With the approach of summer and the start of the work camps, it must be emphasized that we have not yet recovered “normality”; the pandemic is still in its last throes, hopefully the last ones. This year, there has not been an open call to participate in the SED work camps. Only a few people will participate, upon request of the local counterparts, and with the authorization of the ONG managers.
We hope that next year we will all have the opportunity to enjoy this enriching experience as Marist educators. Don’t forget, this summer you will also be able to share your experiences here, and remember: it is a valuable educational resource to learn what it means to be a SED volunteer and to work in our schools and social works.As a foretaste, we include a testimony of two Marist educators who, back in 2016, told us about their experience in the work and mission camps of our NGOD SED.
This summer we were fortunate to be able to participate in the Work and Mission Camp (CTM) of Uspantán in Guatemala. Perhaps it has been the CTM where we have lived with more intensity the part of “Mission”. In the first place, because we have been in a deeply spiritual environment, thirsty for religious formation and with an exceptional celebratory atmosphere. And secondly, because this was the way we had planned it as a “new” couple, since this time we had something extra to share with them.
It is curious the capacity that we people have to adapt to the environment in which we are. When we left Spain we thought that the conditions in which we were going to live would be very difficult, but little by little what at first made us uneasy, soon became an everyday scenario in which we felt comfortable.
For five weeks we lived in the villages near Uspantan, in a rural environment. There we met simple and humble people, peasants who took care of us as if we were their children, and without knowing us at all, they gave us their best smile. There was no malice in their expressions and no ulterior motives in their comments.
Our task consisted of accompanying and sharing with the communities, praying with the families, visiting the sick, supporting the schools, meeting with the youth, giving religious formation… Each family we visited welcomed us with a big smile and a “Go ahead, rest!”. At every moment God was at our fingertips, in the church, in those who help in the celebration of the Word, in the sick, in the encounters with the people, in the rain that makes their crops grow, in the exuberant nature.
These days we have learned that there is always time to stop and ask “how are you?”, and even to stay and listen to the answer; that sometimes we have aspirations that take away our peace and do not lead us to true happiness; that we have been very fortunate for the backpack of resources that have been brought to us by all the people we have met along the way. We have been reminded once again of the importance of education, especially for the formation of critical consciences that fight for their rights and those of their communities. How important it is to continue supporting education in this rural area of Guatemala! Many children take two hours walking to get to school and make real efforts, both they and their families, to continue studying.
What a joy when you see that it is the educated youth who have the most opportunities and leadership in their communities; how valuable education is as a powerful tool for change! With a bit of healthy envy, we find that children love to go to school, even though some teachers are more concerned with other matters than educating. The children’s desire to read, to learn, to do math contrasts with what in our reality are long faces and a long “Joooooo, teacher… again?”.
In these experiences there are always moments of frustration and anger when learning about the reality; for example when you see the fragility of children’s lives (high mortality of children under five years old), the lack of basic needs that are still not covered, the early school dropout due to economic difficulties to access secondary education, the absence of leaders in the village due to the civil war they suffered, the family destructuring that exists due to the high migration of parents to the coast and the U.S.
However, we return very grateful to have met so many generous, simple, welcoming people of great faith, with an absolute dedication to their families, and children enthusiastic to learn; we return grateful to have been able to approach a different culture; and happy to have started our marriage with God’s favorites, who have given us many lessons to apply in our lives.
On returning here to Spain and sharing the experience with the people, someone asked us, “And why did they welcome you into their home and feed you?” The question has questioned us deeply, because it was not due to what we could bring to them (since they did not even know what we were going to do, nor if we were good people or not).
Their hospitality is unconditional, before knowing you, before assessing whether you have contributed something to them or not, before knowing whether you are good people or not; they welcome you in the best house in the village to sleep and prepare you the best food they have (and it is not what they have left over, but a festive meal that they deprive themselves of to give it to you as a gift). How much we in the “developed” countries have to learn from this hospitality, those of us who put up fences at the borders to keep out people who are suffering and fleeing from horror, those who look the other way when someone needs a welcome, those who are initially suspicious of people until they show us that they can be trusted, those who give what is left over so that it does not affect our standard of living….
Finally, we would like to thank SED for facilitating this experience that has rekindled our hearts and faith; to thank the Sisters of the Holy Family who have made us feel the convent of Uspantán as our home; to the people of the villages we have visited who have so carefully taken care of us and welcomed us; and to God for calling us to leave our “land” for a few weeks to go out to meet Him in the needy.
Alex Balcells and Rocío Herranz
CTM Uspantán (Guatemala)