National Lutheran News

Learning to serve, serving to learn

Augsburg student-scholars build relationships in Suchitoto, El Salvador

Julia Moroles (right) is one of three recent Augsburg College grads who spent several weeks tutoring Salvadoran students and learning lessons about the benefits of a life of service through the support of the Batalden Applied Ethics Fund. Photographs provided by Julia Moroles

Vocation is kind of a buzzword at Augsburg College. We talk about it all the time.” Adrienne Young chuckled as she described the prominent place given to matters of vocation and purpose at her alma mater. Young and two other newly-minted Augsburg alumni recently returned from six weeks putting their degrees, passions, and vocational inklings to practice as Batalden interns.

The Batalden Applied Ethics Fund encourages members of the Augsburg community to engage in research and dialogue about applied ethics, engaged citizenship, and community inquiry. Oversight of the funding for these student internships rotates among faculty on a two-year cycle. The 2013-14 cycle is headed by religion professor Matthew Maruggi, who designed a program of teaching and service learning at Centro Arte para la Paz, a community education center in Suchitoto, a town of about 7,000 located in north-central El Salvador.

Young, along with Julia Moroles and James (Bear) Mahowald spent their first three days in the capital, San Salvador. They worked with Cesar Acevedo, in-country program staff with Augsburg’s Center for Global Education, learning about the recent history of El Salvador and getting oriented to their surroundings.

After this orientation, the three ventured north to Suchitoto, where they would spend the remainder of their internship working with Sr. Peggy O’Niell, director of Centro Arte. Mahowald taught English and computer skills, Young taught English, and Moroles gave classes in graffiti and photography, as well as assisting in film editing for the Centro’s Museum of Historic Memory. They all worked with children and youth in Suchitoto and the small fishing community of El Sitio Cenisero as teachers, role models, and confidantes.

Changed for life

For Young, in particular, the internship was a blessing of coincidence. She had originally planned to spend the summer at a Spanish language camp to keep her skills fresh. With that as her plan, she initially gave little consideration to Mahowald’s suggestion that she apply for the Batalden internship.

Augsburg College 2013 Batalden scholar Adrienne Young teaches an English class at Centro Arte para la Paz in Suchitoto, El Salvador.

For Adrienne Young, the internship was a blessing of coincidence.

Then something changed; the idea took root and demanded her attention. “It was all I thought about for two weeks.” With her mind made up, the next task was convincing her parents that she would be safe.

As she went about the task of reassuring her family that this internship was a good idea, Young’s most common refrain was, “I trust Matt,” the Augsburg professor coordinating the internship. Describing what this level of trust means for a faculty advisor, Maruggi explained that he, in turn trusted Acevedo and O’Niell not only to keep the students safe, but to provide them with a full, realistic experience of Salvadoran life during their short stay in the country.

The students learned that what makes these networks of trust possible was the very element the Batalden Internship emphasizes — community engagement. Moroles noted the relationship between this deep involvement in the community and the level of commitment that the community gave to the students. “We ate with people; we experienced daily life. They were with us and cared for us even when we were sick.”

Young reflected that her experiences even complicated the way that she views poverty in the Global South: “You hear so much about how poor El Sitio is, how they have nothing, and you develop a sort of pity before you even see the community. Then you get there and find out they’re not miserable! They struggle, but the kids aren’t depressed because they don’t have smartphones. People are generous with what they have, which we consider to be nothing.”

This is precisely the complexity with which Maruggi hopes his students engage service learning experiences. His approach is rooted in a Lutheran theology of service to neighbor and in Augsburg’s commitment to truly make service learning an integral part of its mission.

In reflecting on how their internship impacted their own vocational direction, Young knows that she is “meant for a life of service” as a teacher. For Moroles, her experience affirmed her love of filmmaking and public art. They have a deeper understanding of what vocation means and the roles of service and neighbors near and far in their own continuing formation. All three want to return and continue building relationships with the Suchitoto community, where budding graffiti artists and computer-savvy kids wait to welcome them back.

Korla Masters is a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA), in Minneapolis. She is the communications specialist for Catholic Coalition for Church Reform. She worked at Centro Arte para la Paz for about two years.

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