Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Day in the Life with Lay Mission Helpers: Lauren Linck

Lauren Linck and her husband Justin are serving as Lay Mission-Helpers in the Diocese of Mtwara, Tanzania. Lauren earned a BA in Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma and is a member of St. Thomas More University Parish.  She teaches Bible Knowledge and is in charge of the library at Aquinas Secondary School in Mtwara.

At 7:15 a.m. I begin my mile walk to school.

By 7:30 a.m. I am at school. Our school day lasts from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

On Monday and Friday we have morning assembly from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. where we read the gospel for the day with a short prayer, sing the national anthem and hear announcements. After midterms and finals, we use this time to reward students who have done well on their tests.

Most of my day is spent in the library. We have one of the nicest libraries in the region, with about 8,000 books. Most of the books are textbooks, but we do have a few novels to read for fun. Many of the students love to read, and will read anything they can get their hands on.

The library is open to students from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and from 2:50 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The students are also welcome to come if their teacher is absent.

10:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. is tea time (Tanzania was a British colony). At school we call it uji break after the thin porridge that is served with the tea. During this time you can buy various fried snacks such as a chapati (like a fried tortilla) or vitumbua (fried rice cakes).

On Thursday and Friday, I teach classes after uji break. I teach Bible Knowledge for Form One and Three. My biggest challenge is teaching the Form One students English (primary school is taught in Swahili while secondary school is taught in English). I have about 80 Form One students. In the beginning, I was confident that 10 of the students understood the majority of what I said in English. I have tried to incorporate artwork with the Bible stories we are reading in class to help them better understand.

From 12:40 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. we have a lunch break. For lunch we get a vegetable, beans or meat and rice or ugali (flour and water mixed together, that looks like mashed potatoes but has no taste). My favorite combination is cabbage, beans and rice.

On Thursday and Friday I teach classes after lunch break. My Form Three class is much better at speaking English, and we are able to have discussions in class. At this level, we cover The Gospel of Matthew and Acts of the Apostles.

On Wednesday we have clubs from 2:50 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Many of our students are very artistic, but they do not get many chances to express themselves. There are no art classes and art supplies are very limited. This semester I have started an art club. The last couple of weeks we have had a former student come and teach us how to draw Tingatinga, an African style of abstract animals.

By 4:00 p.m. we are headed home from work. When we get home we have some time to just relax. I enjoy spending a lot of that time reading. The Kindle was one of the best things that I brought to Tanzania. Now I will always have a book to read. In the last ten months I have read seventy-eight books. It is nice to have the free time to read. In the past, I had always been busy with my own school work and didn’t have much time to enjoy reading things that were required for class.

Around 6:00 p.m. I start making dinner. I have not learned how to cook any Tanzanian foods, so our meals are Western style. Pasta dishes are the most common meal.

After dinner I get on the computer to check my email and Facebook. We are fortunate to have a USB internet stick that works most of the time. It tends to work best if we raise it on our lantern.
Around 9:00 p.m. I am getting ready to go to bed so that I can start all over again tomorrow.

Lay Mission Helpers is comprised of Catholic lay people, single men and women, married couples, and families, called through baptism to mission. They seek to walk with the poor of other countries sharing their gifts, living their faith, and learning from one another. Lay Mission-Helpers serve in a variety of different professions and strive to live a simple life close to the poor. For more information, click here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Through the Eyes of a Child: Getting Things Done with Loretto Volunteer Program

Lilla Hassan, Loretto Volunteer Program
AmeriCorps Service Site: For the Love of Children (FLOC)

When you are young, everyone asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was a doctor. The person who I look up to as one of the most virtuous beings in my life is my father, and he is a doctor. I was born in a place that for centuries has been the center of religion and politics: Rome, Italy. My family is originally from Somalia, but my parents moved to Italy in their 20’s to attend medical school. When I was six, my family made the decision to move to the States in search of a better education for me and my two brothers. Even as a young child, I operated under the assumption that if I worked hard, any goal was well within my reach. However, my perception shifted dramatically after a single day working at For Love of Children.

For Love of Children (FLOC) is a non-profit organization that provides educational services beyond the classroom to help students succeed from first grade through college and career. Their goal is to see our students succeed in the classroom, successfully complete a post-secondary degree and thrive in the working world. All of our tutors are volunteers who teach students from the FLOC curriculum. During my time at FLOC, I have been deeply moved by watching students who attend failing schools go to great lengths to succeed, despite having the odds stacked against them. I have found a sense of satisfaction, to an extent that I could have never fathomed, in helping these students succeed in school.

I find it so intriguing to see that these children remain so unscathed by the limitations placed on them, not due to a lack of abilities, but because of their zip codes. In their eyes, the world is so pure, everyone is loving and caring and everyone is equal regardless of any differences. I have begun to see the world through a different lens due to their optimistic views on life.  Every day I am elated at their success as if they were my own. Each one of my kids has taught me something different, with perseverance being a common theme amongst them all. 

At the beginning of my service term, FLOC enrolled a third grade girl. She came to us way below her grade level in mathematics. She still had not grasped the basic concept of numbers. I worked with her and the tutor to prepare her to pass her numbers exam so that we could help her reach the appropriate learning level for her age. For months we were stuck and did not seem to be making any progress. One day, she came to me and said, “Ms. Lilla I want to test today. I have been practicing saying my numbers, and I think I can do it”.  Thirty minutes later, she came running down the hall with a slip of paper in her hand. She had finally done it! She had passed her test. She ran into my arms, and we jumped around chanting her name, other staff joining in as we celebrated her success.

At FLOC, I have never seen a group of staff so personally invested in their students’ success. We celebrate each child’s success as another step toward closing the education disparities amongst the minority population in Washington, DC.  Each time one of the kids I teach makes a stride closer to being at the appropriate academic grade level, each day we enroll another child into our program, each day I see the smile of hope in their parents’ eyes, and each day a parent calls and says that their child’s grades have dramatically improved— that’s when I know my placement is worth it. I am committed to correcting injustice by using education to help poverty-stricken children rise above the limitations placed upon them by society. It’s like an old African proverb my mother used to recite to me, “It takes a village to raise a child.” FLOC, for me, has become an example of that village.

Lilla is a graduate from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She relocated to Washington D.C. to take part in her service year with Loretto at FLOC. She currently works at Perry Street Public Charter school in Northeast, D.C.  as the family engagement coordinator and will be attending Trinity Washington University in the fall to pursue her M.Ed. 

The Loretto Volunteer Program pairs volunteers with social justice organizations for a formative year of service. Through meaningful work and communal living, volunteers live out the Loretto Community's mission to work for justice and act for peace - guided by the core values of social justice, community, simplicity and spirituality.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Always Hoped I'd Be An Apostle"

By Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., Catholic Apostolate Center


Ever consider yourself an apostle? Last year, the 42 year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, returned to Broadway for another run. The Apostles reflectively sing during the Last Supper, “Always hoped that I'd be an apostle, knew that I would make it if I tried,” as if they really knew what they were getting into when they agreed to Jesus saying “Follow me!” Of course, they didn’t.  It would be like you saying, “Always hoped I’d be a volunteer, knew that I would make it if I tried.”

At some point someone, even if that Someone was speaking within, invited you to consider doing volunteer service and now you are doing it. Did you know exactly what you were getting into when you applied? Like the Apostles, probably not. You hoped to serve and give of yourself. Now after some time of service, you have much more of an idea of what you are doing and what it means to give of yourself in service. Even if your time of service is not coming to an end right now, you might be asking a couple of questions

“What am I going to do next?”
“What am I going to do with my life?”

No need to panic over them. Spending time reflecting on these questions is important, but sometimes that reflection can move in the direction of narcissism.Obviously, service is focused on others rather than ourselves. An outward-focus, while inwardly deciding, can offer a possible way forward.  A bit of wisdom from Pope Francis from this past Easter Sunday speaks to this needed balance:

“Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”

Notice that we are in the middle, not as passive participants, but actively living the mercy and love of Jesus Christ toward a world in need of care, to people in need of service. We are sent by him. We are apostles.

Ever think of yourself as an apostle? We are. Each one of the baptized is an apostle of faith and charity to a world in need of the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. We share in his mission. This is our primary vocation (from Latin vocare – “to call”) in life. We have a vocation to be an apostle.  Don’t believe me?  I’m not the one who said it, Blessed John Paul II did. He was talking to my religious family, the Union of Catholic Apostolate, but his point was meant for all:

“Continue to multiply your efforts so that what was prophetically announced by Vincent Pallotti, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, that all Christians are authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world” (Homily of June 22, 1986).

Blessed John Paul II was simply expanding on what was said during the Second Vatican Council in a document that he helped to write, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. But, what does it mean to be an “authentic apostle of Christ in the Church and in the world?” It means living as one who is sent, and not simply living for ourselves or being only a follower. We are sharers in the mission of Christ in his priestly, prophetic, and royal offices (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 783-786). We are “consecrated” through baptism (priestly) to “witness in the midst of the world” (prophetic), in service, especially to “the poor and the suffering” (royal). Nothing passive here!  Our vocation as apostles of Jesus Christ is an active one that moves us outward beyond ourselves to a world in need of his presence through us.

Our vocation as baptized is our primary vocation. All of the other vocations as married, single, consecrated, or priest are all secondary to this primary vocation as follower of (disciple) and sent by (apostle) Jesus Christ. Each is a way one can live out the primary vocation. How does one decide? Through a process of discernment, one is called to be informed, pray, make a choice, and take action. I make it seem easy. The process is not an easy one, but necessary in order to make a truly informed choice about how to live our vocation as an apostle. You might not be ready to make a choice about what way to live this vocation for life, but living it out as an apostle is what you are already doing in your volunteer service and probably did long before now.

Maybe the Apostles in Jesus Christ Superstar were not so far off then, we do want to be apostles; we only need to try.

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center. The Catholic Apostolate Center is a CVN partner, offering resources for the Year of Faith, the New Evangelization, Catholic prayer and teaching, and collaboration in ministry.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"Service Before Self": A Veteran Reflects on Her AmeriCorps Service

                In the town of Weslaco, TX, just 11 miles from the Mexican border,  54% of pregnant women lack access to adequate prenatal care.  Catholic Volunteer Network AmeriCorps Members are serving there with The Holy Family Birth Center to make quality care more accessible for the women and families of the Rio Grande Valley. What started as a small clinic is now a model birth center offering comprehensive maternal and infant care including exams, out of hospital births and education. 
CVN AmeriCorps members are working alongside the nurses and midwives to make it all happen. They live in a unique community that gardens together, eats together, and works together with a likeminded passion for serving others. Gina Fasciani’s path to The Holy Family Birth Center exemplifies this kind of passion and commitment to be in service to others.
                Gina Fasciani is a highly-qualified nurse-midwife who recently completed both her service in the United States Air Force and a graduate degree. “I was drawn to the military for multiple reasons,” she said. “I felt like it would be an honor to get to be a nurse taking care of our service members. I desired to be a part of something that was larger than myself.” Being part of the Air Force Nurse Corps seemed like the perfect combination of adventure and service, challenge and reward.  
                Her desire to serve did not end when she ended her term of service with the military. “After separating from the military,” she said, I found that I was immediately looking for ways that I could continue with that type of service to others.” When she discovered the CVN AmeriCorps program at Holy Family Birth Center, she says she found the “perfect opportunity to be able to serve those in need as well as to bolster my skills as a new midwife.”  In community with AmeriCorps Members, she found an “opportunity to be a part of like-minded people who are passionate about serving others.”

For Gina, AmeriCorps and military service are naturally related in that “in the Air Force, one of our core values is ‘Service before Self.’ This value was ingrained into our everyday life. We took great pride in putting the needs of our country and the needs of others before our own needs. Both the military and AmeriCorps attracts people who are willing to sacrifice and go outside of their comfort zones in order to meet a need.”
                Gina feels just as passionately about her call to service. She goes on to explain, “Christ’s perfect love compels me to serve.  James 2:14-17 says, ‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ The more I feel God’s love build in me, the more I feel the need to pour it out for others. I cannot keep such a beautiful gift of love to myself!”     

                Inspired by faith and supported by community, Gina Fasciani truly lives “Service before Self.” AmeriCorps gives veterans the opportunity to continue to serve their country and give back to their communities in order to address critical needs with measurable outcomes. This Independence Day, let us pause and express our gratitude for all those like Gina whose passion for service is an exciting example for all.