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26 September

Saints Cosmas and Damian
1889: The first Marist Brothers left for Colombia
1980: Brother Basilio participated in the Vatican at the Synod of the family
1968: The first Marist Brothers left for Paraguay (Brothers Juan Cruz Arbiol, Feliz Aldunate and Santiago Sánchez) from the port of Barcelona
2009: Br. Emili Turù elected Superior General

Marist Calendar - September

Colegio Intercultural Bilingüe Fiscomisiona Abya Yala


My Experience as a Marist Volunteer

11/11/2008: Ecuador

You are reading a personal document that I desire to share with you. First, a brief introduction on the significance of this project; secondly, my experience as an FMS volunteer. That is, an experience of hopefulness for the First Peoples of the Ama-zonian region of Ecuador.

The school bearing the name “Colegio Intercultural Bilingüe Fiscomisiona Abya Yala,” lies in the countryside outside of Lago Agrio, in the Sucumbíos Province of Ecuator.

To explain the name: “Intercultural” – because five different indigenous communities are found at the school: Kichwa, Siona, Secoya, Cofán and Shuar. Each community has its own identity, culture, language, customs and rituals. “Bilingüe” – because it preserves the importance of original languages, along with Spanish and English. “Fiscomisional” because the project receives support from the national government of Equator (“fisco”) and from the Catholic Church (“misional”). Then the school’s official name of “Abya Yala,” coming from the Cuna community who inhabited Panama before 1492. In the Cuna tongue the words mean “new land, good land.” In light of such an ideal, neither cultures nor languages constitute a barrier. On the contrary, fraternity and hope have become its trademark.

Yes, it must be said that to live the experience is easier than putting it into words. Words cannot explain clearly the fulfillment of this ideal and the embodying of this hope – this hope that has been “our apostolate” - saying “our” because with Catalina Bedoya from Manizales, Colombia I share this work, this challenge: in the star-filled nights, accompanied with the rich scent of forest and field, working together during the day which begins pleasantly at 4:45 A.M. and comes to a close at 10:30 P.M. when we enjoy a glass of Fiorvanti soda.

There in Abya Yala: five colors (the yellow, blue and red of the national flag; white as symbol of peace and fraternity; green for the Pachamama forest); five cultures (Shuar, Cofán, Kichwa, Siona and Secoya); five countries (Chile, Spain, Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia) the countries of the lay volunteers, and of the members of the religious communities which support the project; five languages (Paicoca, A´ingae, Kichwa, Shuar and Spanish); but one only goal which we all share as Marists: “to keep Champagnat’s dream ablaze in today’s world.”

We share our lives with the local children whose faces are filled with innocent affection, with joy and harmless impudence, with gratitude and simplicity. They are children whose hands are rough from the scars left by the machetes they handle expertly, and from the thorns which “Pachamam” (Mother Earth) has placed along their paths. They are children with a single, pure heart that cries out into the world, “We are here and we really do exist!” They are children who bear witness to the world that self-forgetfulness expressed in one’s daily toil is worthwhile if one is making a dream come true.

It happened to me at one of the young people’s Easter celebrations in Cali, Colombia when hearing about the experience of former volunteers Cristian Valencia and Jenny. Something inside of me urged me to do what they had done. Some powerful force drove me to share with Brother Leonardo the wish which was taking shape inside me. I asked him to let me bring the dream to reality . . . and to do so quickly. I spent months filled with expectation and anxiety. The expectations arose because I would have to go to a foreign country, a different culture, among people I would not know. The anxiety surfaced when I began to realize that I would have to live apart from my family and my university friends. But, as I said . . . no question of retreating, no regrets. Then August 2007, my birthday, rolled around. With many others at my side I set out towards the dream which lay within me.

The rich scent of the tropical forest, full of papaya and sugar cane; how can one describe the bright plumage of the toucans and the chattering of the monkeys which greet us each morning? Our dream unfolds in the quotidian events of the classroom, amidst books and tests. We share life with the little heroes who have won over our hearts. They have even enabled us to revise our ideas as to what life is all about. Happiness does not life in the things we possess, but rather in the self-forgetfulness which enables us to perceive the loving countenance of the Creator, and permits to become the kindness of God reaching out to our neighbor, our brother, our sister.

One day I visited a group of Secoya people who live in the town of Secoya-Remolino. With tears in my eyes, I saw how our little heroes were enjoying a game they were playing with sticks and seeds. They were falling over one another, laughing, falling once again, all the while smiling at me. Then they went for a swim in the Aguarico river, veritable small fry in the water. Never would I have believed that they could have found such pleasure in a game so simple yet creative. Surely God - shiga - was present there. I have had many enriching experiences every time that I have gone from my classes into the forest, to the riverside, places where I enjoy the silence, thanking God from the bottom of my heart for having granted me the good fortune of spending time in the midst of my indigenous brothers and sisters.

In February, I learned that my father had come down with a serious illness. Yet my life did not at any point seem to be marked by sadness. On the contrary, it was bright and full of color; it was encouraging me to give myself totally, with yet even more devotion and dedication. The little heroes lightened my sadness with their smiles and, in the blink of an eye, they changed a day that had been cloudy and steamy into a cool balm for my spirit, enabling me to accept joyfully the sadness which God had just placed upon my path.

I cannot imagine that my father’s illness has called me back from my dream and so necessitated a retrograde step. Everything unfolded in a sigh, in the blinking of an eye. Now, if someone were to ask me, “Do you want to re-live the experience?” I would give a straightforward “Yes” without a moment’s delay, like the “Fiat” of our Good Mother. All the same, however, my duty at the present time is to stay close by my family and my father.

Last of all I would like to thank those who, far away and in prayer, have shared this dream with me. First of all, a prayer of thanksgiving to God who has granted me such a wonderful gift through the mission which I was able to undertake. Thank you to my little heroes at « Abya Yala »: for what they taught me, for what they shared with me, for the experiences I had while living amongst them. Thank you to Brother Luis, to Brother Walter, and to Sister Juanita and Sister Ana María, for their witness of unselfishness and of commitment to the project. Thank you to Brothers Carlos Regalado and Alfredo Gesell. Thank you to Daisy Andi, Daniela, Byron Íñiguez, Freddy Cárdenas, for their support, but especially for their deep, loyal friendship. Thank you to the Marist Brothers for their support and the confidence they showed in me. Thank you to Brother Leonardo Yepes for being a friend and staying by my side. Thank you to my family for their understanding and patience. Thank you to my dear friends Francy Meneses, César Rivera, Clarita Obando, Gabriel Osorio, Gloria Marina Vargas, Diana Franco, Diego Hurtado, Jorge Goyes, Claudia Delgado and others from Champagnat College in Popayan. And, of course, thank you, Catalina, for your help, your deep and sincere friendship, for your understanding and your company, the overturned canoe, etc.

May God grant to all of you every happiness in sharing the lives of my little heroes in Abya Yala.

Agapito Gómez, teacher at Colegio Champagnat

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