I volunteered 2 months in Vietnam in the fall of 2014 with VIDES teaching English as a Second Language to elementary and secondary students, as well as, to Salesian religious sisters.
Ever since I was a child, I always wanted to be a missionary in helping others. As my 1st overseas experience, it was very fulfilling…I was happy, complete and felt I was making a big difference, more than in my 11 years of teaching in Toronto. Never in my life had I worked so much working morning, day and night, and never in my life did I experience students who had such an eagerness to learn, abundant energy, welcoming and giving, and a curiosity for me as well. With the elementary and secondary students, I focussed on vocabulary and pronunciation. With the sisters, I focussed on vocabulary and pronunciation, as well as, conversation for the ones who did have some English background.
I lived with the sisters during my stay at the convent. They were such a joy to be around. I saw them as friends. We shared stories and prayed, conversed in Italian (which was a surprise for me), made Italian dessert, washed dishes, danced salsa, had late night chats, travelled and went grocery shopping. They manifested so much goodness, light and joy with each other and the community that they served.
I have wonderful memories of my 2 short months in Vietnam. I’d love to go back to Vietnam for a longer period of time sometime in the future. I came back to Canada reinvigorated not only as a teacher, but personally. When I wake up, I give up my day to be a light for others as Vietnam has been for me.
My name is Monica Escamilla and I currently live in Ottawa ON. I first met the Salesian sisters in Mexico, where I was born and raised, and worked with them in different missions with the rural communities in the north of the country. When I moved to Canada in 2004, I contacted the sisters in Toronto and have worked with them since. In 2006 I went to Rwanda through VIDES where the sisters have several missions. I was mainly settled in Kigali, the capital, where the Salesians run a boarding home and school for girls. In 2008-2009 I went to Cambodia because I decided to write my thesis on the work of the Catholic Church in education there, being the Salesian Sisters in the capital city of Phnom Penh one of my case studies. While collecting my data, I lived and worked with the community of Tuol Kork, some of the happiest months of my life. Here in Canada I support Sister Jeannine with the training of volunteers and more recently as a VIDES board member.
If I could express in a paragraph the meaning of a mission, it would have to be filled with colors everywhere, the air filled with the most intriguing smells, and the fresh dew of the early morning anouncing a new day present at the time of reading. A mission is to be there, to live time as space, and to feel God’s presence through the people you interact with. It is to take a break for a moment and remember what is important in life.
VIDES is very close to my heart because it is about educating and empowering women and children, which in my opinion is the way to go to make this world a better place. I am very proud to be part of it.
In October 2003, I was sent by VIDES to Casa Mama Margarita, a children’s home in Medellin, Colombia. I was the first Canadian volunteer sent abroad by VIDES, and I had a very fruitful and blessed time. I had just finished undergraduate studies before going and I was very humbled to find myself in many ways less useful there than I was in Canada; however, I grew a great deal and made some little contributions to the work there by teaching English and supporting the girls. While I was there I learned Spanish, which I have since used in my career as a social worker. I returned to Colombia last year and saw some of the same children I had worked with, now grown up and doing very well. I am currently volunteering for a year in Kenya and having a very rich experience, which I am sure was partly motivated by the good time I had with VIDES 6 years ago.
My experience with VIDES Canada gave me the opportunity to discover the tremendous joy that comes from being able to serve and work with children. It has profoundly reshaped my life in a meaningful way and has taught me a great deal about myself. I feel that my character has been strengthened along with my desire to improve the lives of others. I can honestly say that the times when I feel most alive is when I am working for God on the field.
My professional work is in the area finance, and even though it is perceived to be entirely different from mission work, the quality of my work has been enhanced because I have developed the attitude of service and I’m inclined to do more than what I am simply paid for, thereby rendering myself to be greater value to my company.
In October 2008, I traveled to the Philippines as a VIDES volunteer. I was assigned to work with at-risk and underprivileged youth at St. Ezekiel Dormitory, a boarding school in the community of Macarascas, up in the mountain on the island of Palawan. My role was to teach English and Science to students. Choosing to go on this volunteer mission was the best decision I could have ever made. Going to Palawan was a reality check for me. I couldn’t help but constantly compare the differences in my North American lifestyle where we were so privileged and everything was accessible, especially the basic necessities – food, shelter, education, healthcare, etc. whereas in this little community in the Philippines, resources were minimal and lacking. Despite that, the students, volunteers and sisters still lived happily and cherished each day.
This VIDES experience not only opened my eyes to view on a broader scale, it also taught me how to love. As a volunteer, my expectation was that I was there to serve – to teach and help these young individuals. But amazingly, it was the other way around. I learned to become dependant and learned from them instead. In addition, this mission has assisted me in my career path. Combined with my knowledge in Nutrition (I studied at Ryerson University), my working experience at The Hospital for Sick Children and my dietetic internship this September, my ultimate goal is to become a Registered Dietitian (RD). In the future, I plan to do more overseas work and travel internationally to assist those in critical need of nutritional care.
In the summer of 2009, I spent ten weeks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as a VIDES volunteer with the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco in the community of Tuol Kork. In addition to experiencing the local culture with true locals (a delight for any traveler), I was warmly welcomed into a very loving community by the Sisters and their Cambodian students. I taught English and music at the community’s elementary school and secretary training centre. During my free time, I toured around the city, tried the local cuisine, and fostered meaningful and lasting friendships with my students. My experience with VIDES in Cambodia was a definite turning point for me, reawakening my spiritual enthusiasm as well as giving me a new perspective on life. Even though I went over as a volunteer to help others, I always feel, in retrospect, that I benefitted a lot more from the lessons that I’ve learned through this experience than my students did from my presence there! I continue to keep in touch with the Sisters and some of my students, and I look forward to the day when I can return to Phnom Penh to greet them and be welcomed with what I know will be open arms from such a loving community.
29 April 2010
My first experience as a volunteer in Kigali Rwanda was in January and February of 2008, before my first grand-daughter second birthday. I was at EPPMA with sister Candide Asselin. She became a friend, a mother sometimes but a sister always. She informed me as to an array of things that had to be accomplished and left the rest to me. It was my pleasure when I could go to her and say: “All done, what next?”.
Often, after lunch, we would sit in the shade and get to know each other . Talk about the community, the problems our girls were facing. These were precious moments.
I unpacked boxes and boxes of clothes, sorted them . I sewed bedding, aprons, did some mending .
I supervised in the gym, morning before classes, during lunch (I got to meet quite a few parents. After classes, I helped with homework and supervised the young girls.
At recess I helped distribute the daily beverage and cookies or fresh bread. It was so pleasant walking through hundreds of smiling faces at that time.
What hit me the most: at dinner time, each adult sat at a table with 13-15 children. In a few days I knew all their names. They played tricks on me: changing places and confusing me. Now, what hit me the most: during the meal, everyone talked, in a pleasant tone from one end of the table to the other end. The very young spoke to the older ones. Then I realized: NO TELEVISION , only conversation. How refreshing.
I taught the older girls how to hand sew a kerchief and sew buttons. In no time, they all had repairs to be done. The best way, show them how to do it themselves.
The nuns had a sweet tooth and the land provided a lot of bananas. The Internet provided me with a banana loaf recipe. Whenever the bananas turned a little brownish: time for another loaf. Ask Sisters Mary, Roseline and Yvette.
62 days went by like a flash. The children had prepared a goodbye dance, songs, gifts, cards. I returned knowing that Rwanda would be calling me again.
Lorraine Larabie, Rockland Ontario
Kenya have inspired me to keep working on what I love best –
I am now involved in an organization at the University of Ottawa
whose aim is to help the children of the war stricken Darfur.
My experience with VIDES began in 2004 when I volunteered at Centre Clairvaux in Madagascar, Africa. Together with volunteers from Canada and France, we tutored the students at this trade school, assisted the teachers with their educational plans and helped organize donated material. I was also able to use my skills as an occupational therapist. I gave a lecture on ergonomics, was given a tour of the local hospital and was brought to several homes to consult on various cases. The lack of resources in the country was astonishing: not a wheelchair in sight and no funding to repair broken equipment in the hospital.
I will never forget my interaction with this gentleman. Although his diagnosis was unclear, we did help him walk out to the balcony for the first time in 2 years. He kept repeating, “FALY! FALY!” (“Happy! Happy”!) as he watched the children play outside with tearful eyes. But for every person that we did help, there were many more we did not…
Although we are never able to give as much as we receive, it is this feeling of indebtedness that allows us to continue our work even after we leave. This was the wise advice given to me by the Salesians, which were an invaluable resource for us. VIDES helped me to materialize my desire to serve others in developing countries. This initial experience motivated me to return to school for my masters and continue volunteering in the area of international development.
I encourage anyone with an interest in volunteering abroad to do so–it is the beginning of a beautiful journey!