HomeFeaturesCatholic youth volunteers play important role in Church's mission in poor communities

Catholic youth volunteers play important role in Church’s mission in poor communities

A group of young people in the Philippines are keeping themselves busy during the pandemic.

Gladys Badlon, 24, hails from the city of Zamboanga in the southern part of the country but she works in the outskirts of the capital, about 1,350 kilometers from home, to help the poor.

She leads 19 other young people in what she described as a “mission to reach out to the poor,” a fulfillment of her “desire to serve.”

The young lady, born to a housewife and a mall salesman, was a scholar of the Ateneo de Zamboanga, a Jesuit university, where she finished her degree in Education.

“I felt like at some point, somehow, I have to give back,” Gladys told LiCAS.news.

Even before her graduation, she already expressed her desire to be part of the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines, a lay organization of young men and women who assist in social, pastoral, and development work of missions, apostolates, and social development agencies.

Gladys had, however, to delay her application to help her family financially.

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As the eldest of three children and the first to finish school, the young lady has to work in Ateneo as a campus minister for three years to earn a living.

In 2019, as she was about to apply for a Masters degree course in the university, she decided to become a volunteer.

“I wanted to take up (a) masters (degree) so I can do better in values formation for the students, but I felt like I was not ready for that yet,” she said.

Instead, she asked permission from her parents to be part of the Jesuit Volunteers program. “Surprisingly, they were supportive, especially my dad,” Gladys said.

After a tedious application process, she was assigned to the Jesuit Mission Station in the Diocese of Kalookan in Manila in May 2019.

She was supposed to stay in the mission for ten months, but she applied for another year “in the spirit of the mission” left by her dear friend, Genifer Buckly.

On August 23, 2019, the 23-year old Genifer was killed inside a hut in the southern Philippine town of Pangantucan in Bukidnon province where the girl was doing volunteer work.

“Her death made me question my own reason for continuing the work, but above it all, it made me want to hold on to her passion for service,” said Gladys.

“That’s what I want to continue,” she added.

Young volunteers in the Diocese of Kalookan pose for a picture during a break in preparations of relief goods for distribution to poor communities. (Photo supplied)

Every month, Gladys receives a US$100 allowance, which she sends to her family back home.

“Since I came here to serve, I’m surprised and overwhelmed that, by the grace of God, my family survived,” she said.

“Maybe that’s part of God’s promise to me, that he will not abandon my family as I serve His people,” said the young lady.

She said she believes in the “power of the youth” in making a difference.

“It’s about time that we do the work,” she said, adding that it is the time for the young generation “to protect our own future.”

If there’s one thing she learned in her experience, she said it is that loving people “is the core of volunteerism.”

“The very love you receive from the Lord is reflected to those whom you serve,” she added.

The young lady said she was surprised how her team “stepped up” during the pandemic as they took initiatives in the mission.

“I think it is because they have developed care for the community,” she said. Maybe the uncertainties of the pandemic taught them tha.”

Father Wilfredo Samson, chaplain of the Sacred Heart Mission station, is “thankful” for the young people “who took charge even if the safest place for them is to be at home.”

Youth volunteers repack goods for distribution in urban poor communities in the Diocese of Kalookan. (Photo supplied)

The Sacred Heart Mission station is one of 15 mission stations established by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan in partnership with religious congregations.

The mission stations initially aimed to “empower and guide” communities in the diocese in addressing the spate of drug-related killings.

Now, due to the pandemic, the mission stations redirected its efforts to helping residents most affected by the lockdown due to the health crisis.

“Since the start of the lockdown in March, it has been the youth who were working for the Church because older people and the vulnerable ones were required to stay home,” said Father Samson.

He said that by giving young people the opportunity to serve “they’ll show you what they are capable of.”

On August 12, the United Nations marked International Youth Day with the theme “Youth Engagement for Global Action.”

It seeks to highlight ways in which the engagement of young people at the local, national, and global levels is “enriching national and multilateral institutions and processes.”

For Gladys, however, the desire to serve is rooted in her “deep gratitude” to the institution and the people who helped her what she has become.

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