. We spent our time being immersed in the culture, being not only physically present but more importantly, emotionally present. We learned about their way of life and in return, taught them about ours.

On the day we went to a trade school to learn about their trade, I found myself feeling frustrated as the girls in the sewing shop spent much of their time teaching me to make a pillow. “I’m here to serve you,” I thought as the girls stitched my pillow. I quickly realized the value of presence-based service as we began to converse. I asked them if they knew Justin Bieber and explained that I was a triplet. They asked me what my parents did for a living, if my siblings also knew Spanish, and how much apples cost in the U.S. The value of presence-based service is severely underrated but incredibly powerful. Those around us as well as ourselves would be infinitely better off if we all learned to “Be where [our] feet are.”

When I think of my trip, one thing that stands out to me is how happy and faith-filled the children at the center are. Many of the children have lice and black spots on their teeth as they are decaying due to a lack of nutrients; however, they are so full of life and love. The children laugh and play like children everywhere, reminding us some things are universal. They are quick to hug and slow to leave the playground. I saw God in all of the children I encountered, especially 10 year-old Mikaela. She was soft spoken and sweet, asking where I came from and if Mickey Mouse was real. She told me how she talked to Jesus and Mary in the sky and listened very closely when I told her how I met Mickey in Disney World. The last time I saw her I told her to remember me. I’m not sure that she will but I know I will always remember her.

Despite the happiness of the children at the center, it would be very misleading if I left you with the impression that life for the children of CMT is “simple but happy.” During our trip, we visited the homes of four families that are part of the CMT community to learn more about their stories and lives. There is a fine line between service and exploitation and we tried very hard not to cross it, remembering that people’s homes are not museums. Instead of treating the experience like a poverty tour, we asked them about their lives and their relationship to the center, listening carefully and simply being present. One of the families whose homes we visited had moved to Quito after their house was destroyed in the earthquake that hit the coast of Ecuador in April 2016. Prior to living in Quito, the father of the family worked as a security guard. In Quito, he is unable to find work as a security guard because one must take a class to be a guard there. However, he does not have the money for the class. He, his wife, and their five children live in their three room home. His five children share one bed. They pay 120 dollars a month in rent (which is expensive in comparison to the other people we met). It takes his children 20-35 minutes to arrive at the center, which is not “too bad” considering some travel two hours. His extended family remains nine hours away on the coast of Ecuador. His story is just one of the many jarring stories of systematic oppression. There is no description that could ever do justice to the hardships faced by those whom the center serves. Such poverty serves as a reminder that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

To wrap up, I wish to leave you with the most beautiful image my eyes have ever seen. The day before we left I decided I was going to give away the wooden cross necklace we had all received at ISP family day. I wasn’t sure how I would decide which child to give my necklace to, but it became evident the child God was calling me to give my necklace to when a 7 year-old girl approached me, hugging me tight as tears streamed down her face. She was so distraught that I couldn’t even get her to tell me her name, let alone tell me what was wrong (I think it had something to do with the boys she was playing soccer with, but I’ll never know for sure). I struggled to untie my necklace telling her, “Yo tengo un regalo para ti” (I have a gift for you). As I tied the necklace around her neck, I watched as entire face lit up, glowing with a look of happiness I will never forget. She grabbed my hand and lead me to the playground, yelling “Miras” (look) to the other volunteers, her face beaming as she held out her necklace. When I announced that it was raining, she decided she didn’t want to play any more and casually waved, saying, “Ciao.” As she skipped away, I stood there with tears in my eyes, watching until her jean jacket was no longer visible. How ironic that she came to me crying and left happy, while I left her with tears in my eyes.

Despite the sadness I felt when I left the center, I consider myself undeniably blessed and incredibly happy for the 10days I spent in Ecuador. I am still processing my trip and know that it will continue to shape me.
In spite of CMT's success, center 1 will be closing due to financial difficulties but as Padre always said, "If it's good work it will continue." And it is good work, it is good work indeed.

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