This time we send you an account of the visit we have made to Bolivia. We, that is to say: Ton van Iersel, one of Theo’s sisters, and Dirk van Iersel, one of his nephews. We were away for twelve days, which means that we spent ten days in Cochabamba with Theo.
It was quite an experience and we can look back on it with great pleasure. Wonderful and impressive experiences.
The ten days that we were there we had a very full program, because we wanted to see/taste as much as possible of the wonderful work that Theo has been doing already for so many years in Bolivia. Because Theo had been sick, there was also some self-interest in our visit to him. Fortunately, he is doing well now. Through our visit we have been able to see with our own eyes what he is doing there, and where and how he lives there.
The first place we visited was the school, San Vicente de Paúl. We received a very warm welcome there. Great to be able to visit the classrooms, to hand out drawings which had been made by children of schools in Hilvarenbeek and Goirle, and to be present in a music class and a physical education class. The children enjoyed our visit and we enjoyed being there. They very much liked the balloons and the skipping ropes and the other things we had brought. Apart from that, we could also hand out rosaries which had been made by volunteers in Moergestel and Oisterwijk.
The children at the school come from some of the houses of the project Amanecer, and there are also a good number of students who live at home, but who would not get a chance in another school because their families don’t have enough money, or because they have fallen behind in their studies or because they don’t have the necessary documents. The children go to school in the morning or in the afternoon, just like in all schools in Bolivia.
Next to the playground of the school there is a small ‘house’. A room with a bunk bed. That is where Carlos lives with his wife Cecilia and their two kids. They sleep in the space where they also live during the day. And in the days that we were there, they had to make space for two more persons: Carlos’ sister-in-law (15) and her little baby that was born only a couple of weeks before. Carlos was brought off from the streets by Theo and grew up in the houses where Theo worked. Now he works in the school and also in Casa Jerusalén (a house for some 25 youngsters where Theo also lives). His wife Cecilia makes clothing and tries to sell those clothes in the market or on the streets. She also washes Theo’s clothes. In the ten days that we were there, Carlos was our guide (he speaks English).
We also went with Theo to the women’s prison, where one of the women showed us around. Theo goes there regularly to visit them and he also celebrates Mass there. During the visiting hours when we were there, there were some children’s parties….. The children go to school in the mornings. In the afternoons they come back to the prison and they go to a newer part of the prison where they are helped with their homework. The women prisoners fill their days with embroidering table cloths, baking bread, and preparing food on life endangering cookers, and the washing of clothes for people who bring them in from outside. The whole ´courtyard´ was full of clothes which were hung out there to dry…. In the women’s prison we also handed out rosaries and the women were very happy with them.
In front of the women’s prison there is the men’s prison, which from the outside looks very frightening. On top of the roof there are some ‘cages´ with corrugated iron where some of the prisoners live. It must be incredibly hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Thinking about what we had just seen, a youngster who had lived in one of Theo’s houses came to talk to us. He told us that that afternoon his brother had been brought to the prison and also a friend of his. Family members of both of them were standing there in front of the prison. The question was: could Theo do something for them, help them…..? What do you do? What can you do? Theo listens and puts a hand on the young man’s shoulder. Theo does go to visit people in the men’s prison, but of course it is often impossible to do much for the prisoners. But listening to them is often already very important. We sat for a while with the family members on the benches in front of the prison. Each one of us with his or her own thoughts…..
With Theo we also went to visit Angel. He is the young man who makes those fantastic Christmas cards every year, cards which we try to sell in the Netherlands. Angel lives with his brother and with their wives and children in a couple of concrete rooms. They took us into one of the rooms, where there were only a table and some chairs, and where we got some soup made out of corn and with a big piece of chicken. There were also a lot of dogs there which Angel’s wife breeds and which she tries to sell in the market. Angel lived in one of Theo’s houses and is now a taxi driver. He has made a living driving his taxi and also with making those cards.
It was very special to be able to be present at the Mass in Sayaricuy. Wonderful how the children participate in the Mass and how they all sing! Really enjoyed the guitar playing and the pan flutes. The exchange of the sign of peace was such a warm experience! After the Mass, we went to the cemetery on All Souls Day. Something that is celebrated in a big way in Bolivia. Unbelievable how many people there were at the cemetery and so many flowers!
Apart from the visit to the women’s prison, it was also very impressive to be able to have a look in the night shelter. Youngsters are picked up from the streets. They are asked whether they want to come. The have to hand in the drugs they have. They get a chance to have a shower and to wash their clothes. They receive information about things they have to know (and they have to participate in those short talks) and they get something to eat. In this way, they are at least without drugs for some ten hours…..
It was also wonderful when we were driving through Cochabamba with Theo and some kids recognized Theo’s car. They whistled to each other and shouted ‘Padre Theo, Padre Theo’. Very heart warming and often a moment which gave us goose bumps. Theo puts a hand on their hands or shoulder and they are all smiles. Many kids know Theo and he loves seeing them as much as they love seeing him. Very special to be able to experience that. Very special also to be able to see and experience Theo’s work from so nearby”.
A few more words from me, Theo. For me the visit of my sister and nephew was also very special. It is all so very different if you can see it with your own eyes instead of just reading about it in a newsletter. I very much enjoyed their presence here and we really did not have enough time!!Thanks to all of you for your support during this year and we hope that we will also be able to count on you in 2016!!I wish everone of you a very Happy Christmas and a very Blessed New Year!!
With kind regards and all best wishes!!
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