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CMU student reflects on practicum experience in Bolivia


Danilo (right), an aspriing pastor, with Iliana Norio (left)

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Wednesday February 1, 2006
-by Jeff Enns

Winnipeg, Man. – What Iliana Norio remembers most fondly about her recent experience in Bolivia is her farewell. Not because she was happy or even ready to leave the place where she had served for six months, but because the community organized a surprise goodbye party to celebrate her contribution. Amidst the surprise of the celebration and personal accolades, Norio could only think about how much the community and experience had changed her.

Norio, a Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) student in International Development Studies, fulfilled her practicum requirement in Don Lorenzo, Bolivia, as a Mennonite Church Canada Witness intern. Stationed at the local church, she helped lead the youth group, assisted with Sunday School, and taught a Bible class.

Norio helped establish email communication so the youth could reconnect with previous leaders and volunteers that they had lost contact with. Re-establishing former relationships was an important project for the ambitious youth. Norio was grateful this was one idea she could help bring to fruition. “They have great ideas, big dreams,” she attests, “but they cannot always do them for financial and other reasons.”

When selecting a location for her practicum, Norio wanted a place where she could test her CMU education. Latin America appealed to her since she was already fluent in Spanish, having spent ten years of her childhood in Mexico. Impoverished Bolivia seemed like a practical place to evaluate her education.

About once a week, Norio traveled to the nearby town of Los Tajibos, where she interviewed and worked with a group of artisan women. She was able observe how they laboured together to produce beautiful items despite the challenging working conditions. Spending time with the women in Los Tajibos and the church in Don Lorenzo allowed Norio to integrate her studies with real life experience, and let new perspectives penetrate the personal witness and interaction.

Although Norio is now back at CMU for her final semester, she still basks in the memories of Bolivian experience and how warmly the community embraced her. “They opened up their hearts, gave me love and became my family,” says Norio. “It was just amazing to see how God’s love is reflected in each of these people’s lives.”

MC Canada and CMU work together to provide internship opportunities for students to test their education and vocational calling.