Monthly Archives: October 2014

New family in mission shares their journey

By Melissa and Peter Altman:

After eight months, we can honestly say that El Salvador has begun to feel like home. We have spent the bulk of these eight months settling in, learning Spanish, and starting our project. We’ve all become much more comfortable in Spanish, although our children Eli and Evey have left their parents in the dust! Both of them are functionally bilingual at this point. Everyone said that the kids would pick it up fast, but it has been amazing to see how quickly they have been able to become completely comfortable in a language that they couldn’t speak at all in December.

We have started our ministry in a small rural village called La India which is outside the town of Cojutepeque. There are very few cars on the unpaved streets of La India, but the roads are well used by chickens, goats, cows, and dogs. The homes are modest, many lack running water and electricity and yet the doors are always open to visitors; we have been humbled by the hospitality that people have shown us. Last Saturday, the local people were excited to introduce us to Sopa de Pata, a local favorite whose name translates to “soup of the foot” since the primary ingredients are cow feet and stomach. The broth was delicious, but downing the big pieces of stomach was challenging for all of us (although Pete enjoyed making jokes about having a belly full of belly for the rest of the day). Afterwards, we reflected on how the soup illustrates the typical resourcefulness of poor Salvadorans: if you can’t afford steaks and chops, then learn how to make something delicious out of feet and stomach!

The resourcefulness reflected in the soup is also reflected in the pastoral center that the community recently built in the center of the village. Despite having few resources, the community raised money to buy the materials and then built the center themselves so that they would have a place to gather and pray. We are humbled that we have been invited to use this space to offer educational enrichment, personal development, and recreational opportunities for the under served children and youth of the community. Ours is the only game in town, so if the children are not with us, they are on the streets. The pastor of the parish has shared that our presence in the village as a family is an important sign of hope for the people.

Altman child painting

Melissa and Peter Altman and Geraldo

Recently, we have been offering a workshop in painting for the children of the village. Last week, while we were distributing supplies to the children, we noticed an 11 year-old boy timidly standing outside the center. We introduced ourselves and invited him to participate. Geraldo shared that he was nervous because he had never painted before. We assured him that we would help him learn, so he came in and joined the circle of children working on the floor. When the class was over, Geraldo proudly approached us to show us his completed painting. It turns out that he has a gift for painting. Like so many children in El Salvador, Geraldo has never had the opportunity to explore and develop his unique gifts and talents. Our mission is to provide opportunities for him and the other children of La India to develop their gifts and build their self-esteem. The hope is that offering this support will keep them out of the local gangs and help them be productive members of their community.

Altman children

Eli and Evey with their new friends in La India

The children of La India face the same challenges that have driven so many young people from El Salvador to the doorstep of the U.S. They are challenged by extreme poverty, a broken educational system, the absence of parents, few future prospects, and the violent gangs that often begin to recruit children as young as eight years- old. While we can’t begin to address these complex and daunting societal problems, we know that the programs and opportunities we are offering the children in this small village are a step in the right direction. It has been shown that young people who are engaged in their community are much less likely to try to emigrate to the U.S. or join the gangs.

We consider ourselves blessed to have the opportunity to serve the people of La India and we are grateful for all of the encouragement and support from our friends, family and donors.


Melissa and Peter

Former Maryknoll Lay Missioner Featured for Election to Maryknoll Sisters’ Leadership

Sr. Anastasia in 2001 in Windhoek, Nambia with a novice, peeling potatoes

Sr. Anastasia in 2001 in Windhoek, Nambia with a novice, peeling potatoes (photo credit: Sr. Bernice Kita, MM)

We congratulate the Maryknoll Sisters, who recently elected a new Congregational Leadership Team. Near and dear to our hearts is member-elect Sr. Anastasia Lott, who received recognition in this LA Archdiocese Tidings article published October 17. Sr. Anastasia served as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Venezuela from 1981-1986, prior to entering the Maryknoll Sisters’ Congregation.

Having a Baby in Mission

by Kim Fischer, Maryknoll Lay Missioner serving in Brazil:

Raising a family in mission can mean many different things. It means you’ll be far from extended family. It means that your main form of communication with those back home gets relegated to Skype, e-mails, and phone calls. It means that your toddler son learns how to leave a video message for “Grawn-pa” earlier than you would ever expect. It means that holidays spent apart equal packages and cards instead of dinners and hugs.

It also means that your family expands. That the people you meet in your new home will reach out to you, they will invite you into their lives, their homes, and take you under their wings. While this never replaces the love between you and your family and friends, it opens you up to a new kind of love.

IMG_3537When my daughter was born in Brazil this past May, so many of our friends here reached out to help. They watched her brother while we were in the hospital. They came bringing diapers, food, blankets, hand-me-downs, shampoo, and their love. Brazil is a country so in love with children, it’s simply beautiful. Every child is a blessing, as strangers tell me every day as we pass in our daily routine.

Having a baby in mission means deciphering medicine instructions in Portuguese and triple checking them online. It means navigating the world of doctors, hospitals, and vaccinations in a second language. It means that one of your postpartum nurses will be surprised when you answer her questions in Portuguese, saying, “they told me you didn’t speak!”

Having a baby in mission means that when the elevator is broken at the train station, the young girl working flags down three burly security men to carry the stroller with the itty bitty baby down the stairs to the platform.

Having a baby in mission means that you simplify all of the baby equipment we are told is necessary. You don’t need a bassinet, and a rocker, and a swing, and a bouncy seat, and a play mat. You do need diapers. Unfortunately, there is no escaping that fact.

Having a baby in mission means you learn and adjust to new cultural norms. I wasn’t expecting to find myself comfortable with breastfeeding in public!

Having a baby in mission means that you will have a herd of new adoptive aunties and uncles to welcome and love your children.

Having a baby in mission means that you’ll have a child with double citizenship, and that her older brother will be bilingual. It means that your children will ask for foods that you don’t know how to cook. They will say words from school that you don’t understand. They will want to play children’s games that you don’t know. But you will learn.

IMG_4531It means that you will be introduced to a whole world that would be invisible to you otherwise. Children open the channels of communication rather quickly, and it’s easy to make connections when you have such a visible (and audible!) common denominator. In my work with refugee women, despite the language barrier of their French to my Portuguese and English, our children connect us. We care about each others’ children. Are they eating, are they sleeping, are you sleeping? We pass along clothes, diapers, advice. In the absence of having our own mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and sisters with us, we form new networks of women helping women.

There is a woman in my exercise class who has never participated in the entire year I’ve been there. She’s quiet and seems to be content with watching everyone else dance. However, one night while someone else was holding my daughter so I could run the session, I needed a break. I offered to hold Celeste’s infant son in case she wanted to dance. She didn’t sit down again that night! All it took was the connection from one parent to another, and the offer of help.

Raising a family in mission has its challenges. But the joy of watching my children grow in another culture, incorporating that culture’s values into their own, broadening their comfort levels and expanding their worlds, is simply a privilege. I love being able to work for something I believe in alongside my husband, and sharing that with our kids makes it all worthwhile.

Breaking the Chains

Written by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Nancy Davies:

They found them in chains . . .Sovan (fictional name) and another boy who was also deaf. They brought them here to our Deaf Development Program (DDP) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where we give deaf students 15 years old and up sign language training as well as basic education and life skills. By all indications these two boys had been abused, traumatized and isolated for a long time. Often, in a remote village, people do not understand deafness. The deaf person is thought to be mentally deficient, possessed or being punished for some wrong doing of their own or their parents.

These two boys were given shelter here at DDP. They did not know their names or where they came from nor did they have any way to communicate. It was difficult to get close to them as they would cower upon your approach. They were not able to join in regular classes with other students so they were taught one-on-one with a teacher. Even this was difficult for them and one young man could not settle in to the routine. He eventually ran away.

But one stayed and progressed. Sovan was able to learn some sign language and became somewhat comfortable around others and his new environment. However, some chains were still binding him as was evidenced by his being withdrawn and distant.

At our Deaf Community Center our staff discovered that Sovan likes to draw. He is often seen sitting at a table with colored pencils and paper. On one of my visits there I sat next to him and asked (in sign language) what he likes to draw. He just gave me a vacant look and turned back to his drawing. This is how it went for many of my attempts to communicate with him . . .

. . . Until we celebrated Deaf Week in September. Deaf Monday_DaviesBlog102014The first day we had an opening ceremony and many displays around our building showing pictures of our teachers, our football team, our students and other staff members. As I was looking at pictures of the students, Sovan came up next to me and joyfully pointed out himself signing in a classroom. He was absolutely glowing, a big smile on his face and his eyes sparkling. I had never seen him so animated! He proceeded to point out to me each picture on the wall of the classroom and then showed me the correct sign for each. I told him how well he was doing and that I was proud of him.

They say recognition is very important for our deaf students. Deaf Monday 182They have never been recognized for anything in their entire lives. Sovan continued the day in high spirits, trying to get into every photo that was taken and doing a lot of smiling. We do not know what his future holds but he has definitely broken the chains.


Missioner helps Tanzanians affected by ugly ritual: Liz Mach feature

With more than 30 years in mission service, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Liz Mach has played a key role in transforming thousands of lives. Her efforts to treat and eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the Tanzanian diocese of Musoma are featured in this Catholic Spirit article published Oct. 9, 2014 as part of its focus on World Mission Sunday. LizMachMissionSundayOct2014We are incredibly honored to support Liz in mission and applaud The Catholic Spirit for raising awareness to the issue of FGM.


The Family of Los Nietos

By Maryknoll Lay Missioner Ann Greig:

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Ann with Tatiana, the youngest member of the Nietos family

The Nietos are one of 50 families who participate in the Soy Program in San Salvador. This ministry, now celebrating its 20th year, provides a daily supply of soy milk and other soy products at very low cost for families in need. The enterprise requires 100lbs of soy every week to maintain these offerings! Costs are kept low for families that participate in the program ($6 monthly for soy milk) to ensure nutrition is accessible.

Unfortunately, El Salvador is currently suffering one if the worst droughts in 44 years. It is calculated that the country will suffer a loss of more than $82 million in basic grains. Due to the fact that a lot of families literally live off what they produce, the priority of the Ministry of Agriculture is to take care of the nutrition of the families. Therefore, it has distributed packages of seeds for planting. Meanwhile, International Cooperation, OXFAM and Save the Children have each distributed food to affected areas. We offer nutrition and education through our Soy Program, and those who benefit from it and they are grateful to have the support for their families.

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The family of Los Nietos: In front, right to left Ellias 8yrs, Tatiana 8 mo, Esaul 4 yrs, the mother, Carolina in the back row.

The Family of Los Nietos is one of those beneficiaries of the Soy Program in San Ramon, San Salvador; they have been with the program for six months.

Manuel, the family’s father, is a bus driver for public transportation. Carolina, his wife, is a house mother and also is studying to complete her last year of high school. Elias is the oldest son and is in second grade. Esaul the younger son is four years old and Tatiana is nine months; both are not yet of school age.

Carolina and Elias participate in the computer classes offered by the Soy Program as another education opportunity, and both are good students.

Everyone enjoys the soy milk and products except Esaul. He only likes the soymilk when it is prepared with rice or oatmeal. Manuel loves the soymilk and he makes sure that Carolina picks up the soymilk and products every day. If she is running errands, Manuel calls her to remind her to pick up the soymilk.

The Soy Program is a tremendous support as a supplement for food expenses; many times the soymilk and product is sufficient for the family’s dinner. And with the current price of red beans being $1.30/pound, the soy provides an excellent source of protein and carbohydrates.

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Professor Josefina with glasses, weighing Tatiana and showing student how to weigh small children


São Paulo the Ellis Island of Latin America

Written by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Greg Fischer:

Since beginning my ministry work in conjunction with Missão Paz, I have seen thousands of immigrants come in and out of our doors. In essence, São Paulo has become the 21st century version of Ellis Island. While their needs are diverse, these immigrants all come under the same condition – looking to establish themselves in their new home.


Lines waiting outside Missão Paz

One particular case struck me as being exemplary of the difficulties some people experience in the social and economic transition to Brazil. A family of three arrived in May from Pakistan. They had fled the country seeking refuge in Brazil from the violence afflicting the northern border with Afghanistan where the Taliban maintain a strong, disruptive presence within Pakistani villages. The parents, Farooq and Bad-e-Saba, were in their late 40’s/early 50’s – they appeared to bear their advancing age heavily – and followed the traditions of their Muslim heritage including Bad-e-Saba wearing the hijab. They came to Brazil with their five year old son who, I believe, has a mental disability.


Long lines wait for entry to Missão Paz during the humanitarian crisis in April-May, 2014

The transition of the family was especially hard. The parents came to Brazil speaking English but didn’t know anything in Portuguese; their son only spoke the native language. When they first arrived, I assisted them as their English translator with settling into the Migrant House, registering for Portuguese class and registering their son for preschool at a nearby location. All three aspects of the transition were difficult; they were living in a house with people who came from cultures very different from their own, the son with his mental deficiency would be going to a school with only Brazilians and could not understand instructions given by the teachers and the Portuguese class was held 3km away at night – which also meant that their son would have to accompany them for the 2-hour class. Kim and I had an old stroller that we gave the couple so they could use that to transport their son to Portuguese class in the hopes it would help.

Farooq’s previously held a job in Pakistan as a math teacher; through the work mediation he found a job as a dish-washer within a restaurant. Sadly, for someone who had a higher degree of education, this was the best he could find for the time being. Whether he can move to a different field more suited to his level of experience and education in the future is a giant unknown.

At one point, Farooq came to find me at the Work Mediation. He and Bad-e-Saba were no longer taking the Portuguese class; between the long walking distance at night, his work schedule and not having a babysitter available during the course, it was too much to handle. They were also trying to find a job for Bad-e-Saba, which was also proving difficult. The preschool program for their son was only a half-day program and it was difficult to coordinate his care while searching for employment.

While describing the personal struggles, he started to break down and began tearing up. The process – the difficulties – was overwhelming him and his family. Trying to balance all these aspects in addition to adapting to a culture vastly different from one’s own could overwhelm anyone. I offered him sympathy and tried to assist him finding a possible employer match for Bad-e-Saba, but nothing came of it.


An employer meets with prospective employees through Missão Paz’ placement services

He and his family have since moved on from the Migrant House; I hear they are now living in the nearby area, but I don’t know more than that. I don’t know if the apex of their difficulties passed nor do I know if they were more successful in the job market. Their story is only but one example of what many immigrants and refugees go through in the integration process. It’s difficult and it’s rough. For Farooq and Bad-e-Saba the decision to leave Pakistan was less a choice and more a requirement. When personal safety of a spouse or child is at risk, there is only one choice to make.

We through the pastoral offer what help we can to help ease the burdens of the transitions, but sometimes it still doesn’t feel like it’s enough, especially when trying to address individual needs out of a giant influx of immigrants. I think of Farooq and his family often and hope for resolution and security in their situation.

The Scalabrinian order was founded by the forward-thinking Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini (1839-1905), an Italian bishop, whose focus was on assisting immigrants and promoting progressive rights for the working class in the 19th century. Missão Paz has pastoral workers, many of them lay people, addressing various areas of concern for newly arrived immigrants to Brazil. There are social workers to help meet housing, health and children education needs, necessary documentation, registration  for professional courses and registration for Portuguese courses, help run a mediation center for immigrants looking for jobs and businesses looking for prospective employees, a lawyer to help with judicial matters, two Scalabrinian priests for those wishing to discuss spiritual matters and coordinate the Latin American communities spread throughout various areas of the greater São Paulo region. The Scalabrinians also maintain a center for researching migrant issues; and through the larger religious order publish a monthly magazine highlighting immigrant issues. Between the various staff members and volunteers, Missão Paz has the ability to effectively communicate with any immigrant who speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French, Creole, English, Italian or Japanese. 


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