What Can I Do? by Jim Yourovich

Hola. . .Jim Yourkovich is my name and I am a high school social studies teacher at Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I reside around 4,400 miles from Guatemala and in my wildest dreams I never thought that I would go to Guatemala. I like to travel and I signed up to go to another Central American country with the Milwaukee Archdiocese. That trip was cancelled and someone in the archdiocesan office gave me the name of a Maryknoller in California who was facilitating a program in Guatemala. Soon, without knowing a soul, I was off to Guatemala.

This trip presented many challenges and rewards. In other words it was tough and yet extremely fulfilling. I know this because I cannot stop thinking about it even though in just a few days I will be off for another journey to Eastern Europe. Guatemala was a mission immersion trip. Simply put you live as the people of that country live. With twelve people in our group we had very little privacy; men and women shared a bathroom; water was scarce – actually we had no water for most of the day and night; food was plain but good. But I can honestly say I feel certain that everyone had a great time. Everyone in our group got along wonderfully. We laughed, shared and prayed. We spent time every day visiting various schools, an after-school learning program, a home for the elderly, an orphanage and other nearby programs. In the evenings there was time for group reflection on what we experienced that day.

In all the places that we visited, I felt an excitement and love among the children. I am familiar with high school students in the U.S. but not with these youngsters. To my surprise they were very accepting of our group who looked and probably acted differently than the other adults that they have contact with. I did feel inadequate because I have little experience with the Spanish language. My most effective communication device was a smile and a pointed finger - yet I managed.

One of the last places that we visited was the Franciscan Orphanage in Esquipulas. I was surprised at how clean and beautiful this place was for all of the one hundred and seventy plus children that live there. We did some activities with a large group and then we broke into small groups for discussion and games. I was paired with John, another missionary member of our group, who was great with the kids and could speak some Spanish. The kids loved playing games and a few of the boys were showing off how they could keep the ball as long as they could in a game of Keep Away. They were very athletic using their soccer and gymnastic skills.

As the time went on, I started a game with some of the older girls of pointing to different things like my eyes, nose, swings and so on; they would teach me the Spanish word for what I was pointing at., then I would repeat in Spanish and say the English word which they would repeat. We did this for quite some time and everyone was laughing at our pronunciations or mispronunciations and the group was getting larger with many of the younger children joining in. To spice things up, I even sang for them my school song. After I showed off my singing talent, a youngster started to sing form a very long (and I mean LONG!) song in Spanish. I will never know what he was singing about but he was extremely proud of his abilities. 

While driving back to our house John was telling me that the little guy singing and playing with us was eleven years old. Earlier the nun who spent the afternoon with us had told us that the orphan- age was funded by the state and one of the rules was that the girls could stay at the orphanage until the ages of eighteen to twenty and the boys could only stay until they were eleven years old. This really bothered me and still does; one of the boys who I played games with looked like he was eight years old but later I was told that he was actually eleven. Sister Yulisa mentioned that they try to find a good foster home when the children reach a certain age. I began to think that eleven year old was not far from walking the streets. I can still see this kid singing and looking at me. . . . What can I do? I was thinking of adopting but I was told that the state will not allow foreign adoptions because of improprieties in the past. What can I do?

This experience has taught me so much. What can I do? I am very close to retirement. What can I do? I must be open to people who have a culture that is different than mine. With all of the Spanish speaking people in the U.S., I need to learn more Spanish. I am not sure how well I can master the lan- guage but I am going to do my best. One way to learn is to sit in on the Spanish class in my high school. Fortunately, I am good friends with most of the Spanish teachers. What can I do? I will volunteer making and serving food to the homeless and become more aware of their needs. I can help the elderly, help the students who are not the most popular in my school, donate my time, talent and treasure. 

This immersion trip has reaffirmed what I need to do. Not only donate money but to get involved with the less fortunate in my community but also the world outside of my safe surroundings. I know I will continue to travel and learn to become a better person and to embrace the goodness around the world. God bless.

Jim Yourkovich 

Catholic Memorial High School

Waukesha, Wisconsin