New ITR staff brings Bolivian experience

By Shannon Keough
March 19, 2009

Shannon Keough

After volunteering for one year to teach citizens in La Paz, Bolivia, how to use computers, Dennis Callahan was hired by Cabrini College as its newest help desk coordinator in the Information Technology Resources office.

“I was always interested in volunteer work abroad, which is why I was an international studies major in college,” Callahan said. However, by the time he had the opportunity to volunteer abroad, he already had a family. Through the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Callahan was able to volunteer with his two sons and wife.

Maryknoll Lay Missioners are present in 17 countries and seek to alleviate the conditions of the poor through compassion.

“It was in a pretty poor area and the population that I worked with was a lot of recent migrants from the rural areas of Bolivia to the city,” Callahan said.

“A lot of them [students] really didn’t need to know how to use the computer for work, but it just gave them more confidence being in the city because there’s a lot more technology than they ever would have experienced.”

Callahan worked in a community center in La Paz, where he taught courses on Microsoft programs, particularly Word and Excel.

“There’s such a wide range of people because I would run the class for the staff there, so the cleaning staff and all of the cooks would take courses and you have people from outside of the community as well. In general, the people were just very appreciative and it’s really funny because after the classes, people would be like, ‘You changed my life.’ And I mean obviously I didn’t do anything to change their life. I just think it’s the idea of them gaining confidence on something that is so unfamiliar to them.”

His wife also worked at the center, but was more involved with general education. She organized training sessions with the teachers in order to teach them a new curriculum.

Callahan’s two sons, ages four and six at the time, attended school in La Paz although they had no previous experience with the Spanish language.

“My youngest son did great and he can speak better than all of us, and he was completely going with the flow, but my older son just had a really hard time and is just very shy and reserved . he was so afraid to talk. He went a whole year without talking. Every once in awhile he would say things he knew he could say perfectly,” Callahan said.

The difficulty his older son faced is the main reason why they didn’t stay in Bolivia for as long as they planned.Callahan’s wife also became pregnant and gave birth in La Paz.

She was cared for in a private clinic because Callahan explained that Americans don’t usually go to the hospitals and it’s really inexpensive for them to be treated in the clinics. He said the doctor gave his wife more personal care than any doctors in the U.S. would have.

“It was definitely a really big learning experience. I think it’s amazing anytime you can learn about another culture,” Callahan said.

While at Drexel University, Callahan majored in international studies and had a concentration in Latin American studies. He acquired a three-year co-op position with Drexel’s telecommunications department.

As Callahan was searching for a new job, he hoped to find something that would relate to his passion for social justice. “I’m much more aware [of Cabrini’s focus on social justice] since I’ve been here and especially since Founder’s Day.”

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Shannon Keough

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