EVERY YEAR A GROUP OF ABOUT THIRTY TEENS heads into the mountains on a mission month during their summer vacation. They live together, prepare food together, and work side by side for the month of January in Talabaya, an isolated town of 70 people located in the sierras of southern Peru. This year, a professor in his fifties guides the thirty-some teenagers and two very newly arrived Jesuit Volunteers to continue the tradition of this powerfully immersive experience.
As one of the two JVs facilitating the experience, I watch friendships blossom as participants lear more about each other than they have in their 10 years of schooling together. The students grow closer as they develop skills like cooking over an open fire, working with dangerous farm tools,
and facing new responsibilities of leadership and community. I sense how deeply many of these students believe in the message of the mission and the importance of service to others. Even in hours of rest, the students are looking for ways to help the members of the community, whether it is carrying firewood to their respective houses or playing games with the children of the town.
I often hear older generations complaining about the lack of work ethic in today’s youth: how little drive they have or the lack of respect they have for their elders. After Mes de Misión, I believe it is not quality of character that is lacking in today’s teenagers, but quality of guidance. We have forgotten to accompany our teens, to stand by and be witnesses to their struggle. We often fail to be there when they look back and ask: “Does this make sense?”. At the end of my time in Mes de Misión, I am left with the question: If the pinnacle of a child’s development is their teenage years,
why are we not more present?
Up in the mountains, pulling out weeds and cactus spines, my bachelor’s degree and all of the skills I had picked up in college fall to the wayside.
Camila Biaggi (Tacna 2017-19)
I have learned many things during this month in the mountains as a Jesuit Volunteer. Some lessons are important, some unlikely to be used again (starting a fire with old coals and eucalyptus leaves, for example). There are moments in my month of Mes de Misión that shape me deeply, where I have neither a response nor lesson prepared. I simply need to hold a crying teen in my arms as the process being away from their family for the first time in their lives. Sometimes I even just need to listen without any judgement in my heart as teens unpack their own insecurities to me.
A previous volunteer has described Mes de Misión as “the hardest month of my life.” It is certainly a grueling, often humiliating, all-encompassing excursion. But I find it to be one of the most profound months of my life. As a Jesuit Volunteer I take a lot of the values of my own mission for granted. I live consistently in shared community, engaging with my neighborhood and the city of Tacna through accompaniment and service. Much of my values are lived out simply because my home and workspace are set up this way. But there, in the mountains of Talabaya, I see what it is for my
students to experience these concepts of accompaniment and service for the very first time.
In some ways, Mes de Misión is a concentrated version of what it means to serve as a volunteer in a program with a focus on faith in action. A program like this places you in a completely new setting, stripping away all the skills and education that you thought carried you forward and made you a “successful” adult. Up in the mountains, pulling out weeds and cactus spines, my bachelor’s degree and all of the skills I had picked up in college fall to the wayside. At the end of the day, exhausted and much in need of a shower, the only thing left for me or my fourteen-year-old students is the
strength we have in our soul and the passion we feel in serving others.