Even though the country of Peru’s gross domestic product has more than doubled since 2000, about half the population remains in dire poverty. Sister Nelida Naveros, CDP reached out to the poor in her native Peru when she was growing up. Now she’s a Sister of Divine Providence teaching at La Roche College in Pittsburgh. And she continues reaching out. Sister Nelida’s story is part of Standup Sisters, a live event from Jennifer Szweda Jordan and Unabridged Press, where sisters share their stories of service. It’s sponsored in part by National Catholic Sisters Week and brought to you on this Sister Story Presents podcast. Here’s Sister Nelida...
Sister Nelida Naveros, CDP:
I am going to share with you my experience of poverty. As you know, Peru is a developing country. I am the second of five children. I grew up in a very Catholic family in Peru. We as a family went to Mass every Sunday with confession and communion. During Lent my siblings and I, with my cousins, went to church to pray the 14 stations every Friday. During Advent we went to pray the rosary early morning before school and Sunday was the day of the Lord.
My mother never cooked. We as a family spent together. Sometimes my parents took us to the movie theater or to the playground. Other times we went to visit our relatives. When I look back I see that I grew up in a very nice, privileged family, but not everybody in my neighborhood had what we had. I remember two families. One, a single mother with four children; the other one with eight children.
They only had new clothes and new pair of shoes on New Year's Day. But what is beautiful about growing up in my neighborhood was that all the children played together, we laughed together. There was no difference about money.
My first experience of poverty was when I was 14. A girl knocked at my door and she asked for food and clothes. She told me she was an orphan and she had four younger kids to take care. Of course I gave her what she needed. But, at that moment, at 14, I realized that there were orphans in the world. Well, after a year when I was 15, I joined my community Sisters of Divine Providence and then after my first profession my superiors sent me to work in an orphanage. It was a good experience working there. I was very young only 18, 19 and being with those orphan girls helped me to some degree understand what it meant to be an orphan.
Then after three years I went to work in a place called Quilmaná, two hours south of Lima. Very, very poor area that geographically was very aired and very hot. It was a place that no one wants to be, but what’s beautiful about that place is that I was doing something that I wanted to do. In fact one of the reasons why I entered religious life was because I wanted to help the poor. Quadri I remember from working in Quilmaná was that people did not have water. Water came twice a week for three or two hours a day. There was a time when people had to wash clothes, took baths, and collect water in big containers. Living in Quilmaná made me realize how lucky I was growing up. Even my neighbors who didn't have much, were not poor.
In 1999 I moved to the United States and my desire to help the poor stayed with me. So starting at Stonehill College in eastern Massachusetts in Boston, near Boston, I joined a group of students who went to Peru, Lima, Canto Grande and we worked there for two weeks with the poor. We went to visit poor families and again they didn't have water. They had to walk at least one to two miles to buy water. And most of the houses were made out of cardboard. What really made me very sad was to see that some of the families had children with Down's Syndrome and other conditions and they did not have the money to take them to the hospital.
Then when I became a teacher I went to work at Sacred Heart High School in Kingston Massachusetts. There I organized trips to Peru, mission trips. I took a group of students to work in the orphanage the first time and the second time we went to work in a parish. We visited families in poorer schools there. The students brought toys, school supplies, and also some clothing for the poor children. And I also have a little project, you know I like to knit and crochet, and I make baby blankets and sweaters for little children and babies. I sell them and I use that money to take to Peru when I go on vacation and I buy school supplies if I go during the school year. If I go during Christmas I usually buy toys and clothes, and I organize a nice gathering with poor children up in the mountains, in the Andes, and I give them hot chocolate and panettone. I just I love seeing those poor kids having something new, new clothes and new toys, because for them Christmas is another day. So I like to do that with my family.
This is my first year here at La Roche and I plan to continue doing what I have been doing since I moved to the United States. I would like to go back to Peru again and also go to poor areas within the United States. I think I, we are lucky. And we all at the same time have the responsibility to help those in need. I invite you to find ways how we can reach those in need and try to do help in the way we can. Because I think for me personally it is something I enjoy doing, I love to do because I feel lucky. I may not be a millionaire, but I think I can do something for those who do not have much.