“Hay algo en que te puedo ayudar?”
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
This was one of the earliest stock phrases that I learned when I volunteered one summer during college with El Programa Hispano, the Hispanic arm of Catholic Charities in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I majored in Spanish in college partly because I thought it would be useful, but mostly because I love learning about other cultures and I think it’s impossible to truly understand people unless you can speak their language. My Spanish at that time was still pretty basic, so I can’t say I really understood the people I was there to help, either linguistically or culturally.
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I’m happy to say that my understanding (in both senses) has improved dramatically since then, along with my ability to effectively serve this chronically underserved population, which I continue to do every Wednesday afternoon at the Spanish Catholic Center here in DC.
At the same time, I’ve learned that often the most important thing I can offer the person in front of me is not tips on how to build his or her resume, but rather just my presence, and to acknowledge through my help that he or she is a human person worthy of dignity and whose desire to pursue a job and be self-reliant reflects that dignity.
I converted to Catholicism in 2011 and have been Catholic long enough to know that “the dignity of the human person” is phrase that looms large in Catholic social teaching. What my volunteer year with Franciscan Mission Service has taught me, then, is to be more mindful of this dignity in my own interactions with others, to make this high-minded concept concrete in the small gestures and acts that make up one’s everyday life.
“Hay algo en que te puedo ayudar?” is still part of my vocabulary, but these days I find that perhaps the most useful phrase of all is the very first one I learned— “Hola, como estas?”
Communications associate Jason Bach is responsible for graphic design and social media at Franciscan Mission Service. A Portland, Oregon native, Jason is also a Catholic cartoonist featuring work at Jasonbachcartoons.com.