By Clare Pressimone, Salesian Lay Missioners
Mission has a way of getting under your skin. And it doesn’t go away when you return home. It sticks with you forever after.
I discovered that after I returned home from being in Cambodia for twenty months as a Salesian Lay Missioner. While I was in Cambodia I got very involved in the lives of the people I lived and worked with. It started out simple, such as joining daily mass with the Salesian Sisters with whom I lived or sharing a mango with my fellow teachers; but then it got more personal to where one of the sisters knew she could count on me to drink the other half of her soda, another relied on me to get her to mass and the teachers were inviting me to housewarming parties, weddings and funerals. My time in Cambodia was special. It became my home away from home. The people around me were my second family.
And then I moved back to the United States.
I am lucky to have a great family here, which made my transition back into American life much easier, as they were very supportive and understanding of the struggle. But transitioning back into old habits and American life-style doesn’t erase all of the life that you had lived elsewhere. I had developed a true life in Cambodia, and that is going to stay with me always. I still have my memories and the countless stories and photos that tell of the amazing time I had in my Cambodian life; and I can’t simply leave that behind.
When I returned I realized that I needed a way to continue my mission back at home. Even if I wasn’t with the same people who defined my Cambodian mission or in the same place that dictated my mission life-style, there had to be a way that I could continue living out the values I gained as a missioner. And thankfully I found two.
First, I realized that although I was no longer on mission, that didn’t mean I couldn’t use my experience to encourage others to do the same. A mission, or volunteer, experience changes you in more ways than one could ever guess. That is a daunting prospect for many, but if its value and importance can be shared in a meaningful way then many may be able to embrace the opportunity. Therefore, I have begun volunteering for my program, Salesian Lay Missioners, by recruiting at colleges and universities and participating in discernment weekends. I realized that my mission is a powerful, personal story that could inspire others to break out of their traditional life-style and go experience a different culture and way of life.
Second, I acknowledged my passion for international development and took strides to get involved in that world. What I saw and experienced in Cambodia is a reality that all too few are aware of: children unable to attend school; students losing focus in class because they are hungry; families being forced out of their homes and being made to live in trash heaps. This is a sad but true reality, not just for many Cambodians, but for many around the world. It is a hard reality to understand if you don’t see it first-hand, so I had a unique experience of seeing what vulnerability and marginalization look like in other parts of the world and I wanted to put that to good use. A few months after my return I began working for a Catholic international NGO, which has allowed me to work directly in support of the needs of people in developing communities, like those which I witnessed first-hand in Cambodia. Furthermore, I have enrolled in Fordham University’s International Political Economy and Development (IPED) Master’s program. This will allow me to gain a deeper understanding of development from many different angles and allow me to implement what I experienced in Cambodia through my studies. I am looking forward to further studying the realities that are different from ours here in the United States and working to ensure that people around the world are afforded the human dignity they deserve.
Every day I miss being in Cambodia and I am counting down the minutes until I return and greet my family face-to-face once again (thank God for communication technology!). But for now, I am going to do everything I can to continue to live out my mission in my life here in the United States. I will forever be grateful for my mission experience, and I will continue to journey on this mission every day.
To learn more about service opportunities through Salesian Lay Missioners, please click here.