Mount Mary students work, promote mission at Alto Cayma

by Amy Bukvich

Where will Mount Mary’s mission take you? As Nancy Metzinger, head of the study abroad program would tell you, opportunities in social justice aren’t limited to the United States. Many programs at Mount Mary College offer you the chance to to work, learn and serve overseas. A perfect example of international service learning is working at Alto Cayma.

In the valley between two volcanoes rests the Peruvian city of Arequipa. Arequipa is sometimes called “The White City.” It is nicknamed for Sillar, the white volcanic stone that makes up most of its architecture. The middle class, modern city boasts the same conveniences as the U.S. Yet only miles away, families live in makeshift huts with no running water. On Arequipa’s outskirts stand 35 squatter settlements. Though these people live in complete poverty, survival is possible because of one man’s ministry.

A Catholic priest named Alex Busutill founded Alto Cayma in 1998. Padre (Father) Alex came from Malta, an island off the coast of Italy. Busutill is both a committed and charismatic man. He is loved by many, both locally and internationally.

Metzinger has met Busutill on multiple occasions. She admires his dedication to the relationships he’s built with both his clients and fellow volunteers. Mount Mary has partnered with Alto Cayma for 10 years now for various projects. Busutill was a personal friend of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and shares her same compassionate spirit.

Alto Cayma has put itself on the map as a social justice site. Mount Mary students in the nursing, art therapy and foreign language programs are granted the opportunity to serve at Alto Cayma.

Alto Cayma is a place where the impoverished may migrate to receive basic standards of living. Residents also have access to transportation, health and child care. Perhaps most importantly, workshops are provided to teach skilled labor and help clients earn wages. Improvements are made annually, due to innovation and generous contribution.

According to Metzigner, roads have been paved from Arequipa and Alto Cayma within the last year. Previously the travel from Arequipa had been over rough terrain.

The primary focus of nursing students, of course, is to help in the clincs. Graduate students in the art therapy program arrange comunity-based art projects, mostly with children. Those from the the foreign language department may choose Peru for their immersion experience. These students attend university in Arequipa, but volunteer on the side. Spanish majors oftenprepare and deliver meals or work in the daycare of Alto Cayma.

Cheryl Von Asten, a student from Mount Mary’s foreign language department, spent two months in Alto Cayma. She was granted the deeply moving experience of translating letters children wrote to people who sponsored them.

“It was like a casting call. The church was packed with kids and their families … People are really skeptical and doubtful that the money is being used in the ways people say it is,” Von Asten said. “Most of the money is going directly to the kids … and that is something I really needed to see.”

Von Asten also described the two churches she visited during her stay in Arequipo. The wealther church of her host family was polished, and so was its congregation. Parents and children dressed in their Sunday best, and put on a show as they strolled to the chapel. Everyone who passed them on the street were to know their destination. In turn, the adorned church was only used for services and silent prayer.

Though a significantly smaller building, the church of Alto Cayma was the town’s meeting place. It became a community center for all kinds of gathering. Rather than conservative, like the middle class church, Busutill’s church was a place of song and laughter, as well as fellowship and praise. The preiest accompanies the music with his guitar, which he appears to bring everywhere. The priest plans to expand his ministry by venturing further into the mountains, where he knows more people will travel to meet him.

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