Almost like a mirror in Spanish “AÑ-ATUYA / AYUDA (=HELPS)”: Nice coincidence… How difficult to summarize Añatuya (city in the province of Santiago del Estero, Argentina), if we are still processing it! It is incredible what happens there, in that dusty and extremely warm place for the visitors. And it is not a mystery, is plain courage, will and lot of help from the Above what moves this army of anonymous heroes. They really do what Mother Teresa used to say “To love until it hurts”. Because it really hurts, there are realities that hurt, and they leave their own reality to plunge into someone else’s reality and try to make it better.
We reached Father Cristian in Añatuya thinking he may contact us with one person who helps others and in one sigh we had 9 (Nine!) people to meet, a total record for us, we skeptically thought: “it can’t be possible that all these people work for Love, very likely we will discover after meeting them that they work for a salary and a fixed schedule”. One by one they not only probed the contrary but also showed us Love in action. It seems it is still hard for us to change the way we see things.
Añatuya is the headquarters of one of the 2 dioceses of Santiago del Estero, Argentina. In the original division, back in 1961, it included the East side of the province, 68,000 km² in the most inhospitable zone and one of the most poor of the country with a population of 150,000 inhabitants. But, you can’t talk about Añatuya without mentioning its first bishop, Monsignor Gottau, known as “the Bishop of human promotion” who travelled through all the territory as a missionary, multiplying schools, parishes, workshops, nursing homes, religious people and volunteers, moving earth and heaven to get them, covering needs that should have been taken care by the Government. He would take advantage of his business travels through Argentina, Spain and Germany to ask for economic and human help. This is how in Añatuya there are so many local and foreign volunteers.
Among the local people we could meet Juan & Mary and Cristina. Neighbours of the Chapel Maillín, since they were little kids, Juan and Mary lived close by helping out, teaching catechesis and joining in the activities. They got married in 2007 and shortly after they heard that the Home for teenage boys of the Chapel faced the possibility of a closure due to the transfer of the priest in charge to another place. The first thing they thought was “what is going to happen to the boys?” They would end up without the possibility of studying if there was no one to look after the Home and they couldn’t pay a rent. They thought about it, fearing for the new intimacy of the just married, but deep inside they were sure that that was what they needed to do, they were the best option. Everybody would say to them: “You are crazy!”. With some fears but with lots of generosity, they applied for the position in charge of the Home for teenage boys. They started with 11 “stepsons” with an age ranging from 12 to 21 years old, when they themselves were just 28 and 30 years old. Today they tell us with great joy the big decision they made, obviously it wasn’t easy, they had to look after the kids the 24 hours, as they were legally responsible for them. Juan is a police officer who works outside all day and Mary is a catechist and stays at the Home during the day, coordinating the chores, as there are turns to clean and keep everything in order. Like step parents, they try to instil the Faith to the boys, praying as a family every day and giving them the chance to feel the love that they so frequently lack.
Another local person is Cristina, a mother with all the letters, a fighter and a sharp protector of life. She is in charge of the Center Grávida, who accompanies pregnant women in a risky situation until the baby reaches 2 years of age. Almost 3 years ago, Cristina has left her job after a bad experience and was a bit lost in her life. Father Hernán asked her to reunite good people for a Project, without giving any explanation. Cristina hesitated, she didn’t know whether she wanted to do it, but she didn’t have much time to figure it out, because when she arrived at her home she received a phone call from the president of the Center Grávida who was already giving her instructions to organize a training and asked her to get people “who wants to love life above everything else”. This is how she started in full speed and now is the coordinator of the Center, along with the help of 8 volunteers and 5 assistants. Among them, there are “Chicken Moms”, Roxana and Lorena, who take care of the workshops of Pregnancy and Parenting. They leave a large part of their hearts and lives there, because the girls that arrive to the Center are frequently thinking about an abortion or are desperate of their situation; most of them are teenagers between 13 and 21 years old. More than Chicken Moms, they are Octopus Moms, because they are on everything, supporting the girls in a moral, financial, work and emotional way. They are on top of everything that happens to them, online by SMS 24 hours advising on their fights with their boyfriends, while they juggle their own families (who support them on a 100%, if not it wouldn’t be possible). They know exactly what phase the pregnant girls are going through and all the changes they are going to suffer and try to foresee how to help, clearing doubts, procuring the right medicine and raising awareness of the special care with food, hygiene, etc. But most of all, they take care of their souls, talking about life and how to face different problems and complicated situations they live daily to be able to cut that chain of violence that sometimes it drags for generations for the simple reason of ignorance or bad habit. They reinforce the principle of mother-child love that probably was never received at their own homes, and the power they have as mothers to protect their kids from external abuse. They also teach them to be self-sufficient, and thanks to the sewing classes dictated by Mrs Tita, internet and the inventiveness of everyone, they are now producing cloth diapers to reduce costs and they are even considering selling them outside. They have just started, but it is a big step. They also learned how to build a crib from plastic bottles. This helps to reduce to a minimum the economic pressure and make them feel useful. They even receive judicial cases, of girls sexually abused who plan on an abortion and they explain to them what it is exactly an abortion. By offering to cover the expenses of the baby, they discover that there is an economic trigger: they don’t ask themselves how the baby came, but how they are going to maintain him/her. This is how our dear divine friend, the “Providence” joins in, because they never know how they will pay the pharmacy bills, but Etelvina, the administrative lady, assures that “somehow the donations appears”. Cristina didn’t tell us, but we could tell from her way of talking, that after she started working in Grávida, all her anger for her former job disappeared, that vocation of service that she felt since she was a little girl, that she materialized by becoming a Nurse, now is on full state. She proudly tells us that 80 mommies came, 35 babies were born, 6 abortions were stopped from happening in just 2 ½ years (what have I done during all that time?). When asked how she does it, she answers very shortly and straight to the point: “Lot of Prayer, lot of Rosaries, on the bicycle, whenever I can, I pray the Rosary…”. She also goes to the Eucharist Adoration every Saturday from midnight until 1am, with her 12 years old son. Amazing. When asked if sometimes she wished she could work more hours as a Nurse, to be able to provide her son with a better bicycle or cover other needs; she answers very simply “Truthfully no, we have always been very little materialists, we were always “give until it hurts” like Mother Teresa of Calcuta says, my children know that life is with sacrifice, that if have more than I need, I have to give away until I have what I need, because we are many and we have to share and be able to help others”. Simple and Supernatural, both at the same time.
This continues in Añatuya/Help (Part 2) http://wp.me/p2ykS0-6R