CIRCA, a Jesuit organization founded by Father Carlos Ponzo, S.J., is a large network of 48 schools, eight orphanages, two clinics and 23 parishes. the CIRCA schools together have more than 17,000 students.
Father Ponzo’s family immigrated to Peru from Italy when he was 18-years-old. For ten years he worked selling used items. When his business failed he decided to take on a new life as a Jesuit priest. After initially rejecting the religious life, Ponzo came back and dedicated himself to the poor people. He began building schools in poor communities, working alongside others to create what is now the CIRCA organization. (CIRCA information provided by Deacon Joe Stickney).
When we first arrived at the school, getting off the vans we were greeted with Peruvian and American flags. Both countries represented in unity between the sea of excited and smiling faces. Upon entering the gates there were three students with small white plastic pipes, holding them up against their shoulders like guards with their swords, guarding the gate as we entered it. The principal immediately came up to us and, in Spanish, began thanking us for the past work Brophy has contributed into the making of their school. We were quickly seated into the back of the outdoor soccer/basketball court, the small stands in front of us full of green and white uniforms. Beginning with a prayer, the different grades then gave presentations varying from dances, to marches, and speeches. However, not all grades got to go. The final dance being cancelled due to technological issues. We felt very honored and appreciated by the community but most of us were just itching to get to work.
We were tasked with continuing the work of Broncos who came before us. This task was to continue extending the perimeter wall in order to protect the school and officially claim the land for the school. We were told that if there wasn’t a wall around a property, someone could just come in and claim it as their own.
We were divided up into groups. About half of the group was shovelling sand and rocks into buckets to make cement. It was hard work to keep the dirt contained into the pile. However the hardest job of all was carrying and dumping the buckets of dirt and rock into the cement mixer. They were so heavy that most people could not even lift them. The next step of the process was to hold wheelbarrows and take the cement from the mixer into the ̈Ditch ̈ (Cordova). The Ditch consisted of a dug out area full of wet cement and rebar, where the foundation of the wall was being laid. This work taught us what it means to truly serve others. Despite being dirty and tired taught, we were able to find a sense of satisfaction and purpose in our tough labor. After hours of backbreaking work, the schools generosity was apparent when they provided us lunch, where Brophy students ate alongside proven architects and workers. Finally, the students of St. Fransancisco Javier treated us to the dance we had missed at the very beginning of the day.
The next day, most students went straight to construction. We were all very anxious to get to work and put our hands in the dirt. However, one group was tasked with entertaining the forty or so children in the classroom. This presented a different kind of challenge, as none of the children or the teachers were able to speak English. So we decided to try and play some games. We first, unsuccessfully, introduced and explained ̈heads up seven up, ̈ which soon descended into the kids running around and trying not to get picked. Once we got the class back under control, we were able to play ̈Simon Says ̈ and ̈Hangman ̈ in Spanish. We had a lot of fun playing with the kids but we were excited to get to work with the rest of the group.
The work that we did consisted of poring cement, digging a trench, making roads, repairing paths, and pushing heavy wheel barrels of rocks up a hill. After the first day, many of us were very sore, but we were determined to finish our work to the best of our ability. One of the most important lessons we learned as a group was to work together through the pain. Like Señor Cordova said, “Nothing in life that is easy is worth while.”