Natalie Doummar, kneeling in front row, visited Argentina in 2015 as a 20-year-old volunteer with VIDES. Doummar is now a postulant with the Salesian Sisters who run the VIDES program. Photo courtesy Natalie Doummar

Salesians invite youth to ‘jump in’ to service

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • March 16, 2022

As the floodgates of international travel open with more and more pandemic restrictions tapering off this month, a Catholic-oriented NGO, Volunteers in International Development, Education and Service (VIDES), is offering a global experience for youth looking to fly with a purpose.

Founded by the Salesian sisters in 1987, VIDES offers programming inspired by the spirituality of Sts. Don Bosco and Mary Mazarello to “journey” together with young adult volunteers to pursue the education and development of underprivileged children, youth and women worldwide.

VIDES — an organization with young people for young people — is a hands-on experience. According to the international not-for-profit’s Canadian director, Sr. Jeannine Landry, missionaries should be ready to do “everything”.

“A lot of what VIDES does involves instilling basic human rights for every person and setting up sustainable communities,” said Landry. “One of our main objectives is to give education to children to get out of poverty. We don’t look at race, gender, social class or religion. We do many things from teaching English to orphans in Rwanda to sending nurses to South Sudan to give prep sessions to midwives.”

Although the volunteers decide how much time they spend abroad, terms usually range from a month to a year. VIDES manages all mission trip expenses except the plane ticket and insurance cost.

“Whatever skill youth are able to offer is welcome, even just your presence and positive attitude brings hope,” said Landry. “You also learn a lot when you’re abroad. Don Bosco always said that youth are ‘complete’ citizens in the world and we have to empower them. He did it in jails, prisons and slums. Today, we need to support our young leaders too.”

When her justice and international development class at St. Michael’s College in Toronto required international volunteer service, Natalie Doummar, then 20, decided to visit Argentina in 2015 with VIDES. There, Doummar’s first experiences with poverty were “trying.”

“Aside from our regular duties, on Saturdays there was a project to visit an impoverished neighbourhood. I saw poverty everywhere. The town was made only of dilapidated shacks, where you could literally feel the cold seeping into homes from holes in the walls. At that moment, I felt hopeless, knowing that I didn’t have the answers to big problems like this,” she said.

However unsettling, the experience proved seminal, spurring Doummar, now a postulant with the Salesian Sisters, to adopt a new mindset.

“These things don’t make us feel right, and they shouldn’t. They push us to make us want to do something with our life. They force us to question how we can live intentionally and not complacently,” said the 26-year-old Canadian, who now lives in California.

Although now a full-time pharmacist, Michelle Minelli went to the Philippines with VIDES in 2017, teaching English in Cavite, near Manila, to students who had dropped out of school at an early age.

“Students were so enthusiastic to learn and very determined to succeed. They were actually excited when I gave them homework. Some students went back to school in their respective years which was nice to see,” said Minelli, a new mother.

Minelli, a devout Catholic, reminisces that her time working with the poor was a “beautiful” experience and encourages other adventure-seeking youngsters to take up the challenge of global serviceship.

“Just do it. You’re not going to have all the answers, so just jump in. The sisters will look out for you when you’re there. And in the end, you will make a big impact on the people you are serving.”

(Vecchiato, 17, is completing her Grade 12 year at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in North York, Ont.)

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