by Sarah Estrada, Syracuse ’14
University of San Francisco ’14
Refugee Youth Worker, Northside CYO
Months into my JVC experience, I feel as if the rose-colored glasses either broke due to the dropping temperatures in Upstate New York, or went missing in the pile of leaves that have been accumulating outside of our house. Living according to the stipend keeps me from trying different restaurants or travelling locally to different events and festivals. Contemplating various social justice issues makes buying items, or even having small luxuries, an experience of guilt. Being in a house with six unique individuals is messy and exhausting. Feeling bogged down by the negative makes finding consolation, positivity, and ultimately hope, all the more challenging given that I already possess a sensitive, broken mentality about the world.
I was “ruined for life” the moment I recognized that my liberation is bound to a woman named MC, whom I met during my semester abroad in the Casa Bayanihan program in the Philippines. One night, I had a simple dinner of fish and rice with MC and her two children. It was a quiet meal until MC started talking about how the improvements to her house were made because of her husband’s work abroad in the Middle East. MC shared how her husband has been abroad for a year and had yet to see MC’s youngest child. It was the first time while I was abroad that I genuinely felt my heart connect with a total stranger. I shared with MC how my father also worked in the Middle East, and felt in MC the loneliness and distance my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins must have felt while my father was away. Talking with MC challenged me to recognize the hurt I feel about being away from family and also to be consoled by our shared experience of loneliness and pain at the expense of a “better life”.
This year, my JVC placement site is Northside CYO at Catholic Charities. For the last two weeks, I have been sitting in an employment class my agency offers for New Americans (individuals who were refugees in their home countries who recently were granted the ability to come to the United States). This class educates individuals about the United States’ employment process and what individuals need to do in order to apply for and maintain a job. During each class session, the instructor emphasizes the responsibility each student has in understanding the large amounts of information. And with each session, some students forget to do the assigned homework or struggle to conceptualize the class material.
Today, the instructor concluded the class by sharing her struggle to come to the United States. As she shared her story of leaving her home country to the New Americans, I witnessed both brokenness and healing before my eyes, and sat in my desk chair in the wonder and mystery, and in hope.
Coming from such an experience abroad both clouds and reveals a silver lining in the overcast skies hovering over me so far. I am realizing that finding God in all things entails sharing the moments in my life in which God reached out to me. Maybe this is the year to “ruin” my experience abroad in the Philippines with my current JVC experience, or maybe it is the year to “ruin” the lives of others by breaking my heart open to connect to and heal the brokenness of another. If anything, I am learning that to be “ruined for life” means seeking out ways in which God calls me open up, to revisit the brokenness and the pain, and to allow all things, in their own unique way, to help me heal.