Posts Tagged ‘Jesuit Father Don Vettese’

The Holy Spirit Drives Jesuit to Serve Garbage Dump Communities

Fr. Don Vettese, SJ, with Calendar, a leader of the garbage dwellers in Panamá.

It is often said that the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways which we are unable to predict or sometimes to even understand. For Jesuit Father Don Vettese what should have been an impediment, a traffic accident, instead opened up the possibility of an even greater calling — to serve the poorest of the poor.

It was 1994 and Fr. Vettese was then president of St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio.  One day, after his talk with the school’s senior class about the Christian calling to have a preferential option for service to the poor, the students approached Vettese with an idea.

“A few of the students came to my office to explain the difficulty of feeling compassion for the poor without experience,” says Vettese, “and they challenged me to help them educate their hearts.”

It was from that conversation Vettese planned a student service trip to an orphanage he’d founded a few years earlier in Guatemala City.

What Vettese did not know was that this trip would turn into something much greater. One morning, as Vettese and the students  were driving to the orphanage to work , there was a traffic jam resulting from a car accident. When their van was diverted from the main road  they suddenly found themselves in the Guatemala City garbage dump. Here they witnessed a sight that was almost unreal to them: a community of people living, quite literally, in garbage.

“The scene,” Vettese recalls, “was hell. There were acres of mounded garbage burning. There were hundreds of people milling around, looking for food and recyclables, while animals fed on the garbage. Vultures with eight-foot wing spans were swooping down for food and at the recyclers. We saw infants being stuffed into the trash and covered with cardboard to prevent the vultures from hurting them, and later discovered that their mothers felt the dangers from the vulture attacks were more serious than the rat bites that would occur from stuffing them into the garbage.”

Vettese’s talk about Christian leadership came back to the group full-force; that evening, he and the students reflected on the experience of the day, and the students wanted to know what could be done about the plight of the families they’d seen living in the dump. It was that fundamental question which led to the formation of International Samaritan.

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Relief Group Founded by Jesuit Granted Special Consultative Status to United Nations

Ann Arbor-based nonprofit International Samaritan (I.S.) was granted Special Consultative Status from the United Nations in September, recognized by the UN as an important voice in issues pertaining to poverty relief.

“We are privileged to join with the United Nations and other NGOs in the fight to help alleviate severe poverty in developing countries,” said I.S. Founder and President Jesuit Father Don Vettese, who grew up in Detroit and taught at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School for many years prior to starting I.S.

I.S. was awarded consultative status for its role in helping the UN work toward achieving its Millennium Goals, including eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and developing global partnerships for development.

The only nonprofit in the world whose work is focused on garbage dump communities, I.S. helps hundreds of thousands of people who live in garbage dump squalor across the globe. According the UN statistics, I.S. serves some of the most poverty stricken people on the earth. The nonprofit builds homes, schools, nurseries, medical facilities, community centers, adult training schools and funds microloan and food programs. They also organize service learning trips and medical brigades to garbage dump communities in seven countries. More than 95% of the donations I.S. receives go directly to its poverty relief programs.

“There are many people who have never heard about the garbage dump dwellers, the children forced to dig through trash for food, and entire families living in garbage dumps with rats, vultures, and pigs. These places do exist. We hope, in some small way, this status will give voice to those who have no voice,” said Vettese.

I.S. representatives will be granted passes to UN meetings, able to speak at designated UN sessions, and have certain documents circulated as official UN documents. They will also have the opportunity to be a part of a larger NGO community for the purposes of information sharing and partnering on poverty relief programs.

“There is so much good that can be accomplished if we open our minds and hearts to work with those in need who are fighting for a life with dignity and hope,” said Vettese. “We invite everyone to join us by volunteering on one of our service trips, donating to our poverty relief programs, and praying for us and those we serve.”

For more information about International Samaritan, please visit their website.