Life in Uruguay will be focus of Ubuntu eXplorers team
by Kelly C. Martini
When Judith Siaba, a vice president of the Women's Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, went to Montevideo, Uruguay, she saw a warehouse with a history.
Once infiltrated by drugs and dealers, the warehouse had provided shelter for several operations, including housing for 300 homeless people willing to fight to protect their space, and a business for sex workers trying to survive.
These conditions existed until a woman from a local Methodist church gained the confidence of the warehouse residents through regular visits and taught their leaders how to advocate with the government for change.
The persistence of the homeless advocates brought them community services - health care, land for building and a new life. Grants from the Women's Division and United Methodist Committee on Relief helped build homes for some of the families. With leftover bricks, the families built a church.
The new program, the Ubuntu eXplorers, will enable women from the United States to understand and share together the daily life, struggles, culture, challenges and opportunities of women from a number of countries.
Methodist women in Uruguay have spent a great deal of resources on reproductive health education, so they are interested in sharing joint experiences on the issue, she reported.
"I visited one of our Methodist schools, Crandon Elementary and Secondary School in Montevideo, which is over 100 years old," Siaba said. "The staff is made up mostly of alumni. And, it is highly regarded in the city and country as offering a very good education. They have a very good culinary arts school for the older kids."
The Instituto Crandon (Crandon Institute) was founded in 1870 by Cecilia Guëlfi, a Uruguayan teacher, as the Evangelical School for Girls. It was supported by the Women's Society of the Methodist Church.
The Ubuntu eXplorers team will join with local women in a project designed to feed the homeless in an impoverished area. On the other end of the economic spectrum, the women will visit with a downtown Methodist women's group who have historically raised money for schools, orphans and mission projects around the country.
Siaba said she was affected strongly by meeting women from the warehouse community who now are living in houses built by funds from United Methodist Women and UMCOR.
People in the existing neighborhood, where the new houses and church were built, didn't want the formerly homeless people moving in. However, since moving in, the new inhabitants of the community have been the epitome of hospitality, according to Siaba. During their first Christmas season in the neighborhood, they set up tables of food outside their houses, inviting all to worship, celebrate and sing songs with them. No one came.
So, they tried again. The second Christmas, hardened hearts softened, and gradually, neighbors came out of their houses to take part in the Christmas celebration.
The Ubuntu eXplorers' Uruguay trip will accommodate 10 to12 United Methodist Women members. Cost will be under $2,500, including airfare, local transfer and immigration fees, room and board, local host arrangements, local workshop expenses, and a $200 registration fee for a pooled fund for Ubuntu scholarships.
In addition, team members will be asked to provide a suitcase of resource materials suggested by the host organization. Other one- to two-week trips are being planned for next year, destined for Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Cote D'Ivoire.
*Martini is the information officer for the Women's Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Oct 13, 2005