A single mother, her 17-year-old son and her baby taught Roxanne De La Torre some of the most crucial lessons in life.
DeLaTorre lived in a shack with a family, who soon became her “brothers and mom.” This was the happiest time in Cabrini’s missioner De La Torre’s life up to that point. The little shack and broken English brought an impoverished family and a young college student together in what now seems like fate.
“When I say no frills, I mean we sat around in a circle and played jacks with rocks because we didn’t have actual jacks to play with. We sang songs and spoke in different languages but it was the happiest I’ve ever been,” De La Torre said. “It was simple. It was the way life is supposed to be.”
The family and De La Torre grew close during her stay and also taught her how to appreciate all that she had in life and how fortunate she was.
As a sophomore at Fordham University, De La Torre was experiencing her first immersion trip with Global Outreach. De La Torre had never experienced poverty and sickness to such a severe degree. After her first trip to South Africa in 2007, she was struck by what she experienced and had a crisis with identity and faith. She could not understand why or how people could live in such poor conditions.
“How can people stay faithful and live in the worst conditions possible?” De La Torre questioned.
When it came time to say goodbye and thank the homestay families for their hospitality, De La Torre felt ashamed she could only offer a packet of No. 2 pencils. To her surprise, they were “the most beautiful pencils,” the family had ever seen.
“I’ve never thought of a pencil like that. I have pencils everywhere. I lose pencils all the time; I never cared about pencils before,” De La Torre said, “but my homestay family taught me to take a second look,” De La Torre said.
The simple appreciation of such a small token of thanks was just one of the life-altering events De La Torre experienced on the trip.
“It was a really eye-opening experience to have to realize how much we have and how much we are gifted with on a regular basis. I’ve tried since then not to take that for granted,” De La Torre said.
Another memorable moment is one that had De La Torre questioning everything she had believed in her entire life. On the day of her departure, De La Torre’s host mother demonstrated how important her time visiting the family had been by sharing a devastating secret; she was HIV positive.
With the confession came the promise to be healthy so De La Torre would have the opportunity to see her family again. Just before De La Torre traveled to South Africa on a second trip, her host mother passed away.
“My last memories of her were her telling me that she was HIV positive and AIDS took her life in the end,” De La Torre said. “I consider those two boys like my brothers. Even though it ended in sadness, I would never trade meeting them.”
Raised in a devout Filipino Catholic family, De La Torre considered her faith the backbone of her being. She relied and trusted on faith to carry her through her first experience with poverty. It became ironic to her that she came out of the experience questioning whether she could even believe in God anymore, let alone be a Catholic.
De La Torre had always believed if one was a good person and one prayed and asked God for help, the prayers would be answered. After watching people suffer during her time in South Africa, questions such as, “How can God be ignoring millions of people?” crept into her mind.
“I don’t think I would be where I am now if I had not lost my spirituality to begin with,” De La Torre said. “My parents gave me this great faith when I was little, but here I was 20 years old, still expressing faith in the same ways as I had when I was 5. I just blindly believed what people told me but I didn’t take it for myself. The bad things that happen in life are not there just to make you miserable. Usually the bad things in life are there to teach you about the bigger picture.”
Through a second immersion trip, this time to India, De La Torre was able to realize that prayer, faith and suffering were not solely based on what she had believed as a a child.
“Both immersion trips made me realize that God is with us through everything, but suffering is also a part of life,” De La Torre said. “Losing my faith in South Africa really helped me to claim my faith for myself in my own way.”
Now preparing a small group of Cabrini students to embark on the same immersion trip she experienced, De La Torre hopes to teach the students the importance of the four pillars: simple living/solidarity, social justice, community and spirituality, of the Wolfington Immersion Projects. These pillars demonstrate Cabrini’s core values and Justice Matters curriculum and De La Torre is determined to open the minds of students with a trip close to her heart. Spirituality obviously played a huge role in her new-found identity and she hopes to help steer students in a direction to help explore their own faith.
“It’s not about asking God to flip the switch and save a million people,” De La Torre said. “I think it’s about asking God for the strength to be the best person that I can be so that I can do with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”