Teaching Teachers to Teach in Texas: Formation Service Camp

My name is Erica Hudson and I’m from Hopkinton, Massachusetts. In May of 2018 I graduated from Saint Anselm College (Manchester, NH) with a degree in International Relations and French. In the future, I hope to use my degree to work in the field of international policy advocacy or law. I chose to do a post-grad year of service to give back to the world that has given me so many privileged opportunities, while others suffer without the same opportunities. Before I begin my career it is important to me to have experience traveling and serving so I understand first-hand what the human rights situation looks like around the world.

 

For my mission with VIDES I will be going to Geneva, Switzerland for 3 months, and then to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for 6 months. In Geneva, I will be working for Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice, a nongovernmental organization in consultative status with the UN Human Rights Council. This organization, run by the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, Salesian Sisters, advocates for education for all – with a specific focus on women and girls facing poverty and in urgent situations. This is a cause that I am very passionate about and I look forward to serving this cause through policy work. In Ethiopia, I will be teaching English and music to elementary students at a Catholic school in the capital. I look forward to working with children and accompanying them on their educative and faith journeys, while immersing myself in the unique culture of Ethiopia.

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From left to right: Erica Hudson, Sister Sydney Moss, and Julianna Lewis visit the Alamo during an evening off. 

I attended the VIDES Formation Service Camp in June 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. I was accompanied by one other volunteer, and we spent the week with the Salesian Sisters at the their provincial house. Throughout the week we learned about the teaching styles and philosophies of St. Maria Domenica Mazzarello and of St. John Bosco, co-founders of the Salesian order. Sister Gloria Mar and Sister Sydney Moss instructed us in our formation, offering practical and spiritual guidance for our upcoming missions.

 

During the second week of the Formation Service Camp we organized and ran a Bible camp for unaccompanied minors at Saints Peter and Joseph’s Children’s Home in San Antonio. We were joined by over 30 youth participants, who voluntarily signed up for our camp. Each day consisted of a song, skit, lesson, worksheet, craft, and outdoor game, all instructed in Spanish. Each day we followed the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-44), beginning on the first day with the brothers selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites, and ending on the last day with the reunification of the family. The themes we focused on were sin, divisions, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The participants were very engaged and voiced their appreciation for us on the last day of the camp.

1806 skit Julianna Diana Erica Jackie

From left to right: Julianna Lewis, Diana Vargas, Erica Hudson, and Jackie Vargas rehearse skits to perform for the Bible camp at St. PJ’s Children’s Home. 

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A Sunny Stay in San Antonio: Formation Service Camp

My name is Julianna Lewis, I am originally from Houston, Texas but attended Tulane University in New Orleans for my Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a minor in Spanish on the pre-medical track. Throughout my time at university I led mission trips to the Merendón Mountains in Honduras and helped found and became president of Tulane’s chapter of Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassadors. My involvement with these and other activities along with my faith journey have led me to desire to spend a year doing service before continuing with my studies in medical school. I decided to choose VIDES+USA for the year because it seemed like the perfect integration of my Catholic faith and the opportunity for service.

During my year of service with VIDES I first be serving in Bogota, Colombia. There, I will be helping take care of the elderly sisters and accompanying them in daily life. I will also have the opportunity on Saturdays to help host Oratory with the Aspirants and Postulants for the local children. My second placement site will begin in January in Geneva, Switzerland at the Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice Human Rights Office for the United Nations. There, I be working with other interns to help in the office’s activities such as translating documents and assisting with other miscellaneous tasks. I am ecstatic for these two unique opportunities and forms of service and am looking forward to my year with VIDES.

In June, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the VIDES+USA Formation Service Camp (FSC) in San Antonio, Texas. During the formation, I was able to meet a fellow future VIDES missioner and share the experience with her. The FSC was held at the FMA Provincial House where many elderly sisters reside. The community was incredibly receptive and welcomed and integrated us immediately into their day to day activities. The actual formation taught on the foundation and vision of the Salesian Sisters and the VIDES organization. I was able to learn a lot about what it means to accompany those who we serve in mission as well as the theoretical and the practical ways to live it out. It was an enriching experience that prepared me for my pending mission and made me even more excited about the work I will be doing and the organization that I will be serving with.

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Picking Peaches: Julianna Lewis (left), Sister Sydney Moss (center), and Erica Hudson (right) share an afternoon of peach picking for the sisters. 

The Formation Service Camp also included a week-long component of volunteering at Saints Peter and Joseph’s Home in San Antonio. St. PJ’s serves as a home for undocumented children and teens (ages 5-17) who were picked up near the border and are awaiting legal decisions on if they will be able to locate, contact, and  be reunited their family in the United States. This year, we held a Bible camp for about 32 boys and girls at the home. The Bible camp featured and followed the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, and the trials he faced in life. Skits and songs were performed in able to convey the story as well as worksheets to reinforce what the kids had just seen or heard. The camp also included various crafts which the children seemed to greatly enjoy as well as engaging games and activities. The most touching part of all though were the shared prayer moments and intentions with the children. The kids were incredibly sincere and prayed fervently with us each day. Sharing in life with the youth throughout the week was an experience that I will not soon forget.

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VIDES Volunteers for St. PJ’s Home from left to right: Kristie Martinez, Sister MaryGloria Mar, Erica Hudson, Diana Vargas, Jackie Vargas, Julianna Lewis, and Sister Sydney Moss

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Melodious Mass by VIDES Family

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Amanda and her daughter, Lily, playing at the Commissioning Mass.

VIDES+USA is incredibly grateful to Amanda Alvarez and her family for joining us at the Commissioning Mass of our two newest volunteers, Julianna Lewis and Erica Hudson. Amanda shared her talents with us by playing the piano and singing for the Commissioning Mass. Amanda served as a VIDES volunteer in Honduras and her husband, Paul, served as a VIDES volunteer in Sudan. They now have a lovely family together and continue to share of their time and talents with the VIDES program. Thank you to the wonderful family for their presence on Sunday!

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VIDES Family: Paul, Lucia, Lily, and Amanda Alvarez. 

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Sent Off and Sent Out into the World

VIDES+USA has just completed our June 2018 Formation Service Camp! At the camp we trained two volunteers to prepare them for their respective mission placements over the next year. VIDES+USA offers this formation camp twice a year (in January and June) for all prospective missionaries with the program. VIDES+USA offers placements for lay missionaries in over 100 countries around the world. The program provides the opportunity to integrate faith and service for short, medium, and long term time periods.

On Sunday, June 17, 2018, Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI celebrated a Commissioning Mass as a send-off for the two new VIDES volunteers. Julianna Lewis, of Houston, Texas, will be serving in Colombia and Geneva and Erica Hudson, of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, will be serving in Geneva and Ethiopia this coming year. The beautiful celebration included the presentation of missioner crosses blessed with a cross given to Bishop Michael Pfeifer by St. Pope John Paul II. Afterwards, the volunteers, Bishop Michael Pfeifer, Sister MaryGloria Mar (VIDES+USA Director), and the sisters shared in a special lunch celebration together. Please keep the VIDES volunteers in your prayers as they go forth on their missions!

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From Left to Right: Sister MaryGloria Mar, Erica Hudson, Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI, Julianna Lewis, & Sister Guadalupe Medina

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What it Takes To Serve at UN Geneva

The IIMA-VIDES Human Rights Office, which is located in Geneva, does a great deal of work advocating for human rights at the United Nations (UN). This means that we, as interns, are trained and formed in the three months we are there, to intervene on behalf of our organization, which is a non-governmental organization (NGO).

In my first week we went through a crash course on the UN and its structure and how IIMA and VIDES fit into it all and, as interns, where we fit in. Needless to say, we were busy. Dependent on our skills we had jobs specially assigned to us. Some had to do translations, some videos/technical support, and others were editors. However, this is just a part of our daily tasks. The underlying understanding is to be flexible and willing to go with the flow.

Due to the nature of the office, we never are certain exactly what we will do, because even with a weekly schedule, we find ourselves changing jobs day to day, hour to hour. The main work we’ve done thus far is our intervention at the UN during the Human Rights Council (HRC). We had a chance to write our oral statement and to speak on behalf of our NGO in front of the HRC and the state representatives. It was an amazing feeling!

1805 Theresa Nguyen IIMA Human Rights Office (1)

The daily routine is ever flexible. We start work at 8:30 AM and end the day at 5:30 PM. This is a shifting scale which is dependent on whether we need to go to the UN for meetings and sessions, which could go over the work schedule. In this case we might have to show up early to the meetings and stay until the sessions are over, which is usually 6 PM. Please note that because the sisters’ house is in Veyrier, which is about 45 minutes from the UN by bus, we often take the 7 AM bus to get to the meetings on time.

As far as transportation is concerned, the sisters suggested that we buy the monthly Swiss pass. My only suggestion here is to calculate if this is going to be beneficial for you before you invest for the three months you are here. For some it is worth it, others, not so much because of the number of times it was used. For those under 25 the cost is about 40 CHF and for those over 25 the cost is 70 CHF. The cost of a one way ride in Geneva is 3 CHF and a day trip within Geneva costs 8 CHF. Test out the first month and see if this is something you wish to invest in.

Meals are as follows:

Breakfast is dependent on you. Lunch is served in the school dining room next to the sisters’ convent around 12:45 PM. Dinner is eaten with the sisters near 7 PM.

Noteworthy tidbits:
During the weekdays it is difficult to go out because of the alarm system. During the weekends, if you would like to go out, make sure you make plans in advance and tell the sisters of your arrangements so they know of your whereabouts and whether to save you food and expect you back or that you will be sleeping somewhere else. If you wish to do a bit of exploring, it is also a good idea to consider traveling with the other interns in order to save money. Things are 3 times more expensive in Switzerland than in the US, so if you want to travel or buy anything, be mindful that nothing is cheap here. If you find a good deal, take advantage of it.

Lastly, the best advice I can give is to start learning Italian and/or French if you want to converse with the community here. The sisters do not speak English and it would be wise to know conversational Italian and/or French. However, if you are a fast learner, you won’t have any problems. Just be open to the many languages that are going to be spoken and start to immerse yourself.

Ultimately, this volunteer/internship experience is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced and is a very unique service offered by VIDES. Remember to be open to change and to share joys and challenges with Suor MariaGrazia, the Director and the sisters and interns. It is always better to converse and speak out when something is bothering you. Your experience is what you make of it.

Theresa Nguyen
VIDES volunteer in Geneva, Switzerland

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Places I Was Fortunate to Visit

The first three pictures are in Wadi Rum with my friends from the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy Judith, Fatima, and Shnoda, and the Beduin who gave us the tour and invited us for tea at one of the tents.

 Las primeras 3 fotos son en Wadi Rum con mis amigos del Restaurante de la   Misericordia Caritas Judith, Fátima y Shnoda, y el beduino que nos dio el recorrido y   nos  invitó a tomar el té en una de las tiendas.

  

The fourth picture below is in Petra. Jordan is absolutely a tourist
destination. It has a lot of archeology and amazing places to visit.
La cuarta foto es en Petra. Jordania es absolutamente un destino
turístico. Tiene mucha arqueología y lugares increíbles para visitar.

In Israel, I was lucky to live in Nazareth, the city of the Annunciation of Angel Gabriel to Mary that she was going to give birth to the son of God, and where Jesus was raised.
Basilica of the Annunciation in the back
 Basílica de la Anunciación en la parte posterior

I was also fortunate to visit Bethlehem, where Jesus was born,
for the lightning of the Christmas Tree and for Christmas.

Basilica of the Nativity – December 24 before the Mid-
night Mass. The star indicates where Jesus was born.
 Basílica de la Natividad el 24 de diciembre antes de la
Misa de Medianoche. La estrella  indica dónde nació Jesús.
Bethlehem during Christmas
 Belén durante la Navidad
Basilica of the Nativity – December 25. Salesian priests
celebrating Christmas Mass.
 Basílica de la Natividad – 25 de diciembre. Sacerdotes
salesianos celebran la misa de Navidad

Going on a volunteering mission was a unique life experience. I’m immensely thankful to VIDES+USA for welcoming me into their missioner volunteering program, and to the Salesian Sisters of the Middle East who received me at their houses, a world region which I had studied in grad school because I care for peace in that heated part of the world, and a culture to which I’ve been always attracted. This experience gave me the opportunity to be a peaceful presence among the people in conflict, to get to know the living conditions of refugees, to improve my language skills to communicate and get closer to them, and in general terms, to get to understand the region better.
It reads in Arabic “rahbat alsalizian” – Salesian Sisters
Se lee en árabe “rajbat alsalizian” – Hermanas Salesianas

I’m also immensely thankful to all of you who believed in my mission and
supported it either through my campaign or through messages and prayers!

 Thank you, everyone, for being with me, one way or the other, during this

 amazing mission “A Dream of Peace in the Middle East”!

 May God bring peace to the Middle East and grant us peace in our hearts,
 Natalia Liviero, VIDES+USA Missioner

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What I Will Miss

The wonderful people I met in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, other volunteers and consecrated lay Catholics I met with whom I became friends, the students, Gioia and Itaf, who cooked at the sisters’ houses in Amman and Nazareth, and the Salesian Sisters with whom I lived during the past year.

My friends at the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy
 Mis amigos del Restaurante de la Misericordia de Caritas: Shnoda,
Walid,
Samira, Judith, Carol, Fatima, Milad, Zaid, Wasim, Aysar.
Souren, photographer at Abouna.org, Sister Rita who was the best Sister!
Remy, a volunteer at the Latin Patriarchate with Claire, both from France.
 Souren, fotógrafo de Abouna.org, la hermana Rita, ¡que fue la mejor hermana!
Y Remy, un voluntario en el Patriarcado Latino con Claire, ambos de Francia.
With Nataly, who lives with the sisters in Amman,
and Iraqi friends, they were so nice!
 Con Nataly, que vive con las hermanas en Amán,
y con amigas iraquíes, ¡eran divinas!

With Nataly, Ricardo, a Focolar from Argentina, and Abdullah,
from Jordan. I was teaching an English group class. With Nataly
and Abdullah we used to have language exchange classes
English-Arabic. It was fun!
 Con Nataly, Ricardo, un Focolar de Argentina, y Abdullah, de Jordania.
 Yo enseñando una clase grupal en inglés. Con Nataly y Abdullah
 solíamos tener clases de intercambio de idioma inglés-árabe.
 ¡Nos divertíamos!

 

The Don Bosco Choir in Nazareth. We prepared the Christmas
concerts together, and I participated at the weekly practices.
They prepared a surprise farewell party before I left Israel.
They are wonderful people!
 El Coro Don Bosco en Nazaret. Preparamos los conciertos
 de Navidad juntos, y participé en las prácticas semanales.
 Prepararon una fiesta sorpresa de despedida antes de que
 me fuera de Israel. ¡Son personas maravillosas!

 

Johnny on the left is the Choir Conductor. He is also a music
teacher in our school and an animator of events. He was so
welcoming and fun! Asaad, on the right, is the right-hand
person of the sisters at the school. He and Manal, in the
next picture, were the only two adults who spoke to me in
Arabic in my whole trip and helped me improve my language.
Manal is the coordinator of the high-school floor and I spent
a lot of time with her and the students. I was extremely
fortunate to work with Asaad and Manal who have great
hearts and great attitude!

 Johnny a la izquierda, es el director del coro. También es
profesor de música en   nuestra escuela y animador de eventos.
¡Fue tan acogedor y divertido! Asaad, a la   derecha, es la
mano derecha de las hermanas en la escuela. Él y Manal,
en la siguiente   imagen, fueron los únicos dos adultos que me
hablaron en árabe en todo mi viaje y me ayudaron a mejorar
mi idioma. Manal es el coordinador del piso de la escuela
secundaria y pasé mucho tiempo con ella y los estudiantes.
!Fui muy afortunada de   trabajar con Asaad y Manal,
que tienen un gran corazón y una gran actitud!

With Edel, from Ireland, celebrating my birthday after both of us volunteered at the Interfaith Conference on Forgiveness in Jerusalem in July. She became another
angel in my life!

Con Edel, de Irlanda, celebrando mi cumpleaños
después de que ambas nos ofrecimos como
voluntarias en la Conferencia Interreligiosa
sobre el Perdón en Jerusalén en julio. Ella
se convirtió en otro ángel en mi vida!


We met with Katherina (Germany) and Claire
(France
volunteering at Our Lady of Peace Center
in Amman.
It was great to share our experiences
and to support 
one another. 
 Nos conocimos con Katherina
(Alem
ania) y Claire (Francia) como
voluntarias en el Centro Our Lady
of Peace en Amán. Fue genial
compartir nuestras experiencias
y apoyarnos mutuamente.
With the Focolari in Amman, an Italian movement of
consecrated lay men and women. I shared a lot with
Marco (Italy) and Bernard (Belgium) on my left, and
with Ricardo (Argentina). I met with Philippe (Switzerland)
and Christian (Brazil) just a couple of times, as well as with
the Focolare women. They were the nicest and most caring
people I met in my whole trip!
 Con los Focolari en Amán, un movimiento italiano de hombres
y mujeres laicos  consagrados. Compartí mucho con Marco (Italia)
y Bernard (Bélgica) a mi izquierda, y   con Ricardo (Argentina).
Me reuní con Philippe (Suiza) y Christian (Brasil) solo un par
de veces, así como con las mujeres de los Focolares. ¡Fueron las
personas más amables y afectuosas que conocí en todo mi viaje!


The group Shalom is a Brazilian movement of consecrated lay men and women who work at the Basilica of the Annunciation of Nazareth. They invited me to spend a weekend with them and offered me a farewell lunch before leaving Israel. They were all very welcoming and Fatima on my left became a wonderful friend.
 El grupo Shalom, un movimiento brasileño de hombres y mujeres consagrados que   trabajan en la Basílica de la Anunciación de Nazaret. Me invitaron a pasar un fin de   semana con ellos, y me ofrecieron un almuerzo de despedida antes de partir de Israel.   Todos fueron muy acogedores y Fátima, a mi izquierda, se convirtió en una amiga   maravillosa.

 

With the Salesian Sisters of Nazareth with whom I lived for the last 6 months. To the left, with a sister from a country in war with Israel, so I can’t give her name. She is young and very smart, and we shared many things together. On the right, with Sister Anna (Italy) she was the spirit of the house! We also shared a lot of things together. She reminds me of my paternal grandmother, Amalia. The photos are of the trip we took to the Golan Heights.
 Con las Hermanas Salesianas de Nazaret con las que he vivido durante los últimos 6   meses. A la izquierda, con una hermana de un país en guerra con Israel, así que no   puedo   dar su nombre. Ella es joven y muy inteligente, y compartimos muchas cosas   juntas. A la   derecha, con la Hermana Anna (Italia) ¡ella era el espíritu de la casa!   También   compartimos muchas cosas juntas. Ella me recuerda a mi abuela paterna,   Amalia. Las   fotos son del viaje que hicimos a los Altos del Golán.

 

In the photo below I’m with Sister Carmen (Bethlehem – 88) who has a great sense of humor and with Sister Sabina (Italy – 86), who has been a missionary in the Middle East since 1966 I believe, and shared lots of interesting stories about the many wars she lived through. Both of them had tears in their eyes when we said goodbye, and me too.
En la foto de abajo estoy con la hermana Carmen (Belén – 88) que tiene un gran sentido   del humor y con la hermana Sabina (Italia – 86), que ha sido misionera en el Medio   Oriente desde 1966, creo, y compartió un montón de historias interesantes sobre las   muchas guerras que vivió. Ambas tenían lágrimas en los ojos cuando nos despedimos,
y yo también.

 

I will also miss the sounds…. In Nazareth, the 5 am calling prayer to the mosque (like a song) and at the same time the bells of the church. And in Amman, I’ll miss the sound of the gas truck that used to pass by about 3 times a day!

Natalia Liviero, VIDES+USA Missioner

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Joys of My Middle East Mission

What brought me the most joy was the love I could bring to the children of the
Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, to the Iraqi refugees, and to the students of the
schools in Israel (Nazareth) and Palestine (Bethlehem-Cremisan), and the
unexpected affection I received from them in return.

At the Syrian refugee camp I really felt for the children.
En el campo de refugiados sirios sentí mucho por esos niños.

3rd-grade students (A and B), my classmates in the religion and music classes.
The teacher in the photo below is Mais. She learned Spanish watching
Argentinian 
soap operas and I called her “Andrea del Boca” since she looked
like that Argentinian actress.  She loved it! The kids used to hug me when I
entered their classrooms and everyone wanted me to sit next to them.
 Estudiantes de 3er grado (A y B), mis compañeros de clase en las clases de
religión y música. La maestra en la foto de abajo es Mais, aprendió español
viendo telenovelas a   argentinas y yo la llamaba “Andrea del Boca” ya que se
parecía a la actriz argentina. A   ella le encantaba! Los niños solían abrazarme
cuando entraba a sus clases y todos   querían que me sentara junto a ellos.
With Melad from Mosul, Iraq, in the Oratorio for Iraqi children in Jordan.
Melad also worked at the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy.
 Con Milad de Mosul, Iraq, en el Oratorio para niños iraquíes en Jordania.
Melad también trabajaba en el Restaurante de la Misericordia de Caritas.

Some of the Syrian refugees and Jordanian kids of the Caritas-Salesian
Sisters Music Project in Amman, where I helped last summer.
 Algunas de las refugiadas sirias y niñas jordanas del Proyecto Musical
Caritas-Hermanas Salesianas en Amán, donde ayudé el verano pasado.

Students from 8th grade at the Nazareth school.
They are so much fun!
 Con los estudiantes de 8vo grade en la escuela de Nazaret.
Son divertidísimos!

Ran and Roua, 8th graders, were very sweet, and gave me a neck-
lace with two girls to remember them, as if suddenly I had twins!

 Ran y Roua, de 8º grado, eran muy dulces y me dieron una
cadenita con dos niñas para recordarlas, ¡como si de pronto
hubiera tenido mellizas!

With Leen and Shaheed from 9th grade, two sweethearts. They gave
me a tour of Nazareth downtown after school. We had a shawarma
and then an ice-cream in McDonald’s.
 Con Leen y Shaheed del noveno grado, dos dulzuras. Me dieron un
 tour por el centro de Nazaret después de la escuela. Comimos una
 shawarma y luego un helado en McDonald’s

 

At the school in Cremisan, the 2nd grade students were also
sweet and affectionate.
 En la escuela en Cremisan, los estudiantes de 2 ° grado
también eran re-dulces y afectuosos.

Another aspect of my service that brought me joy was serving
food to the poor, and to Syrian Muslim refugees during Ramadan,
through the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy. Caritas, a Catholic
non-profit that belongs to the Vatican, provides free schooling,
free health services, and free meals to refugees in Jordan
(and also in other countries that received refugees), the
majority of them Muslim. I’m a big advocate of interreligious
dialogue and unity and could put it into practice by being an
example through my Catholic values and volunteering with Caritas.


With Caritas serving food and talking with Syrian refugees
during Ramadan last summer.
 Con Caritas sirviendo comida y hablando con refugiados
sirios durante Ramadán el verano pasado.

 
Natalia Liviero, VIDES+USA Missioner

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Getting oriented in the Middle East

Syrian refugee children asking for more food during
Ramadan last summer.

 Niños sirios refugiados pidiendo más comida durante
el Ramadán el verano pasado.
My room in Amman was big and comfortable, but needed A/C!

 Mi habitación en Amán. Era grande y cómoda
¡pero necesitaba aire acondicionado!

Challenges
The main challenge I encountered was the weather. In Jordan, where I stayed during summer, the temperatures were very high and there was no air conditioning in the convent nor in my room. The fan that I was given was not enough, and at times annoying, especially at night. Whereas in Israel, where I stayed during fall and winter, there was a lot of wind, the temperatures where very low and the central heating in the rooms and house was only turned-on for one week in January because it was expensive. The house and the rooms were usually very cold. The electric heater I was given was not enough to warm my room at a comfortable temperature for me. I fell sick five times from September to January. After living in Miami for 15 years with A/C all the time and with no winters, my body had a hard time to adapt to those extreme temperatures.

My room in Nazareth one day in January when my electric heater
broke. 
Fortunately, the sisters turned on central heating that night!
 Mi habitación en Nazareth un día de enero cuando se rompió mi
estufa 
eléctrica. Afortunadamente las hermanas encendieron la
calefacción 
central esa noche!

Food
Although Middle Eastern food is one of my favorites and meals were delicious in every community I lived and in the Caritas Restaurant of Mercy, I didn’t eat as healthy as I was used to and had some digestive issues. In the school in Nazareth, for example, students, teachers, and employees usually brought sweets and cakes to celebrate births, birthdays, weddings, and other life events. Furthermore, in the Arab culture, you have to eat even if you don’t want to, to show appreciation to your host. As a result, I gained weight, something I never thought it could happen being a missioner!
A typical breakfast, tea or coffee with milk, whole wheat pita bread
with labneh (a type of yogurt)
zaatar (thyme and sesame seeds), cheese, and olives.
 Un desayuno típico, té o café con leche, pan pita integral
 con labneh (un tipo de yogur)
 zaatar (tomillo y semillas de sésamo), queso y aceitunas.

Language
One of the many reasons why I wanted to do my mission in the Middle East was to improve my Arabic language skills. I studied Arabic at the university as part of my graduate studies at FIU in 2010 when I was interested in peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but I hardly used it. At the beginning of my mission, I was happy the official language of the Salesian Sisters was Italian since they are an Italian congregation, and I am fluent in that language. But, it didn’t play in my favor since the sisters from the Middle East never spoke to me in Arabic. And in Jordan, the majority of the people with whom I interacted spoke English very well. It was only in the school in Nazareth when I could improve my Arabic. The students helped me a lot!
On a normal day, I was speaking and writing in Italian, Arabic, English, and Spanish, in that order, plus Hebrew when I had Hebrew classes, plus Portuguese the few times I met with the consecrated lay groups Shalom and Canção Nova in Nazareth. I always liked to communicate with people from different cultures and knowing languages is very helpful.

Community life

After living by myself for so many years, it was a challenge to live in a community as large as 9 members, with unknown people. I stayed in 5 different communities, some for only a couple of weekends. I had to adapt to different people, personalities, cultures, ways of doing things, convent superiors, and schedules (wake-up, daily mass and prayers, meals, bed-time). I always wanted to know how leaving in a religious community was, and I had the chance to experience it. The nuns make a lot of sacrifices to dedicate their lives to God and to serve others, and I admire them for that.

Blogs
Being a blogger during my mission was something I really enjoyed. I had never written a blog before, and I found it to be fun. I actually enjoyed going through my pictures and writing about my experiences; it was like living them again!

Being selected to write for Global Sisters Report was also a wonderful experience, although it took a lot of my time during the four months I wrote for them. I was fortunate to work remotely with Pam, the managing editor, who guided me through the editing process for each blog post in an enriching manner and with a great attitude.

Something I discovered during mission: I love writing!

Cultural                                                                                                                                                  Jordan, Israel, and Palestine are very similar. I was shocked to see so much street garbage in Jordan and in Nazareth, the high levels of dust in the air -that I found daily in my rooms- as well as seeing people smoking in bars and restaurants. The reckless driving, disorganized transit -and excessive honking in Jordan-, and the hostility of the people in the street was also shocking. On the other hand, the Arab culture is generous, affectionate and welcoming; people always invite you to their homes, even if they hardly know you, and like to offer you food and give you gifts.

Safety
Although I felt safe at all times in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, there were a couple of situations that worried me and that are worth mentioning:
1) Last May, I visited a Syrian refugee camp for the first time, which was located in the north of Jordan, near the Syrian border. I had read there were ISIS members infiltrated in the camps and the US Embassy had warned US citizens to avoid the area, so I was hesitant to go. But my Iraqi friend who organized the visit assured me the camp was inhabited by a single family (of 150 members) and it wasn’t dangerous. When I got there, I saw the camp was safe so I felt relieved and visited it for a second time about a month later.
2) I was in Jerusalem on Friday, July 14th, when the attack on Temple Mount. The sisters’ house where I stayed was few blocks away from the Old City and we could hear the helicopters and police after mass was over by 7:30 am and they told us to avoid the Old City area. In fact, the Old City was closed and nobody could get in nor get out.
3) I left the school in Cremisan (Bethlehem-Palestine) on December 5th, the day before Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I was lucky to leave since Israel closed the check-points to and from Israel to the West Bank for a couple of days. Two weekends later, I was traveling to Cremisan again to spend Christmas in Bethlehem, so to be safe, I had to take a shared taxi from Nazareth to Cremisan (about a 3-hour ride). I had to avoid the demonstrations in Jerusalem near the Palestinian bus station in East Jerusalem and to arrive in the West Bank early on Friday in case Israel closed the check-points.
4) On one of my last Sundays in Israel, February 11th, we went to the Golan Heights as a fun day with the Don Bosco Oratorio and some of the sisters. The day before the trip, there was an incident between Iran, which is currently in Syrian territory, and Israel (Iran sent a drone into Israel on Saturday morning and Israel sent a Jet to strike on the Iranian base in Syria right after, which Syria shot down and fell within Israeli territory). I was afraid of an escalation of events as the Golan Heights is a Syrian territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 war and is the border between both countries. Thankfully, nothing happened on Sunday. I imagine that if there was a safety issue the Don Bosco church would have canceled the trip, but nevertheless, I was worried.

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Rising with Jesus – Sarahi Perez Update

This month has been by far one of the toughest. February has passed and so the honeymoon stage came to an end. I began having feelings of loneliness, and frustration. Adapting to community life was much harder than I thought! During this time however, I’ve noticed that I have become stronger in prayer, patience, and love for others. Saint Mother Teresa has been a great motivator for me. I’ve been reading a book with her thoughts, prayers, and stories and I’ve learned to accept everything that comes with joy. Doing this has made tough moments more bearable and has made me never forget that the one I am working for is Jesus!

The most impactful experience this month was the Holy week mission I went on with the youth group. We went to a small village about an hour away from town. I was able to see Jesus in all the children and families I served. In every smile, in every hug, in every moment of encounter, I felt God’s presence.

I was surprised to learn that I was one of the first laywomen to ever go on mission to that village. This gave the girls there so much hope, to see a young woman like them doing something that men usually do. To hear their stories and share with them the struggles of womanhood was truly a blessing. Jesus has called me to do things that I never thought I was capable of doing, to be his instrument and bring hope to others. I realized that not only do I represent myself, Salesian missioners, and VIDES, but I also represent what an American is, what a young Catholic woman is, and who Jesus is.

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