Monthly Archives: March 2018

MKLM in National Catholic Reporter


Loan assistance programs help post-grad volunteers during years of service

Anne Berry 3272 FOR WEB

Maryknoll Lay Missioner Anne Berry demonstrates emergency care in the skills lab at Bukumbi Hospital’s maternity ward in Tanzania.

CLICK HERE to read the full article.

MKLM in El Salvador – Rick Dixon

Jean Donovan’s Guitar

This past December, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Debbie Northern (working at our central office in Ossining, NY) asked me to write an article about Jean Donovan – how her life and legacy live on in El Salvador. Since I never personally met Jean before she died, I felt Debbie’s request would be a nice way to get closer to Jean, to search for and discover her spirit, alive, among us.

12.RickDixon-RodannyI learned of Jean in 1984 (four years after her martyrdom on December 2nd, 1980), when I was working on the California-Mexico border with Salvadoran refugees. I lived with five other volunteers in a house we rented from Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Calexico, CA. The house library contained a movie called Roses in December by Ana Carrigan and Bernard Stone. One evening I pulled it down from the shelf and watched it. I was spellbound. The music from the song Be Not Afraid and images of Jean with her guitar and her incredible story hooked me. My spirit bowed down to that powerful simplicity. I wanted to be a part of it, and I wanted to learn to play the guitar. But it wasn’t until after long mission stints in Mexico, Venezuela, and working with an immigrant community in Brooklyn that the dream of learning to play reached fulfillment, when I arrived in El Salvador in 2011. At that time, I bought three guitars–one for nearly each decade I had procrastinated. I had no excuse now. The idea was to learn to play one and lend the other two out.

El Salvador, of course, is a different situation today than in Jean’s time here (1979-1980), yet her spirit of sharing music is just as relevant now as it was then. One day a gang member suddenly appeared in the community center where I work in La Esperanza. I was alone. “Hey, give me a guitar,” he said. Hair greased back, Marvin was middling tall, muscular, wearing a tank top shirt. His stature filled the only entrance to the community center and his craggy face took on the air of a petrified gargoyle that wasn’t going to budge until he got what he wanted. I handed him a guitar and told him I’d need it back tomorrow, at two, for a catechism class. My pulse raced as he took the guitar and walked out; I thought I’d never see it again.

The following day I arrived fifteen or twenty minutes early to get materials ready for my class. Marvin, cradling the guitar in his arms, was already at the front gate. “Gracias por tu confianza,” he said and looked at me with a solid, ruddy stare. He thanked me again for trusting him and put the guitar in my arms. His eyes turned big, like a frog’s sulking in deep water, as if he were tangled in something he couldn’t escape. “Take it again tonight if you want,” I told him. He shook his head, declining, and explained he had only wanted to play mañanitas for his mother that morning. It was her birthday (I knew his mother; she lived in dire poverty and had been bedridden for quite some time). “Take it,” I said. “Keep singing.”

He refused and a few weeks later he was arrested by the soldier-cops (National Police, which was the National Guard during Jean’s time). He ran when he first saw them and was shot and wounded. He remains in prison to this day. “Only if we could have reached him a few years earlier with that guitar,” I’ve often wondered.

12.RickDixon-AlexI met Alex at a younger age, eleven. He also lives with his mother in desperate poverty and like so many kids in La Esperanza is bored out of his mind, but the day I showed up at his house with a wheelbarrow full of books (from our mobile library) and a guitar on top, he perked up. We practiced a few chords and he asked if he could keep the guitar. “It’s like a book,” I told him. “The only difference is you can keep it for up to six months as long as you’re practicing.” For a year we practiced (he checked it out twice), and now he’s playing a few songs. His favorite is Madre de los Pobres (Mother of the Poor). He has since become a member of the parish choir and often travels to sing at various events in San Salvador like the feast of Nuestra Señora de la Paz. When he returns from these events, you can see a light in his eyes. He is now fourteen and a catechist.

Most kids have no idea what they can get from the guitar, but I’ve found if someone encourages them and tells them to keep working at it, they get better. They get excited about playing and that opens other doors. Jean Donovan’s spirit did that for me, and in turn that spirit inspired Alex, and now he is singing and calling others.

Gracias, Jean.

Together in Mission,


MKLM in Tanzania

Greetings from Mwanza!

anne berryThe kids started a new school year at Isamilo International School in September, Susanna in Year 2 and Louisa in Preschool 2. They enjoyed summer break, including a visit to a fellow Maryknoller’s project, Uzima Center, where they joined with the children’s group drawing and singing about fruits in Swahili. Now they’re preparing for the school’s Early Years Christmas pageant, which Susanna reports will include a performance by her tap dancing club, an exciting addition! When they’re not at school or swimming, they have a great time searching for fallen mangoes in our backyard, making dirt and flower cakes, and playing with our little dog, Pepper. They sure can have fun with just rocks, dirt, sticks, and flowers! Susanna is reading quite well now and has inherited Anne’s love for books. Louisa’s class is learning phonics, so she walks around and has little epiphanies, shouting excitedly, “Mama!! Four starts with ‘fuh!’ Fuh-Fuh- Four!!” And both are picking up more and more Swahili, thanks to our nanny/housekeeper, Paulina.

george stableinWe have started working at Bukumbi Hospital, a small Catholic hospital with about 150 beds, an hour outside the city of Mwanza. The nurses and doctors have been welcoming and patient with us as we learn how to practice medicine in an environment so different from anywhere we’ve worked before. Our limited testing options force us to hone our skills in physical examination and deductive reasoning. The lab can perform a ‘Full Blood Picture,’ (CBC), Widal test (but not titers), urine and stool microscopy, and tests for malaria, HIV, syphilis, blood sugar, liver enzymes and a few others, but sometimes we run out of reagents, and often patients and their families decline tests because they can’t afford the cost. There is an ultrasound machine but no tech, and the hospital’s X-ray machine has been broken for a long time. So we are trying to learn to help our patients without most of the information we could always get so easily before, and also trying to find good ultrasound training opportunities for ourselves!

George sees patients in the pediatric ward, learning about malaria, typhoid, intestinal parasites and other diseases we don’t usually see in the US, many resulting from inability to afford bednets (malaria) or fuel in order to boil drinking water (diarrheal diseases). He also evaluates babies on the maternity ward if they have problems and examines all newborns before they go home.

anne berry 2I, following one of my passions, have been rounding in maternity and gynecology with the young Tanzanian physician responsible for these wards, Dr. Susan, and hanging out with the nurse-midwives to learn how they manage labor and delivery. I’m impressed with their level of skill and knowledge – the times so far I’ve seen a mother or baby not receive proper care like she could get in the US, it’s due to systems problems or lack of supplies, not lack of well-trained health professionals. I asked Dr. Susan how Bukumbi compares to the nearby small government-run hospital, where she worked before, and she said it was frustrating there as a doctor, because so often she couldn’t help her patients, as the hospital often lacked medicines or supplies. So I guess we have it better at Bukumbi.

George often works with handicapped children, at a physical therapy project in Mabatini, a poor neighborhood in Mwanza, and at Huruma School, a school for children with developmental delay or hearing impairment, where he’s helping establish a health check program. On our pilot health check day, we were greeted at the gate by children from the hearing-impaired classroom, who recognized us as the visiting doctors. George said hi to the two on his side of the truck, then said to me, “They’re telling us to go, they don’t want any shots.” “Where did you learn Tanzanian sign language?” I asked, surprised. He said, “You don’t need to know sign language to understand what they were saying,” then demonstrated: hand motions brushing something away, then fingers pointing up on the inside of one elbow, and then fingers showing tears going down the cheeks. What a welcome! But they couldn’t have been too worried, because then they took his hands and led him into the school, laughing.

As this year comes to a close, we are so happy and grateful to be here in Tanzania as a family, with all the wonderful opportunities to learn and serve we have had so far and all that we hope lie ahead for us. We wish all of you peace and joy always, and thank you so much for your love and support.

MKLM in Bolivia – Teresa Villaruz

Teresa Villaruz
Bolivia – December 2017

“Hold Me”

Greetings y’all!

I officially just completed a year here and have come into contact with 182 new children in the street in addition to the 120 children that visit the center frequently.

Some highlights from the year:
-I have officially been taught how to sell whipped cream (hint: you yell “CREMA CREMA CREMA UN BOLIVIANOOOOOO!” as loudly as you can, whilst making both venders and clients double over with laughter). All agreed that it is a good thing I never went into sales besides my brief stint at Old Navy.
-The police have spoken to me about how my games on the streets distract people who are walking by and then robbers can more easily steal from them.
-I have learned that shoe polish does not always come out of sweaters and jeans.
-I have seen how people here care for one another and how seemingly innocuous things can make bonds that last. I have witnessed this in internet cafes as young people and adults gather around a screen watching Power Rangers. I’ve seen kids walking side-by-side with carts and giant trash bins on top filled with jugo de coco (coconut juice). I’ve witnessed how they lend each other rags to polish shoes, make change when someone pays with a big bill, watched how they care for each others’ mangoes while others go to the restroom or order lunch from the lady selling chicken on the corner.

TeresaWe have had a lot of events at the center this year, but the most memorable for me was going to the movie theater. The local government sponsored a night at the movies for different orphanages and centers around the city. We walked the 5 or 6 blocks from the center to the movie theater amidst the hustle and bustle of rush hour traffic. I marveled at how the kids dodged between cars, judging when was the right time to cross because the traffic lights certainly did not indicate that. As we got in line and prepared to enter the theater, one of my kids, we will call him Wilder, and I were chatting. Suddenly, he grabbed my arm and said, “Hold me!”

This wasTeresa3 Wilder’s first time going to the movies. He is eleven years old, just quit school this year because he left his notebooks at an internet cafe and decided it wasn’t worth re-doing all of that work to just go to school for a few months. He had been working full-time polishing shoes since then. Every day he was there beside some of the large grown men (who are often drunk on chicha), polishing shoes and making a living while his mom sold juice from a cart. He was always there by the time I arrived about 9 AM and stayed until 10 PM. Now, the Cancha is not what we call a safe place generally. I have seen more physical violence against women and robberies this year than I have in the rest of the 27 years of my life combined. And there are significantly more risks at night. But this kid polishes shoes on this street corner far beyond the time I would ever consider being there. This is a child who got tired of polishing shoes and instead decided that he would go and sell spinners, being ever industrious. Needless to say, he is one of my favorites.

When Wilder found out we were going to the movie theater, his face was alight with Teresa2wonder. He had never been to the movies because it costs so much here (about $6 typically). As we walked to the center to meet with the rest of the group, he pulled at his clothes nervously and asked, “But won’t everyone be in new clothes? All I have is this.” I told him not to worry, that it would be dark in there anyway and nobody will see what he is wearing and perhaps moreover, that it didn’t matter. I realized that this child, while able to travel on his own to other cities and while able to work in the Cancha until late at night, while independent and grown-up in so many ways, was still very much a child. Like all of us, he was afraid of that which he did not know. He was fearful of new experiences while simultaneously being thrilled by the newness, like we all are. And he was looking for comfort, someone to reassure him and just maybe, to hold his hand as we walked into the dark unknown.

This movie-going experience was unlike anything else I have been a part of, with people sitting on all of the stairs and standing in the back. Children I did not know used my legs as a backrest. We bought large bags of popcorn on the street and bagged it right there in the theater. People cheered wildly when it started and chitchatted during large segments of the film. This was not about the movie, but the experience of going to the movies. It was about doing something new and doing it together.Teresa4

So, as we venture into the newness of 2018, let us not be afraid to grab someone’s hand and say, “Hold me!” remembering that we are all looking for comfort, and together, we can experience something new.

Thank you for all your support!


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