2003-2004: Computers Bring Hope in a Box

  • Arrival in Santiago

  • Computer Classroom

  • Connection

Dear Sisters,


I am so blessed to have been able to work at the Refuge of Mercy again. The Refuge is an oasis of hope for those in a hopeless situation. It is a haven of safety for adolescent mothers who have nowhere to go and little or no help from family. 


For almost four years now one of our goals has been to establish a computer classroom for the mothers at the Refuge. We started working on that goal in 1998 with three old computers. During this mission we established our first official computer classroom.  Additionally we were able to modernize the historical documentation of the Refuge.  The history of the Refuge is truly a national history.


I flew to Chile on the 16th of December, 2003. My first goal was to give a check for $3000 to Sister Edith Leon, the Superior of the Congregation of Most Merciful Love, to add to the $7000 they had saved to buy a van. The second goal was to use the grants from the Meineke Corporation, the Conrad Hilton Foundation for Sisters, and the Lewis Foundation to build the computer classroom for the young mothers at the Refuge. The third was to update the Refuge nursery with a new exercise mat, and the fourth, was to help Sister Transito finish her History of the Congregation. A copy of her history now resides in the Chilean National Library- a national treasure.


Because of the grants, I knew we were going to have a first-class computer classroom. However, the person I had lined up to develop the program and train two other teachers decided to work at the United Nations instead. The two teachers also failed to materialize. That meant we did not have a teacher or curriculum for the program. I didn’t know how we were going to connect the computers or who would be able to connect them and keep them running. I didn’t know if we could get Internet access or not, because I had tried in 2000 and was rejected.


Soon after, Sister Elsa received news that Fernando, the person in charge of the 100 or so computers at Hogar de Cristo (Center for Christ) had agreed to take charge of our computers. He knew of a person who assembled computers. He sent me a price list. My heart skipped a beat. I had thought that we would be able to buy four computers at the most. But, we were able to buy seven and have money left over! One computer is used as a server, four are in the classroom, and the social worker and the Refuge director now have computers.


I had the CDs for the XP Operating system and for Office XP. I thought we could push a button and the CD would switch from the English language version to a Spanish version. Not So! “Sorry it would be too hard to use them, because if anything goes wrong I would not be able to read the English,” Fernando lamented. Not daunted, I called Microsoft Chile. They were very understanding, and when a Microsoft employee called back about an hour later, she said, “Your disks are here and ready. We will exchange them for you.” They exchanged the disks for a Spanish version. But do you know what they did with the brand new English version discs? Yes, they destroyed them almost before my very eyes! I asked if the employee could throw the disks my way but she just smiled a sweet smile.


Now it came to pass that NEXO, an international organization for human development, was giving a Christmas party for the young mothers that very week. There I met Veronica who told me, “I know someone who knows someone at the telephone company. Perhaps they will put in the high-speed Internet for free.” Mariela said, “I write curriculums for my job. I would be glad to write a curriculum for the classes.” Mary said, "I know someone who will send a technician to string the cable if you buy the cable." Michael said, “I know someone who would be a good teacher.” And so it was done.


Cristobel, the new computer teacher, is twenty-four, a handsome young computer whiz. Four years ago he was in an automobile accident that left him with multiple handicaps. He has limited use of his hands and arms. He can move his wheelchair but cannot make it go a distance. He cannot raise his hands to his face. I was afraid that his wheelchair would not fit through the door. But it did! The only obstacle was a two-inch step to get into the hall. But we made it work! Blessings abound.


What a fun day when we went to pick out the furniture for the classroom. When we returned with it to the refuge, the big desk for the server would not fit through the door, so they took the desk apart. The desk just exactly fit in its room. What a glorious day when the seven computers arrived in their new boxes. One of the mothers was having a hard day that day, so we invited her to help open the boxes and take out the computers. We were delighted that she accepted and were even more delighted to see her smile as she worked. Fernando began to hook the computers together. However, the shelves for some of the little desks we had bought were too small for the tower. Our Maestro came in with a hack saw and cut 1 by 10 inch spaces that were needed to accommodate the towers. He also secured the desks to the floor. We were able to pay for the cable, and Fernando strung more than 120 yards of cable and hooked each computer with each other and to the server. And so it was done. Finally, when all the computers were all hooked together and Fernando turned them on, I was relieved and delighted to hear the familiar sound of windows XP signing on. The busy three weeks sped by as we saw our four-year dream for a computer classroom become a reality.


Windows XP has a virtual keyboard and Cristobal started teaching classes. The first six-week course started the next Monday. Fifteen mothers signed up. We had sufficient money to pay for a teacher for 6 months. Roxanne, a young mother, asked me to help her with a report she needed for school. I helped her to find the information in the encyclopedia. The next day she told me that the teacher seemed annoyed when she asked if Roxanne had used a computer to do this report. When Roxanne answered yes, the teacher asked if Roxanne knew how to touch type. “Not very well, but I am learning. I type about 15 words a minute.” Then the teacher smiled. “In that case, you will be able to get into the computer class at school.” Roxanne was walking on air!


We put in a program for teaching typing and another for understanding Word 95. We also bought math and reading CDs, and a program about the history of Chile. We added a CD about childbirth and an encyclopedia. The young mothers eagerly learn to type and to use the encyclopedia. The social worker uses the CD about childbirth to help the young mothers understand how their child is developing within them.


We had started the infant stimulation program almost 10 years ago. At that time, we bought a carpet for the nursery and a mat where the mothers could work with their infants. In Santiago there is a fine dust that penetrates everything. Even though the carpet was vacuumed and even washed professionally, the dust did not come out. The exercise mat was easy to clean. However, throughout the years all the foam inside had deteriorated. We removed the carpet and moved the old exercise mat into the main nursery and bought a new exercise mat. The Refuge also needed a refrigerator to keep formula and food for the babies.


The day I left the refuge, the telephone company was to come the next day to install the Internet. Hooray!! The good news and my thoughts of our accomplishments during this stay at the Refuge helped take some of the sting out of saying goodbye.



Sister Yvette