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Principal’s Blog

A Transformative Experience in Uruguay

April 8, 2024

A Transformative Experience in Uruguay

From March 17 to March 21, our President, Mr. Garland, our Board Chair, Sharon Kearney, and I had the privilege to attend our Edmund Rice Christian Brothers School Leaders Meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay. The meeting was hosted by one of our Christian Brother Schools, Colegio Stella Maris.

Montevideo is a beautiful place filled with warm, welcoming and loving people. During our trip, we had the opportunity to learn about and to network with Christian Brother schools in Peru, Argentina and Uruguay. We were also able to reconnect with all of the school leaders from our Christian Brother schools in America.

The trip to Montevideo was truly transformative. Colegio Stella Maris is a faith and learning community who truly live out the Charism of Blessed Edmund Rice every day. The Alumni of Stella Maris, as well as the current Board of Stella Maris, have created a culture of philanthropy that is changing the lives of families in Montevideo as well as a culture that is transforming local communities.

The alumni of Stella Maris School have created a network of philanthropic organizations that function under the umbrella of a single Foundation called Ad Astra (To the Stars). The vision of the Ad Astra foundation is, “Guided by the charism of the Christian Brothers, we seek to generate a positive impact on the lives of people and our community.”

The Old Christians Club. All of the charitable works and philanthropic endeavors at Stella Maris began with the Old Christians Rugby Club. The Christian Brothers brought Rugby to Stella Maris School in 1961. The Old Christians Club are lead by a group of alumni and families of Stella Maris School with the aim of promoting sports and values ​​in the community. The vision of the Old Christians Club is to promote fellowship and community improvement through the development of local sports and social activities.

In 1972, members of the club’s rugby team were flying to Peru. The plane crashed in the Andes and 14 members of the team survived in extreme conditions in the mountains. It is a story of miraculous survival, but it is a story of horrendous loss. Their story of survival and solidarity has become a symbol of resilience and camaraderie in the club. The story of the Miracle in the Andes has been told in the book, The Society of the Snow (2008), by Pablo Vierci, in the Netflix film, The Society of the Snow (2023), and in the film, Alive (1993).

After the survivors returned to Montevideo, a group of Stella Maris mothers of the players who did not survive started the first charity to help keep the legacies of these young men alive. The first arm of the Ad Astra Foundation was formed; it was Biblioteca Neuestros Hijos (The Library of Our Children).

Biblioteca Neuestros Hijos. Biblioteca Nuestros Hijos endeavors to be “a light of culture and memory” in Carrasco, Uruguay. The Library was created by the thirteen mothers of the young men who did not return from the tragic plane accident in the Andes.

The library now operates as a private, non-profit organization, offering free reading material for students of different educational levels. The library also provides tutoring, English language instruction, information technology courses, and reading clubs. Biblioteca Nuestros Hijos is actively involved in the community, through ongoing outreach and by providing scholarships and programs for low-income families.

Los Treboles Education Centre. The most inspiring part of the trip for me was visiting Los Treboles (The Three Clovers) Education Centre. This philanthropic organization was created to completely transform a single neighborhood. Los Treboles is located in Villa del Chancho. The story of Los Treboles is awe-inspiring. A group of Stella Maris and Old Christians Club alumni asked themselves a question, “What could we accomplish if we endeavored to change one neighborhood, one community? What could we achieve if we put all our efforts into changing the lives of one villa?”

The initiative was undertaken by former students, families, and teachers of Stella Maris School, in collaboration with the Franciscan Sisters of the Incarnate Word; Los Treboles was created to improve the living conditions of the Cruz de Carrasco neighborhood, particularly the Villa del Chancho settlement.

In 1998, some families in Villa del Chancho were living under 12 meters of garbage and they made their living by collecting waste, and by feeding pigs with organic materials, and by selling recyclables. This living situation was precarious and dangerous and the Ad Astra Foundation recognized an urgent need for action to protect the health and well-being of the people of Villa del Chancho.

Los Treboles was created, after the decision was made to relocate these families to a more suitable location. The relocation was facilitated by the generous donation of land in the Flor de Maroñas neighborhood. The creation of Los Treboles demonstrates the presence, compassion and liberation ethos of the Christian Brothers, by addressing the root causes of poverty and injustice as Edmund Rice did. This relocation of families to a safer environment signified a step towards breaking the cycle of poverty and environmental injustice that the residents were trapped in.

Los Treboles is now funded and operated through collaboration between individuals, institutions, local government, and community organizations who secure the necessary resources and financial support needed to continue to relocate families and to build them new homes. Los Treboles is a living example of the charism of Edmund Rice at work, a collective effort to uphold the dignity and rights of those affected by poverty and injustice.

In 2024, Los Treboles hopes to relocate and build homes for 75 families. The team at Los Treboles affected me profoundly. I was moved beyond words by their lived example of faith and generosity; Los Treboles is a powerful example of grassroots activism and solidarity in action, an intentional and focused effort to address socio-environmental challenges, and to offer hope for positive change for vulnerable communities.

Santa Margarita School. While we were being hosted in Montevideo, we had the opportunity to visit Colegio Santa Margarita, which was created through the Ad Astra foundation at the height of the COVID pandemic. The story of Santa Margarita School is a remarkable journey of educational and social commitment within the La Cruz de Carrasco neighborhood.

Over 25 years ago, two of our own Christian Brothers established the Madres de la Cruz Educational Center with the support of a group of mothers from the Stella Maris School. Madres de la Cruz is another grassroots effort that addressed the educational needs of an impoverished community. It is a testament to the power of community-driven initiatives that foster positive change, particularly within the context of abject poverty and social inequality.

Colegio Santa Margarita was created in 2021, and is an extension of Madres de la Cruz Educational Center. Santa Margarita School offers a bilingual educational program at absolutely no cost to families. Santa Margarita School represents a significant expansion of educational opportunities within an impoverished neighborhood. By integrating this new school with the existing Madres de la Cruz Youth Center, the Santa Margarita Educational Center provides educational opportunities to students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 who would otherwise have no access to education.

I was humbled and inspired by the caring, loving and empathic approach to education and community that I witnessed at Santa Margarita. As we boarded the bus to return to our hotel, I could not stop thinking about how alive the charism of Edmund Rice is at Santa Margarita. It is truly a faith and learning community driven by collaboration, dedication, and a shared commitment to creating positive change in the lives of young people and their families.

The Miracle in the Andes. The trip to Montevideo was both life affirming and life changing. One of the most powerful experiences of the entire trip was watching the film Society of the Snow and then having the opportunity to meet a survivor, Fito Strauch. Mr. Strauch was taught by Christian Brothers at Stella Maris. He told us that the most important lessons that the Brothers taught him were, “Don’t lie. Don’t quit. Be a good man, and do the right thing.” Mr. Strauch was a living testament to the triumph of the human spirit and the power of faith and belief. Mr. Strauch told us that what he took away from his 72-day ordeal in the Andes was that when all of our masks are stripped away and our ego dies, what we are left with is our truest selves, our authentic selves. Mr. Strauch said that the ordeal in the Andes showed him that when we are faced with the most unimaginable adversity, we are at our best; we care for the sick, we love unconditionally, and we let the Holy Spirit guide our thoughts and actions. The experience in Montevideo showed me that the spirit of Edmund Rice is alive in our schools and I returned with a fire in my belly to help our community develop a spirit of philanthropy like the example that I witnessed in Uruguay.

Live Jesus in Our Hearts . . . Forever!

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