Friday, December 30, 2011

(62) PAVLA After Fifty Years II: General Evaluation


        This is the second of a series of five blogs on the Papal Volunteers for Latin America or PAVLA in commemoration of fifty years since its founding in 1961.  I gave it 14 years of my life.  It was a great experience and opportunity to serve.  The first four blogs are parts of a report I wrote: "An Evaluation of PAVLA and My Role in It" in early 1968 with my perspective from that time period.  I will add a fifth part evaluating PAVLA looking back with the perspective of the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.

2. Evaluation of PAVLA in General

      Then the question of evaluation arises: How effective are the Papal Volunteers in their roles? How effective are the thousands of Religious in Latin America?

       To a large extent our work cannot be measured, since many of the fruits are spiritual and abstract. The teachers and youth workers may be long dead before these Latino kids become leaders and our influence is really felt. How can one count the number of leaders that have been formed? We can only hope that the little everyday intangible accomplishments that we cannot see, let alone measure, will add up to significance long after we leave . Just imagine the potential effect of only a few dedicated teachers we can help form who are aware of their individual responsibilities.

       In evaluating PAVLA let me bring up a point that a dedicated Irish priest mentioned to us in our retreat regarding accomplishment: “Don't forget that a large part of what you're doing is pre-evangelization--- laying the groundwork for the people who come after you. Our job is to make them ready to receive the Word of God. Helping the poor through health care, education, self-help projects, etc. restores their dignity and makes them more receptive. A person who lives in animal-like conditions, only living to survive from day to day, isn't going to be concerned with a religion which he may associate with the people who are oppressing him.” Along the same lines, many of the cultural aspects which hinder formation go back to the conquistadores; so we cannot expect to see changes overnight. Thus, often it is pre-evangelization in laying the groundwork for change.

       Spectacular results with all the publicity that goes with it are almost impossible by the very nature of our organization. We are always requested or accepted by an existing institution--- usually by North American priests. Although we may play a significant part, we are usually subject to a Maryknoll parish, a Marianist school, etc. True, this approach has its advantage in that we can avoid many mistakes under the guidance of experienced requesters, but we are not always able to take the initiative we are capable of exercising. As to who receives the credit and publicity is irrelevant and rather childish. In this way, we are spread out very thinly among many institutions, never having sufficient concentration to organize anything really major nor the numbers, support, and supervision to organize the people in many community development projects that the Peace Corps has done.

       A problem which is being solved, but still needs refinement is the relation between lay volunteers and the Religious. At times there seems to be a condescending looking down upon the lay volunteers as young, inexperienced short-timers, as perhaps somewhat inferior, etc. Although these may be true, the lay volunteer should be recognized as a professional person also called by God to play a valuable but different role. It is also certainly true that the lay volunteer is overcome by his own pride as he does not listen. We must make greater efforts to understand each other.

       PAVLA has been criticized on three points: (a) It's more effective to support local people. (b) Three years isn't long enough to be effective. (c) We aren't that skilled. Point (a) is valid if you can find local people, well-formed and skilled but they are not easily found. This is really the main objective of PAVLA--- to replace ourselves by helping to form dedicated Christian leaders. At the same time by only supporting local people,
what we would have is essentially a give away program. Nothing is really added to Latin America except money.  Supporting a local person is valid only if he could multiply himself, or his talents would otherwise be wasted. In most cases, however, this well-formed local leader would be effective in whatever sector of the economy he is working.

       As far a points (b) and (c) are concerned, a volunteer can be effective after a few months if he is selected and trained well. This has been demonstrated many times, especially when experienced people are available to guide them. At the same time it must not be overlooked that a new volunteer can bring in a new freshness, new ideas, and an enthusiasm which can move some of the older volunteers and Religious out of any “rut” they may be in.

       Point (c) depends simply upon selection and placement. True, there are many cases where a volunteer simply shouldn't be here to begin with or placed in a situation where he is not qualified. Poor selection and placement are two of the major “bugs” to be ironed out. The PAVLA National Office is certainly working on these phases. For example, a psychiatrist was added to the National Training Center staff in Washington, D.C.

      These, by no means, are sufficient reasons to condemn the program whose concept is sound, if only because it was first recommended and promoted in 1960 by a saintly Pope--- one of the most effective pontiffs that the Church has ever had. One volunteer, an elementary school teacher, beautifully described PAVLA as still like a small child which is undergoing growing pains, is still learning, and needs time to mature.

       Overall, I think the potential of PAVLA is almost unlimited, but there are quite a few bugs to be ironed out. One problem is inherent in the structure of the North American hierarchy. Each diocese is autonomous--- all independent of each other under the authority of the Pope. Although cooperation among dioceses is excellent, it is nevertheless voluntary. This organization of the Church is remarkably efficient for most purposes, but creates problems for PAVLA. Each diocese voluntarily has a PAVLA program with its own recruiting, promotion, and support--- all under the overall coordination of a national director who also is responsible for training, placement, and problems in the field. The national director, of course, is responsible to a committee of bishops. For this coordination to work, each American bishop must yield some of his authority to a national director which often is not done. Thus, at times a diocesan PAVLA program follows a course contrary if not completely independent of the national PAVLA program.

       For example, in La Paz, Bolivia, there is a group of St. James fathers from the St. Louis Archdiocese who run a large parish. The Papal Volunteers mostly from St. Louis work closely with the local parish and within the local diocese as well.  It is the local Bishop who has the final word regarding any work done in his diocese.  This is a beautiful diocese-to-diocese program, but it seems to follow an independent course.

       Under this arrangement, communications seem to be poor between the PAVLA stateside central office, PAVLA in the field, and the Latin American hierarchy. Although the situation is improving, requests often are not investigated and uninformed requesters are often vague as to the role of PAVLA--- sometimes seeing it as simply free help.   Thus volunteers often are not placed in jobs where they could be most effective. At the same time once a volunteer is placed, he is pretty much left alone with little contact with or direction by PAVLA Headquarters in Lima. This is probably due to the fact that the National Director's representative in Lima is responsible for volunteers scattered throughout four countries. It is most difficult, if not impossible, to cover such a huge area unless senior volunteers in each area act as the Regional Director's assistant or representative.

No comments:

Post a Comment