2006: A Volunteer Leaves Her Heart in Chile

Dear Friends of the Refuge of Mercy,


It seemed like a dream when my plane arrived in Santiago. I arrived in the morning and a benefactor from Monroe, Washington, Deanna Taylor, the volunteer who accompanied me to Chile, arrived about 2 P.M. Deanna brought two duffle bags with items vacuum packed inside so that when she opened the bags, gifts and supplies filled the room: toothbrushes, baby clothes, and new t-shirts for each mother. What fun! We made gift bags for each mother and Sr. Mary put names on them so each mother would receive the right size shirt. We did not know then that welcome packages would become a part of the ritual of welcoming new young mothers as they entered the Refuge, but we saw that the gift of simple necessities made a profound impact on the young mother’s self esteem. The personalized welcome packages created a vital first step toward trust and hope.


Dianna Taylor 06 1 0512During the first week I translated for Deanna. Deanna wanted to spend as much time as possible with the mothers. We ate breakfast with them, took pictures, and did a project of creating bags with designs the mothers wanted and then coloring and ironing the designs. What we didn’t anticipate was that the housemothers also wanted to design bags, as did Alvaro, the 5-year-old who lives at the refuge with his mother.

In the evenings we relaxed with the Sisters, then after we said good night to the mothers, we went to bed.


One day we went with the social worker to evaluate whether it would be safe for two young mothers to return to their family homes after leaving the Refuge. One of the girls, a twelve-year-old mother, could soon leave the Refuge if we found a safe place for her to live with her child. Her mom’s house was small, about 12 feet by 12 feet in size. It had a bed, a table and chairs, and a TV. Her mom welcomed us with cookies and a drink.  She said the man who raped her daughter was in jail and she would see that he never came around again. She seemed genuinely supportive of her daughter. One young mother would be able to go home.


The other young mother’s home was worrisome. Two people slept on the couch in the living room, two children slept on cots in the dining room.  Another space had two beds for four other adults. Outside the house was an 8 by 10 lean-to with a bed and a television. A little kitchen and an indoor bathroom served everyone. Our young mother’s sister lived in the lean-to with her four-year-old son who was fathered by her mother’s boyfriend. The same live-in boyfriend had also fathered the daughter of our young mother from the Refuge. The girls’ mother told us, “My boyfriend stays”. This was not a safe home for the second young mother or her sister.  The young mother now lives with her grandmother.



Deanna created several lighthearted festivities for the young mothers. With their enthusiastic help, she made a hamburger feast. They set the table with flowers, tablecloths, and napkins in the shape of rabbits. The mothers were overjoyed to participate in the picnic. Many of the young girls come from living situations where the simple blessings of tablecloths, flowers on dining tables, and the innocent pleasure of celebrating do not exist.


Later that week we took the Sisters to a restaurant just outside of Santiago called Casa Bosque (Forest house). It is made of polished trees and stucco. The pillars are made of old tires reinforced with concrete and stucco. We had a wonderful time! Everyone felt refreshed and full of energy.


Our main goals for the 2006 Mission were:

  • To set up a way to send Merciful Love Connection Money to Chile
  • To learn about the financial needs of the sisters
  • To find out more about life at the Refuge
  • To talk to Sr. Mary about her dreams for the Refuge
  • To network with NEXO and Partners of the Americas
  • To find out about the education workshops offered at the Refuge


We also set up a banking system to send money to the Refuge. I learned about international monetary exchange rates. If the dollar is low, it is very expensive to buy with American money. In practical terms, if we send, say $1000, and the peso is at 514 pesos per dollar, you get 514,000 pesos but if the peso is at 540 per dollar you get 540,000 Pesos!


I talked to Sr. Mary about the needs of the Refuge and her dreams for the future. Sr. Mary is already registered in the Catholic University course for administration. She received a grant to pay half of the tuition, so the Merciful Love Connection paid the other half. I talked to the president and vice-president of the Partners of America and with Susanna of NEXO. Nexo is an organization that likes to link big organizations with small organizations. NEXO sponsors swimming lessons for the mothers and their infants. They also do monthly birthday parties and holiday parties. To our deep rejoicing, they also were able to purchase a commercial laundry for the Sisters. The commercial washer arrived before I left. The dryer will come later.


Before the trip, In April of 2006, the Merciful Love Connection sent $5,000 to the Refuge, enabling the sisters to hire a computer teacher, a tutor to help the mothers with their studies, and to pay half of the tuition for Sister Mary, the director, to study administration. At the Refuge we were able to observe the reading tutor and the computer teacher hard at work. Sister Mary was deep into the studies that would help her complete necessary administration tasks efficiently.


Goodbyes are difficult but blessings from the Refuge are abundant. Every time I return from the Refuge of Mercy I feel blessed beyond measure. I see my friend, Sr. Gloria, who I met thirty-four years ago and who inspired my connection to the Refuge, aging very quickly. She is starting to forget things and she knows she doesn’t know. She is about eighty-five now. It was very hard to say good-bye after this all-too-brief mission, but a blessing, always, to be with her. Deanna left her heart in Chile.



Sister Yvette Mallow, OSB