Where am I?

Salesian Lay Missioners - Monica Ellebracht

Monica Ellebracht, Fontbonne alumna, talks about her first year volunteering in Bolivia with Salesian Lay Missioners.

Tell us about the organization and the work you do.

 Salesian Lay Missioners is a Catholic organization based in New Rochelle, NY. In the spirit of St. Don Bosco, we work with impoverished youth to keep them off the streets through education and religious formation. We are young adults/adults from all 50 states sent to different sites around the world to orphanages, rural communities, shelters, and churches to share Christ's love. Normally sent in two´s, but work closely with religious in the area. Requirements are that you be a comitted Christian with a heart to serve and love the world´s children and youth and complete the application process. There is also 5 week orientation, normally in July/August,with everyone serving that year to meet others, learn more about where you will be sent and to prepare.

 Why did you choose to go to Bolivia to volunteer?

Service has always been important to me and I was blessed with a service trip through my church. I fell in love with the Hispanic culture, language, and kids we worked with there. From this, I knew I needed to do something long term. I looked into a few different programs and found the Salesians to fit perfectly. Bolivia is the only Hispanic country they send people to and I felt drawn to orphanage work.

What impact does this relationship have on society? You? The kids?

Bolivians are not used to the idea of working for free, since many must live from Centavo to Centavo to provide for themselves, and often their children. It can be hard for them to understand why we are here, and I definitely get started at a lot. However, those conversations I have had with neighbors, shop owners, etc have been fruitful. They also want to make sure we are enjoying their culture and beautiful country.

Would you recommend the organization to others and why?

Definitely! Do not say money is an issue because most organizations help out in some way. If you love children and want to spend a year (or more) of your life having a unique experience, I´d say go for it. If you´d rather serve in another way,  there are PLENTY of programs, all different time committments, both near and far, helping all ages and in all sorts of ways. I enjoyed looking to see all the possibilities and seeing where God was calling me.

How long have you been with the organization?

 About a year now

Why did you sign up to go back another year?

Not only do I love the culture and want to keep working on my Spanish, but there is a greater reason. I realized whether we play and laugh together or the girls whine and disrespect me, I loved them just the same. I wanted to continue showing them that love they do not always have in their lives, but definitely deserve. Pure, unconditional love is what living life for others is all about.

What changes have you seen in yourself and the country?

Although we cannot change the academic system, we can make changes through education in the girls. Many lack motivation, so we try to make learning fun and help them advance in their studies (especially reading, math, and English). I have learned a lot of parenting skills (especially being more patient) and how to think through my decisions a little differently, since they can affect the girls. It is very different living and working with these girls and having to be there for them all the time, not to mention the language and culture differences, but we have adjusted quite well.

 What can people do to help-

Donate. Organize a drive. Visit or volunteer a year with us!!!

 You can donate through http://www.salesianlaymissioners.org/  and directly to Hogar Maria Auxiliadora (my site in Bolivia) or any one of our other sites, or even the Salesian organization in general to support more missionaries. You could also get a drive together, some things are available in the city near us and are actually cheaper, so just ask before you collect on what the needs are.

Anything else you would like to say?*

If you are at all interested in ANY TYPE OF SERVICE, ask and find out what's out there. From children to families, single women, elderly and disabled- you will easily find something that suits your interest and may even use your degree.

Check out http://www.salesianlaymissioners.org/  for more information on my program and personal testimonies of past volunteers.

For more Christian volunteer programs, check out http://pallotticenter.org/ or if you have found a place where you enjoy volunteering near your home, check into any long term possibilities available with them.