Saturday, December 31, 2011

(63) PAVLA After Fifty Years III: Recommendations

       This is the third part 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.

                                                                  3. Recommendations 

      We volunteers need a greater sense of community and closeness (“See how they love one another.”). How are we going to contribute toward establishing a Christian Community if we don't have it ourselves? if unconsciously some religious orders are building little empires with little desire to cooperate with other orders? I wonder if by obtaining a strong sense of community, mutual love, esprit de corps, and loyalty to PAVLA, we could minimize volunteers going home early.

        Our annual country-wide retreat must be strongly promoted and be made more relevant to PAVLA--- a re-evaluation of ourselves and our goals, aids to help us to grow in love and humility in our relations with Latins, etc. Perhaps the stateside monthly newsletter could bring papal volunteers from all over Latin a little closer together by keeping each informed of volunteer work in other areas. I myself know little or nothing of work outside of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. At the same time we cannot neglect striving for identification with the people and having a greater detachment from our own culture which would help us to be more objective in understanding the people.

      Intercultural training and spiritual formation must be a continuing process. The five months of initial training can only serve as an introduction. Especially evident is that we can't have enough cultural training since it takes years to really understand the people and their culture. There are so many fine points to really understand the culture. Another example is Christian love--- the key to the apostolate and a concept which cannot be worn down to cliché.  It is not enough to simply love the people, but even more difficult, one must be able to communicate it. Then in this one virtue there are so many aspects which each must develop in himself.

       Thus it is important that we periodically re-examine our effectiveness and principles of PAVLA as well as the many ramifications of love and humility in intercultural relations which we forget or take for granted. It seems that various aspects of the Latino culture and human relations can have an entirely different relevance after a year or two in the field. We could in addition learn much from each other's experiences. We could in addition learn much from each other's experiences through discussion. All of this could be done in conjunction with or in addition to the annual PAVLA retreat.

       There are many little mistakes that Americans make in intercultural relations--- little mistakes that can destroy relationships. We sometimes forget that due to a national inferiority complex, Latins are extremely sensitive. Words are twisted or misinterpreted very easily even when one is careful. Nevertheless, we too often persist in being too frank. Simple complaining or conversational comments can be taken as criticizing.. Conversational references to the United States can be taken as comparing. Too often while we criticize, gripe, or relate funny incidents in our work to fellow volunteers, we forget that many Peruvians in hearing range know just enough English to understand the gist of the conversation. Knowing so little English, they can completely misinterpret the intentions and idea of the conversation.

        Often we are guilty of looking down upon the people and their beautiful customs. Latins criticize our attitudes of superiority more than any of our many other shortcomings. We often unconsciously display these attitudes in our conversations, actions, mannerisms, etc. We must continually be aware of and be reminded of how much we can learn from the Latins. We so often judge them by our own standards and our own culture. Who can say which is better?

       No matter how kind and hospitable Latins may make us feel, one should never assume that he is accepted. Since most relationships are superficial, we are always judged. Families are very close and offending one can offend them all with no opportunity to explain one's self. In fact, one may arouse a Latin's anger without every understanding why since often he doesn't believe in being frank and “talking things out”.

         If one lives with a family and any incident in that home is talked about outside of that circle, a cardinal offense is committed even with the best of intentions. Also, since the father is respected as the master of the house, an outsider living there is expected to also respect him as such. The whole family can be offended if the outsider disagrees even over a purely intellectual discussion. All of these details of the culture should be periodically reviewed and re-examined. 

        There should be a greater emphasis on getting the people involved. Are our nurses engaged in curative medicine or preventive medicine? Are the volunteers training others to take their places? Is there sufficient emphasis upon replacing ourselves? Are the people involved as much as possible? Then it becomes their project--- something for them to take pride in instead of being a monument to a few gringos which deteriorates with neglect after they leave.

      Perhaps PAVLA could be brought closer to the people by giving competent Latin and religious laymen in each country a voice and a part in PAVLA. Once key Latins are involved and committed to PAVLA, perhaps we would have more native cooperation and support for our programs. Then there would be true collaboration instead of Papal Volunteers working generally for other North Americans. Slowly efforts are being made to involve us more directly with Latin-sponsored institutions.

        This closer collaboration may be obtained by having an advisory board of competent Latins (lay and religious) meet periodically with the in-country PAVLA representative. Once rapport is established our Regional Director could consult any member as problems come up. There are many bi-lingual, bi-cultural Latins who could be of invaluable assistance in opening doors otherwise closed and help us avoid many a costly mistake. By so participating we could learn from each other and thus help each other to become more effective leaders.

      Potentially PAVLA's most significant accomplishment is the Peruvian Papal Volunteers. This organization comprises Peruvian professional people who try to be more effective apostles in their own work and in their own spare time projects with the poor. They receive formation in their weekly meetings. In this case PAVLA has left something behind that can multiply itself. People such as these can do so much more than a few Gringos. Efforts must be made to establish similar sister groups all over Latin America.

        Most difficult, yet having a tremendous potential, is organizing the energies of students to more constructive ends. Instead of rabble-rousing and politicizing, would it be possible to get them into constructive social improvement projects in their communities--- alphabetization, youth work, catechetics, etc.? In other words, it could be a junior PAVLA which could undergo leadership formation at the same time.

        Funding and Living with the People. What are the merits of encouraging volunteers to live with the people where practical to their work, and to share their life more closely? To live decently in one of the poorer sections, yet live there--- enduring some of the same inconveniences as the people--- e.g., no inside plumbing, electricity, central heating, etc. Then perhaps we could really understand the people and obtain their confidence and acceptance.

       Are there some projects where the requester simply cannot afford to request a Papal Volunteer and provide even very minimal housing? In such a situation where it appears that a volunteer may be particularly effective, could the stateside sponsor provide additional funds for food and housing?

         Some prospective volunteers have difficulty finding stateside sponsors. Some even enter training without a sponsor. Where this is the case, could some of the religious orders who need Papal Volunteers sponsor some? There are at least several congregations using Papal Volunteers with much greater financial resources than PAVLA, and fine public relations built up over the years.

        As a whole I'm enthusiastic about the PAVLA program. We have a tremendous potential. If only we can persevere in overcoming the many unique problems that face our young organization!

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