Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 20, 2006
Students' passport to serve
MacDonald High graduates now want to serve the poor in Peru
By BILL GLEN
"Laughing and sharing your life with people is huge. Nothing is impossible."
- Rosie Colangelo
"It speaks a lot about the school and the program because the girls have come back on their own," said Villela, a member of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (Halifax). "I anticipate they will be transformed not to feel guilty by what they do not have there, but to be ever grateful for what they have here."
Named after her order's foundress - St. Elizabeth Seton - Seton Way was created by Villela in September 1996, offering Archbishop MacDonald's Grade 11 students an alternative course to regular Religion 25 studies.
Students are called upon to perform some 25 hours of community service at either St. Vincent Catholic School, the Glenora Child Care Society, Operation Friendship, McQueen Place for Seniors or the Elves Special Needs Society.
The program is based on small group dynamics, journaling, Scripture reflection and group discussion. It keys on relationships with self, with others, with creation and with God. The strength of the project comes from its commitment of service to others and the spiritual growth of those involved. The students write about their experiences and share them with others.
When Villela decided on the mission to Peru, she began a letter writing campaign to several former students. For Rosie Colangelo, receiving her letter could not have been more timely.
"With Seton Way in high school, I saw that we can actually make a big difference. Laughing and sharing your life with people is huge. Nothing is impossible," said Colangelo, 19.
- WCR photo by Bill Glen
Sister Gabriela Villela has spearheaded the Seton Way Project at Archbishop MacDonald High School for 10 years.
A member of St. Charles Parish's FROG Squad since she returned from World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, like most teenagers Colangelo had begun to wonder where her life was going.
"When Sister asked me about this trip, I was ecstatic. It happened at a point when I was questioning things about my life. I felt like things were on hold.
"But God has always presented me with opportunities to move forward and her letter made me so excited. As happy as I was, I don't think I realized how huge this is."
There will be some 50 women in Peru with children ranging in ages from 14 years to three, who have been segregated as second class.
The Seton Way group will show, in part, how to stay clean and brush their teeth with the little available water. Many do not have electricity. Part of the program's mandate is interaction so the young women will only speak Spanish to the locals. They are going with an attitude of service.
Katie Dolphin is proud to be one of the members who struggled to maintain their original commitment.
"I think we will never be the same."
- Sr. Gabriela Villela
"The eight who are going are the ones who have stuck it out," said Dolphin, 20. "We have had meetings, silent auctions and garage sales. We were preparing for the journey. In Grade 11, I volunteered at an inner city seniors' shelter. Now with the fundraising we have done, I've seen the community come and help us."
They have raised in excess of $35,000 - more than they need for travel. Villela will leave an "empowerment fund" behind so the women and children can continue with their effort to become self-sufficient by, for example, making crafts for the markets in La Victoria.
Along with Villela and two adult coordinators, the group will conduct workshops on hygiene, the environment, nutrition and recreation.
The recreational component is particularly interesting to 19-year-old Kelley Lefebvre.
"My interest in this trip is the children. All my life, I have loved children," said Lefebvre, a second-year physical education student at Grant MacEwan College.
"I once read a book about war that focused on the adults fighting. But I thought 'What are the kids going through growing up carrying (weapons)?' Those were their toys. It's heartbreaking to see children forced to grow up before their time."
Lefebvre plans on playing a lot of soccer with the children. "I want to reach children through playing games. I want to help them to just be kids."
Since Seton Way's inception, Villela has noticed the growing maturity of the students. She has seen their self-esteem take hold, bringing them forward as stronger Christians.
"The first few times, the students can find volunteering overwhelming. They say they can't do it any longer. But I ask them to keep trying," Villela said.
"Wherever the students go, I will know the seeds have been planted in their hearts because the spirit of God is with us."
Also included in the group are Evelyn Polet, Melanie Phelan, Alyssa Morrison and Maya Gordon. The adult mission coordinators are Trixie Garvey and Carol Bilodeau.
Allison Ochoa, 21, once travelled to the Philippines where she witnessed young children picking lice out of each other's hair. It was a culture shock.
"We watch the Sunday programs that ask people for money to help the poor, but it's almost surreal coming from our privileged society. We seem desensitized. Going there, you see how destitute and desperate the people are. It's grim, but they still live."
Ochoa says she aspires to a vocation involving charitable service.
"That experience compelled me to be more globally aware. It was an eye opener to see what differences can be made."
Villela says the locals are grateful that Canadian women would think to visit them to help improve their lives. "But we are going to learn more from them than we can teach them," she said. "I think we will never be the same."
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