There are many foreign volunteers from different countries: Vicentin Sister Rosita (Paraguay), “Anunciata” Dominican Sister Ma. Teresa (Spain), Sister Marisol (Chile), and other Spanish jewels, like Crescencia, Inmaculada and Pilar.
The Sisters are both a silent and a driving engine in the Community. The only 2 Vicentin Sisters left coordinate the Nursing Home, the Girls Home “Medalla Milagrosa” (Miracle Medal) and the Special Needs School “Santa Margarita” (Sainte Margaret). They are only 2, one almost 90 years old and the other Sister Rosita is like an endless wheel who doesn’t take a break among some many activities. The motto of the Congregation is to be “modest, humble and charitable” and she follows it to perfection, and this is just the beginning. For her is the most natural thing in the world to be at the service of others, when she was 9 years old, she used to play with her brother pretending to be a priest and a nun. She was so humble that it was hard to make her talk about herself, but she would tell many things about the girls, with whom she prays a daily Rosary and lives at the Girls Home.
The Dominican Sisters, Ma. Teresa and Marisol, follow the motto “Education” and coordinate the parish Saint Joseph and the Adult Training Center Saint Francis Coll. They welcomed us with an orange jelly well cooled when we were about to melt and told us about all the available courses: knitting with machine, dressmaking, gastronomy, nursing, senior care giving, secretarial studies with IT, craftsmanship and recycling, electrician, etc. With this training is possible to provide jobs to those who didn’t finish the high school or have no financial resources to study. After 2 years of lot of effort, they materialized the dream of owning a building where a disco used to be. Two dreams in one: end with endless nights of insomnia and have a classroom for each workshop instead of moving the machines from one place to another. About to move, with knitting machines, a spacious kitchen, long tables and a room for multiple uses, the Sisters are more than happy.
The other Spanish jewels Crescencia, Inmaculada and Pilar, came to Argentina answering the request of Gottau and impressed by the poverty of which he was talking about. Averaging the age of 25 years old, they left their jobs and families in Catalunya to dedicate their lives to the service of others on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Obviously, in that time, the ocean was crossed in a ship with little possibilities of returning back. In the middle of January (summer in Argentina), they arrived without any warning of the intense heat that was waiting for them and with a heart open to help in any way the Bishop needed. This is how these mothers of the heart took charge of two Girls Homes and Cáritas Añatuya (Charitable Organization). Three little engines in action that made it possible for so many girls from humble origins in the hills of Santiago del Estero to attend school and live in a healthy and happy environment. In the Girls Homes, they also grow belonging to a community, experience that they may not have at their own homes when their parents are never there.
The generous spirit of Crescencia is alive and latent in the community. Everybody love and admire her, even when the rough Alzheimer wants her to forget, nobody forgets in Añatuya. It seems that her surroundings stand still whenever she walks slowly in the suffocating heat of the afternoon; everybody waves at her warmly, and more than one would want to carry her in their arms looking at her frailty. Without meeting her, our hearts were touched when we looked at the recognition made by Cáritas on its 50th anniversary to this Great Woman who dedicated all her life to the poor during her 44 years at the diocese.
We did experience the kindness of the Spanish Inmaculada, who welcomed us in the Home she manages and in which she have been living for the last 14 years. She was lucky enough to arrive to Argentina with Gottau and work with him for 15 years. She experienced from first hand all the transformation of the diocese. Over 30 years ago, when she was only 28, she took care of 17 years old girls who would come to a Girls Home to study and become Nurse Assistants; she was their adoptive mother during the school year (9 months!), taking care of their doctors appointments, school, hygiene… everything. After this, she started to look after teenagers girls who would come to High School, between 13 and 18 years old, reaching a total of 23 girls in the Home, all of them under her sole responsibility. Even though she is petite, she walks fast, like a “Koh-i-noor” (small drier, with a popular slogan: small but powerful), with an internal strength, a result of a family life in which the faith was deep ingrained, in the middle of the countryside south of Spain. She lost her mother when she was 5 years old, and she would pray a daily rosary along with her father and four sisters. She is flexible to the needs of the diocese, if they ask her to go somewhere else: “it will be only a matter of finding a part-time job that will cover her expenses and that’s it”. This is a blind trust in something or Someone from above to offer our life to others and leave our ego behind (and a bit of courage too). We were left with something she said very convinced: “Faith and Life are one thing, without Faith there is no Life, you need one to carry the other”. It sounds reasonable; all that strength couldn’t come from her but from Above.
Another spanish heart is Pilar’s, tall and skinny, but with an elephant’s strength. She can move mountains with a smile or a hug, taking you by the hand. Humbly she is in charge of the School Holy Family with 300 students and a Home of 40 girls. She knows every one of them and they adore her. She remembers: “ a friend of mine was impressed by Monsignor Gottau request and I said Why not?” Simple as that. One could just lament the poverty of that far away country; but not her, she prepared her suitcase and came with her 28 years of age. She never imagined herself as a missionary or moving away, no doubt God had prepared her heart for that Call and she could not resist it. She was so excited with her new life that everything looked nice, she even enjoyed her boat trip, while others complained of seeing only sea and sky for so many days. She brought her sewing machine and her writing machine so she would be busy. Leaving her home wasn’t easy, when she told her brothers about her plans, they answered: “But you are afraid of small bugs!” “And it was true, I was very afraid, but the strength was inside and came from Above, it was stronger than I thought, it would tell me: Go, Go!! The same that happens to you, both of you felt the need to go out and find testimonies of good people. Love is this, to live each moment that you have to live, and realize that you are able to drag along many others with you. I was the first volunteer to come 45 years ago, there was none, and look now how many we are!” We were curious whether she had ever wanted to go back or doubted her vocation of service, to which she answers roaring with laughter: “I never had the time! Sincerely, thanks to God, there is so much to do, that you just don’t have the time”. So, where does this lady take the strength from when being thin like an asparagus, 73 years old and having the energy to run a marathon even when her bones reminds her the age? She doesn’t even doubt it; she winks at us and says: “My strength? Prayers, Eucharist and Its Adoration: being just with The One you love, is essential! If you don’t find time exclusively for your wife, your marriage collapses. Obviously that exclusive time, you have to search for it. Maybe this is not a very nice example, but when you need to go to the washroom, you gotta go! Whether the Bishop or the Pope is there, you have to go to the washroom. Based on my life experience, we can’t do anything alone.” And again we charged with our human concerns, how is the election of being single, because everyone likes to be loved: “in a life of service, you want to love everyone, but have the exclusivity with your spouse; my exclusivity I reserve it for my Lord, through Him, I love everyone until I give my whole self. I have learned this from my teachers, I’m always grateful to them because it has helped me to keep firm in my convictions over 45 years; if I had to choose it , I would do it all over again. Because it really makes me happy. The first time I went back to Spain, after 5 years, my friends expected to find me holy and I was so happy! That deep happiness that I had, they couldn’t get it; I really believe that I find poverty there and not here…” That complete generosity touched us and we continued with our mundane questions, how she plans to live her old age, when she doesn’t have so much energy, how she manages her finances to survive, and she confesses to us: “there is a very different scenario when you raise a family that when you don’t, not having the ‘obligation’ to support children, because my option is for God only, what I do is insert myself in this reality: I have worked for 30 years as a teacher in the school so now I have my pension. You have to figure out how not to be a burden to others, so with my humble pension is enough; I’m living the reality of people who have worked 30 years here. With my pension I cover my expenses and the rest is to be at the service of others.” It is hard for us to accept this, when imagining that with a Spanish pension she could live far better; her generosity has no limit.
All these life experiences are what we could contact in 4 days of extreme hot weather, where nap time was mandatory to cool down. We couldn’t share a long conversation with Cristina Monros who is in charge of a Special Needs school, even when destiny crossed our roads and although she claims that it wouldn’t apply because she works there. It is clear that she does it for Love after the short conversation we had with her. The same happens with “Haciendo Camino” (“Opening Paths” Civil association) created by Catalina Hornos, who is under 30 years old and has been compromised with this reality for 6 years. She set up the godfathers programs and psychological support for families and children in coordination with the Homes covering needs at risk. The “Fundación Grupo San Felipe” (Foundation San Felipe Group), who promotes the development of young people with superior education and formation in values, providing workshops of human formation, and training, scholarships, etc.
Father Cristian Ducloux, of the congregation don Orione, provides us with information on donations and how they administer them; thanks to the productive work of Monsignor Gottau, with the donation of Adveniat, a foundation of German catholic who helps poor dioceses and the foundation Gottau, they could purchase some cars to reach the most inhospitable regions. The schools are free, a small collaboration is asked to the families of the students, and the salaries are subsidized by the provincial government. The students Homes are supported by private Godfathers and some foundations who donate a percentage to them (Grupo San Felipe, Haciendo Camino, Asoc Santa Maria del Cielo, San Pablo Foundation, Mosoteguy Foundation, Gottau Foundation). A total of 300 kids and young people reside in these Homes. The senior and Disabled Homes are supported by some unions associations, Gottau Foundation and Perez Companc Foundation. The religious communities (100 sisters) are helped by the German foundation Kirche in not with 50 dollars per sister on a monthly basis. The collect “+x-“ (More for Less) provides for social helps in general helping sick people, buildings, schools, Homes, etc. The small, but also big, Gottau Foundation assists all the deeds, pays the salaries so the kids will have someone to cook for them, teach them, take care of them. Cristian puts it this way: the deeds are the skeleton, everyone who works are the muscles and the Foundation is the blood that provides oxygen, making sure each month this structure has life, not only with financial support but also with human support. We could meet Guille González of the Foundation, and it is really amazing to see how someone dignifies himself and others with his work, trying to get more donations to be able to do more in Añatuya, immersing deep inside the land itself, being a missionary there with his own family, facing this reality with joy and doing something real in his environment, being a tool and an intermediary. We can truthfully give faith that all donations reach the destiny, there is a lot being done and a lot more to do.
Like them there are thousands, this is just the tip of the iceberg, in this cradle of volunteers or of “nice crazy” that is Añatuya. It is a nest of supportive people. It is highly probable that we haven’t even met half of it.
After sharing all these life experiences, we agree that Añatuya shocks you, throws you off balance or at least touches a deep fibre in you. If we weren’t able to transmit it, you’ll have to come here and live it for yourself.
(If you didn’t read part 1, you can read it here: http://wp.me/p2ykS0-6J )