Classes Plant Seeds That Will Grow

Tilaila Tanumi
May 21, 2008

Yoga and art programs brighten the lives of poverty-stricken Las Palmas residents.

Lay missionary Tilaila Tanumi (front) directed women in yoga classes at the chapel in Las Palmas.

Lay missionary Tilaila Tanumi (front) directed women in yoga classes at the chapel in Las Palmas.

Poverty permeates the lives of Chilean people amid the hills of the Las Palmas area of Valparaíso, where I have been a Columban lay missionary for more than five years.

After all this time, I am still in awe of poverty’s effects—not just financially, but the palpable emotional and spiritual emptiness in people’s lives and the social problems all this causes.

It is painful to witness the high unemployment, low self-esteem, rampant crime, violence, drug trafficking, the lack of positive male influences in many homes, the marriage infidelities and break-ups—the list goes on.

Depression and poor self-esteem is a widespread problem here, and who can blame these people? Who would not be depressed in such squalid living conditions?

Children have no space to play since tiny apartments sometimes house two or three families. Such overcrowding, of course, creates its own dysfunctional behavior. Most children’s playgrounds are too small, lacking structures and creativity, and bear the hallmarks of overcrowding, vandalism and poor care and cleanliness.

We Columban missionaries in Las Palmas have tried to help people build a better future.

Health, Relaxation, Creativity
First, I organized women’s workshops, designed to help women’s personal development. It seemed to take off during the first few weeks, but the program faded.

I learned that the women here were not interesting in sharing about their lives. There is more interest in practical activities, such as knitting and fabric painting. They are too exhausted with all their responsibilities. Whatever free time they have is used for naps and watching television.

When the workshops faltered, I organized yoga classes for the women. Because we did not have a suitable room, the instruction took place in the parish chapel. Many of the students were grandmothers along with a few young women and some with developmental disabilities. Some said the chapel was not an appropriate place for the classes, but they were well-attended, and the women learned about the much-needed health and relaxation benefits of yoga.

Women in Las Palmas have experienced the health and relaxation benefits of yoga.

Women in Las Palmas have experienced the health and relaxation benefits of yoga.

Another new Columban program that has helped theLas Palmas community involves children, teen-agers and young adults creating art mosaics. Such inspiring creativity each child brings to the workshop!

Our art teacher, Marcelo, helps the students, who find creating the art relaxing and therapeutic. Their faces are filled with excitement because they have a space where they can express through art their dreams and visions. The students’ success has even encouraged older adults to learn about creating mosaic art.

I am convinced that our efforts sow a little hope for a better future in the lives of the Las
Palmas community. This reminds me of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero’s famous words:

“This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.”

Tilaila Tanumi from Fiji has been a Columban lay missionary for more than 10 years.