National Volunteer Month Profile: Catherine in Cochabamba
After having served in Bolivia from 2002 to 2004 and returning in 2010, Catherine Giller is in her final year of lay mission with FMS.
Her primary ministry has been serving in programs focusing on children and youth, including lunch and afterschool programs. She was recently invited to work with Voces Para Latinoamerica and Voces Para Cochabamba, which coordinate the dozens of different groups serving the children on the street.
Catherine has started to learn and explore the complex problem of children living on the streets and writes about her education on her blog, Catherine in Bolivia.
For instance, she writes that more than 500 children and youth live on the streets of Cochabamba, and about 38,000 children in the city are at risk of running away from home, being abandoned in the marketplace or getting dropped of at an orphanage.
“These children usually are not technically orphans as their parent are still alive, their parents are just unable or do not want to care for their children,” she writes. “Unfortunately, adoption remains a stigma here in Bolivia. I met a couple that had adopted a baby. Their friends were quick to tell me that it is a secret, and they wanted to keep it that way, so I could not congratulate them on adoption.”
In response to the situation of children on the streets, Voces Para Cochabamba advocates and hosts workshops and seminars to educate and train social workers, teachers and students. In addition, it directly provides the children with support, medicine, and assistance with things such as admittance into night shelters and programs. Voces Para Cochabamba also helps older teens obtain documentation so that they can work and become independent.
One day and night a week, Catherine supportively accompanies the male youth at Voces Para Cochabamba’s Therapeutic Center in the countryside. They are between the ages of 12 and 21 and many are dealing with addiction problems.
The rest of the time, Catherine is working with the children and teens that come to the Franciscan Social Center in Cochabamba, which provides restrooms, used clothes, referrals, doctors and dentists. Catherine lives at the center with fellow FMS missioner Nora Pfeiffer.
Catherine hopes to return to more formal street ministry after taking care of the backlogged bookkeeping at both the Franciscan Social Center and Voces Para Cochabamba (Back in the U.S., Catherine had had a career in finance).
“For me God isn’t calling me to Bolivia to save Bolivian people,” Catherine says. “I feel God calls me to Bolivia to save myself, and to share with the people of my home country this experience.”
“We can be so distracted with the things of this world. In Bolivia, I come in direct contact of meeting God in the eyes of the suffering and hungry, and in people working for peace and justice.”
Support Catherine’s mission in Bolivia by making a donation to FMS.