Having just graduated from Notre Dame, Angela knew she wanted to do something to help children in need. She applied to the Salesian Lay Missioner program and accepted an assignment in Bolivia at a boarding school for impoverished girls. It is run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who serve as mother figures, teachers and role models.
"Many of the girls had caring family members, but they were too poor to afford school and decent living conditions," explains Angela. "Some of them had no mothers, and their fathers would bring them to the school so their daughters could benefit from female influence."
Right away, Angela found great joy in reading to the children. "They loved when I read bedtime stories but we only had a few books."
So, on her days off, she would walk into town and buy new books with her own money. Then, she had a better idea.
"I decided to start a library," says Angela. "I wrote to my friends and family back in the States and asked for donations. I found an unused room, put up shelves and placed blankets on the floor."
While the impact of Angela's efforts enriched the lives of all the girls at the school, one in particular touched her heart in a special way.
"Anunciación was only 5 or 6 when she arrived," says Angela. "She had slight mental handicaps that made it extremely difficult for her to learn. She had given up on herself, so I decided to make her my project."
With great patience and determination, Angela devoted hours of one-on-one time helping Anunciación – now 13 — with her math and reading skills. "She was so excited that someone was willing to help her that she became much more determined," says Angela of her young student.
With Angela's encouragement, Anunciación soon developed a love for reading – even though her ability was only at a first grade level. Angela recalls, "She was the first person waiting for the library to open on Saturday mornings."
Angela understands that Anunciación will always struggle because of her mental limitations. However, she's hopeful that the young girl will keep trying. And it is clear that the library, and Angela, gave her hope and opportunity.
Angela feels blessed to have served as a Salesian Lay Missioner. "Leaving the program was one of the hardest things I ever had to do," she reflects. "The experience was better than I would have ever imagined."
Although she is now back home in the United States, Angela takes comfort in knowing that 60 young girls in Bolivia are enjoying a library that was her lasting gift of love and compassion.
We thank you for whatever support and encouragement you can provide to give hope to the world's poorest youth. The generosity of caring friends like you supports the work of our Salesian Lay Missioners throughout the globe.
Find out more about the Salesian Lay Missioner program.