Kicking off a fundraising campaign for the Bolivian Altiplano Mission of the Congregation of the Mission wasn’t on my mind when I first volunteered for the Bolivian Altiplano Mission of the Congregation of the Mission in 2009. But today, with the presence of committed donors and confreres, that’s what we did here in Philadelphia. Folks gathered to watch this video and make a commitment to involve friends in the future.
Founded in 1994 and spread over the cold, windy pampas and temperate valleys of the Bolivian Altiplano, the parishes of San Pedro de Mocomoco and San Miguel de Italaque serve a population of indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples. Living in over eighty small communities, most people live at or below the subsistence level. There’s a temptation to give up. But despite material poverty, some folks maintain a hopeful outlook on the future. Why? Because the Vincentian Community has let them know in concrete ways that the Catholic people of the United States, Spain and France consider them brothers and sisters and are ready to help, as they face the obstacles imposed by generations of poverty.
Poor nutrition || Poor healthcare || Poor education
Almost from birth, the struggles begin: poor nutrition breeds poor health. Often, families are without an adequate diet, and nutritional deficiencies are evident. If there’s illness or injury, needed resources are often absent or beyond the family’s economic means. Struggling children enter an under-resourced educational system, designed on a model more suitable for middle class city life than for rural poverty. Children are often not encouraged to dream of a future different from the present that they know. Girls especially are forgotten, leading them to dream only of repeating the patterns: enduring a hard, bitter poverty, often wounded by family violence. And college? It’s almost an impossibility!
Under-resourced Catholic formation
For years, the region was served by priests who celebrated Mass and sacraments in the principal towns of Mocomoco and Italaque. Allied with the “patron” system, the Church catechized, but often in a manner and with a methodology that perpetuated the long standing racist/classist divide. With over eighty communities to serve in the two parishes, we depend on local catechists to provide basic formation in the faith, using participative methodologies that value the culture and practical insights of the people. We provide catechist formation on a regular basis, but often the catechists can’t attend — some have to walk six hours, losing four days of valuable work time with their crops and/or animals. In their local communities, they often meet in small chapels built decades ago of adobe and tin. The winds blow, the rains enter, there’s no electricity to power the simplest audio-visual device. Yet they meet to learn and worship weekly. And they wait for us to visit.
“Forward together!” is a multi-faceted program that views the person on a developmental continuum. Developed through the collaborative efforts of Fr. Diego and lay associate Flora Silva, this effort grew from a simple child care center. For those that need it, now we provide basic nutrition and developmental learning for pre-school children in the expanded Miraculous Medal Child Center. In the same location, we provide low coast meals for high school students who walk four hours from their homes in outlying communities. There’s a library and a computer lab. Families have access to supplementary food staples and free medicines for children. Hospital visits are subsidized. School supplies are delivered to schools in our parishes that request assistance. In weekly catechesis, children encounter the Christ who values them, and they begin to dream. For those with the will, we provide access to university level education, or post-secondary technical training. Those who accept this challenge are enrolled in a human and spiritual formation program that insists that the beneficiaries of scholarships use their learning for the benefit of their communities of origin.
“Stand up!” and walk, said Jesus. In a region with persistent patterns of family violence, this creative effort, born of the collaboration of Fr. Cyrille and lay associate Violeta Rodriguez, Sayt’asim uses liberating popular methodologies geared to a population that has only a basic traditional education. Through games and participatory dynamics, families learn hygiene, nutrition, and are reinforced in basic educational skills. They learn to learn. In more ambitious communities, often in alliance with a local high school, workshops in weaving and ceramics blossom into small business and cooperatives. Through participation in this project, people who were literally and figuratively bent over with poverty, find the will and the way to stand up and embrace their own power and dignity.
“Houses of Faith” are for worship, learning and growing. We have recently embarked on a project to establish regional centers of formation, by either building new facilities, or by renovating and expanding existing ones. Dotted throughout our territory, these centers, built by local artisans and the contributed labor of members of the communities, will make more intensive formation of catechists and the faithful a reality. Every center will have its space for worship, education and community building, as well as print and media resources. A church formerly dominated by its clergy will become a church that is the Body of Christ: living the gospel within newfound intensity.
For non-traditional, technical and university-level education, often the greatest barrier is financial. Even if a person aspired to something more, in a rural economy the chances for producing discretionary income is nil. Scholarships to defray the costs of Sayt’asim, or for tuition and material assistance for those entering post-secondary technical training and university make the dreams of our youth and young adults reality. In this technological age, we’d love to provide a computer for every student who enters the upper years of their program. Right now, we occasionally are able to secure a donated machine. Only five years into this program, and we have fourteen young people in college and four in technical training. Sayt’asim could expand to many more communities if the resources were there.
Ongoing Program Support
The broad range of human assistance and development programs requires growing resources. As word spreads of the assistance we provide, the number of persons and families seeking help grows apace. Right now we have 14 children in the child care center. Last year, we offered school supplies to over three hundred children. Our pediatric medicine shelf empties regularly. Malnutrition is a constant and growing problem. In all the programs, we desire to pay a dignified wage to the workers who care for our children, train our adults and young people and manage the programs. Donations to these efforts would make it possible to help many, many more!
Construction, renovation and formation resources
Existing chapels and planned new formation centers obviously cost money. For new facilities, Fr. Aidan has developed a construction and funding model to build these centers in three stages. We’ve just completed the first center, and the second has just received approval and funding for stage one. Stage one provides a clean, secure environment that we can start using right away. Stage two provides the finish work and electrical installation. Stage three installs the learning resources and audio-visual equipment. For conversions or renovations, the process is on an as-needed basis — often a repair coupled with the “stage three” installations. Of note, the principal churches in Mocomoco and Italaque date to the seventeenth century and have constant need for upkeep and repair. Additionally, there are opportunities for special donations for locally commissioned religious furnishings and art. The Vincentian Solidarity Fund offers us matching grants for these projects. We’d like to construct or renovate one center each year.
A Five-year Campaign
With a good track record behind us, we’ve decided to launch out into the deep, trusting God and our good friends to provide the resources. “A Miraculous Impact” is a five-year campaign to stabilize our efforts here and provide a platform for future development. Why five years? This enables us to plan in a responsible and effective manner.
Here are our goals for Education, Program Support, and Construction and Renovation:
- scholarships for training and education: 4@$1000/year [higher ed/professional training]; 4@$500/year [local non-traditional vocational training]: annual goal: $6,000
- gifts for financial support for nutrition, medical supplies and educational materials: annual goal: $10,000
- gifts for salaries for professional collaborators and stipends for program support personnel: annual goal: $5,000
- gifts/grants for site construction, improvement, and maintenance and preservation
- preservation of two 16th century Churches: annual goal: $4,000
- new construction, improvement and maintenance: annual goal: $10,000
- gifts for materials and media resources for human and spiritual formation: annual goal $5,000
- gifts for mission infrastructure: annual goal: $10,000
CAMPAIGN GOAL: $235,000
Your Donation: A Miraculous Impact!
With hardworking and creative people, your dollars can go far. Like five loaves and few fish, Jesus multiplies what you give! Using the hard work of the people here, and innovative approaches and strategies, your donations can have a miraculous impact. Our friends at the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal have generously offered to process all donations. Here’s how to donate:
Go to http://www.vocesvicentinas.org/donate and follow the instructions to pledge and donate online. You’ll receive a confirmation by email.
Mail your donation payment, marked “Bolivia Campaign” to:
A Miraculous Impact
Campaign for the Bolivian Mission
475 East Chelten Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19144
You can request a confirmation letter for tax purposes if you need one.
More photos of the mission are available on my Picasa account…