Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Final Library Thoughts

Since I have been in Italy for one month and now back in Denver for a week, I have noticed people asking the same question: "what was the hi-light or favorite experience in Congo?"  

For me, the most positive experience in Congo was the opening of the library.

First, it was a major personal accomplishment to be a part of opening the first public library in Aru. I was in charge of this project from when I arrived, so I felt a great sense of achievement in seeing it finished after all the hard work that I had put into it. It was scary to be in charge of it and there were several moments when I thought that the sisters were crazy for putting me in charge. It was a huge challenge to build a library almost from scratch when I am not a librarian- I have used a library all my life and my mom is a librarian (which was a BIG help), but there is a big difference in being a library patron and being the sole person responsible for setting it up. But despite all these challenges, the library opened and people came to use it!  

The most uplifting part of the library project was that so many people worked together to make it happen: from Tricia the first volunteer who started the idea, to Stefano, Clara and the local construction workers who actually built it, to my parish at home who donated generously and prayed fervently for the success of this project, to my mother who gave me so much advice, to Katie, Elena, and Sr. Joy who helped to paint, clean and set up, to Bolingo the local I trained as librarian, plus many, many others who helped in seeing this project to its opening as a library. Well, as they say at the Oscars, the orchestra has started playing, so I need to finish up, but my list of acknowledgements for the library could make its own book. This was not a project for one person over a short time, but it took many years and many people- volunteers, sisters, people in other countries and locals, to make it happen. It is truly a global community project where people from different sides of the world came together to achieve a truly amazing goal. The library could never have opened without such devoted help from so many different people- both far away and close to Aru.  

I am so thankful to be a part of such an important opportunity for the people of Aru and I thank God for  giving me the opportunity to serve in this way.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

People are the Difference

After 2 years I am back at the VOICA house in Rome. Two years ago in September I arrived at VOICA and I had never been in Rome or Africa before (although I had been many places in Europe and the Pacific). It was a new adventure. Now, I am no stranger to Rome, and I have lived for 2 years in Aru, Democratic Republic of Congo. Now I sit once more, overlooking the magnificent view of St. Peter’s Dome, but instead of looking forward to Congo, I look back and reflect on what was most important to my experience in Congo. The answer in clear and immediate: the people. The people that I encountered in Congo are what made the experience so special. Everyone from the other volunteers I lived with, to the sisters, to all the locals I consider to be a part of my community and a very important part of my life.

During my 2 years in Congo, I lived with 9 different volunteers: Lydia, Tomas, Stefano, Clara, Matteo, Maria, Katie, Elena, Dan, and Enzo plus 2 groups from Italy for a short term experience. These people were from Italy, Czech Republic, Romania, Canada, and the United States so each brought a different culture, language, and lifestyle to our community. The challenges were great in harmonizing so many different people, especially as all of these people came and went at intervals over the 2 years. I lived very closely with all of these people (our house is small) and shared the difficulties and joys of life in mission.

The circle of my community widens to include the sisters that I worked with over 2 years. I love dearly Sr. Daniela and then Sr. Joy who were the sisters in charge of VOICA volunteers. I spent so many hours with Sr. Alba in the Cyber café, trying to figure out technology. And so many other sisters with whom I ate, prayed, and worked.

There are also so many local people that have become dear to me. Bolingo, who I trained as a librarian, is such a good young man with a bright future. Orio, our former sentinel, and “fils adoptif” (adopted son) because he spends so much time at our house…he always shows up just in time for meals. Mama Antoinette, who was my first friend at school and always showed great kindness to me. There are so many other important people in Aru, that I could not name them all.

Each of these people added so much to my experience and even gave me the strength to stay in Congo for so long. Without these people, plus so many who supported me from home, my experience in Congo would be nothing. It is each individual that enlightened my day, my work, my prayer, and all that I did in Aru. I am truly grateful for each person in my life that I met in mission- those who were my friends, those who challenged me, and those who I wish I could have know better- each person is what made up my experience.