About two weeks after my 16-year-old daughter, Chiana, and I returned from a “spiritual journey” trip to Ecuador, Chiana was my traveling companion again as we went to the Phoenix area for the baptism of my nephew, Charlie.
While in Arizona, Chiana and I stayed in my sister and her husband’s RV parked next to their house.
“You know this place is bigger than the houses of the people we visited in Ecuador,” Chiana remarked one day as we were getting ready in the fifth wheel. Sure enough, the RV, with its two large queen size beds, two working televisions, microwave, refrigerator, carpeting and shower, was a palace compared to the two-room, dirt floor, concrete dwellings with the corrugated roofs, outdoor kitchens and no running water in Quito.
It was a stark, and almost embarrassing, reminder that in the United States our standard of living is so far above many in the rest of the world.
While poverty exists in America, it’s nothing like the meager existence that people in Ecuador or many other Third World nations experience.
The seven-day spiritual journey we took was offered through Family Unity International, Inc., the Elm Grove-based fundraising organization for the Working Boys’ Center A Family of Families in Quito, Ecuador.
While there, we visited the WBC, an organization founded nearly 50 years ago by Jesuit Fr. John Halligan to minister to the shoeshine boys working the streets in Quito. About three years later, he was joined by Sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary Miguel Conway, and in the years since, the center, with its unique philosophy that values work and aims to give people a hand up, not a hand out, has helped more than 6,000 families and more than 30,000 people leave poverty forever.
Seeing the center up close and the people it serves was a wonderful experience for Chiana and me, and I’m thankful she had the opportunity to see another way of life. It was a good reminder for both of us, that because we are so blessed in the United States, we have the responsibility to look out for those who are not as blessed – whether at home or abroad.
After returning home, Fr. Robert Turner, our pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish, asked Chiana to write a reflection about her trip for the parish bulletin.
Her insights pleased me. She wrote, that the “Working Boys Center focuses on the immediate needs of the poor, but it also looks to the long term. Members must save their money and they must all work.
“As I witnessed this, I grew to understand that this was the truest form of social justice. The members had pride and self-respect, they were not babied, they were loved just like any family member.”
She noted that one of the homes she visited, home to a single mom and her seven children, was the size of her bedroom. In spite of the fact the Ecuadorians didn’t have six-bedroom mansions or new pairs of shoes, “they were so happy. Americans always seem to want more and forget to look at all they have,” Chiana wrote.
Read more about the efforts of the Working Boys’ Center on Pages 8 and 9 and perhaps consider making the WBC a part of your family by supporting their work financially.
You also might consider taking a trip to see the center firsthand, either through a spiritual journey trip or a minga, a working trip where you’ll help a family build their home. Both trips include tours of the center’s sites, opportunities for Mass, tourist excursions through the Andes Mountains and a visit to a marketplace.
Being able to experience this alongside my daughter was a wonderful learning opportunity for both of us and I’m sure changed our lives forever.
Yes, we feel guilt at the excesses of our American life, but I think we’re both more aware that with our many blessings, we have huge responsibilities to find ways to help those who are less fortunate