Everyone Teaches and Everyone Learns

Current Dominican Volunteer David Gayes was asked to speak at our recent annual fundraiser on April, 23, 2016. David did a marvelous job of representing his fellow volunteers, his work sites, and the Dominican charism. His words and conviction move our hearts and challenge us to action. We share David’s speech here with much pride– proud to be a part of the same Dominican family!

Good evening.
My name is David Gayes and I am one of the 2015-16 Dominican Volunteers. I am one of four second-year volunteers. Thank you very much for coming our annual fundraiser and thank you for all the many ways in which you have generously supported DVUSA. 
For the past two years, I have served as an English as a Second Language teacher.  The first year, I taught exclusively with the Tolton Center, which offers English classes to Latino families. The second year I continued with the Tolton Center and also taught lessons with the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants.  This small organization offers hospitality and accompaniment to people who have been recently released from detention. 
I have been shaped by the Dominican charism. I graduated from this [Dominican] university in January of 2014, having learned about the pursuit of love and truth, and having been challenged to “participate in the creation of a more just and humane world.” On many occasions I heard and pondered St. Catherine of Siena’s words, “be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire.”
When I started my first year of service with DVUSA, I was ready to go. Ready to set my world a blaze as an English as a Second Language teacher with the Tolton Center – an organization in the Pilsen neighborhood that offers an array of services to local Latino families. Over that summer, I met with two experienced ESL teachers and learned about the principles of teaching. I learned about building one lesson upon the previous lesson – like building blocks. I checked out books from the library and read lesson plans online. I came up with my own lesson plans for the first couple weeks of class. I was prepared.
But, then….reality. 
-sometimes my students didn’t show up for class. 
-One student consistently left early.
-And, many students were very quiet in class.  If you know anything about learning a language, you know that you have to speak to learn.
And I lived in a state that did not pay its bills, which led to an inadequate number of staff.

Slowly, I got to know my students. I learned that my students were quite committed to learning English, but they had full lives outside of my classroom. They had childcare to arrange, public transportation to navigate, illnesses untreated because of inadequate health care access, and sometimes 2 or 3 jobs to juggle. They were tired. Getting to class on time was tough. The student who left early? – She was headed to work, yet managed to fit class in before her evening workshift started.

The motto of the Tolton Center is “everyone teaches and everyone learns,” and I can say that I have learned as much from my students as I hope they have learned from me.
My students let me into their lives and we worked together on their goals – whether that be to get a job, help kids with homework, or simply communicate with grandchildren. I am so grateful for their warmth and their kindness. I will always remember with fondness the elderly student who gave me an apple after my first few weeks of teaching, because she appreciated that I was her teacher.
I appreciated that she was my teacher.
She and my other students have taught me that service is not always glamorous.  It’s hard, and there is so much to learn.
I believe, that as a society, we tend to think of the marginalized – immigrants, the elderly, the disabled, people who are homeless – as labels and statistics. Perhaps we do it because we don’t like to think of them as people like us. Being a Dominican Volunteer allows, indeed forces, one to see that the people we serve are real people.  People with their own hopes and dreams.  And people with dignity.
David teaching ESL, with some of his students

During my second year as a volunteer, I also taught at the Men’s Hospitality House – it is a temporary residence sponsored by the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants for men who have been released from detention and have no place to go.

One of my students was Omar (not his real name). Omar left his home country of Pakistan to come to the United States. He left his wife and he left his two little children.  Why would he do that? He left because he was threatened by his government. It was not safe to stay home.  Not safe for him, and not safe for his family. Omar was alone in the United States, but he had a goal. Every day, he would show up early to my class, book and homework in hand, ready to learn. Because of his persistence, Omar was able to get a job, and enroll in community college. If allowed to stay, he hopes to bring his wife and children to the U.S.
I think about Omar often. He is 26 years old, close to my age. Most people I know that age are moving forward with the next step of their careers; some have started families. Nearly all are posting hopeful, optimistic stories and photos on Facebook. Omar on the other hand, has grown up with stress and fear and violence. He left all that he knew, even his closest loved ones, to have a chance of making a better life for himself and his family. And, it is just a chance – the U.S may not allow him to stay.
The experiences of Omar and my other students can be so foreign to me.  So difficult to process. It is sometimes hard to wrap my head around the injustice that I am forced to confront in my work as an English as a Second Language teacher. I am not “just” teaching.  I am learning.
Grappling with injustice and the pain of people’s experience is a necessary part of my life’s journey.
One thing I now know for certain: I cannot face these questions alone. An essential part of the DVUSA experience is community. I need my Dominican community to support me, and they need me to support them. My fellow volunteers face societal injustices in their ministries with the elderly, with victims of domestic violence, with those who are homeless, with those who have mental illness. We travel this journey together.
David and fellow 2nd year Dominican Volunteers

And the sisters!  Where would we possibly be without our Dominican Sisters? There is such richness in the mentorship and friendship that we volunteers experience with these women who commit their lives so joyfully to the service of others.
Former staff and former Dominican Volunteer celebrate with Mary Alice, O.P.

The sisters remind us through their words, their witness, and their service how to grapple with these injustices and how to live a life that is truly Dominican. Their wisdom and companionship is at the core of the DV experience.

Mary Jones, O.P. with Pat Wormann, O.P.

So, about setting the world ablaze, ala St. Catherine of Siena….it happens.  But, one has to allow oneself to also be transformed by the flames of love and truth.

I have cerebral palsy and require support for basic needs and for access to what others might take for granted. I have come to realize that, like me, my English as a Second Language clients also seek support for basic needs and access to what others take for granted. Dominican Volunteers USA provides that access.  A quadriplegic inclusion minister, Judith Snow, likes to imagine God as a quadriplegic.  Yes, you heard that right – she imagines God as a quadriplegic!  She says that God needs us to break down barriers. “We are God’s hands, feet, arms and legs in the world.” “We are God’s personal assistants.”  I like that image – our bodies doing the work that God needs done.
David delivering this speech at the Praedicare Event

I come to this event tonight to celebrate. To celebrate what DVUSA has meant to me and to so many current and former volunteers. To celebrate the founders who have given so much to make DVUSA the organization it is today.  To celebrate the ways we have made a difference in the lives of people on society’s margins. To give thanks to the sisters and the wisdom and love they share. To celebrate the hope and possibility of the future of Dominican Volunteers USA and the many volunteers, sisters, and clients that will be positively impacted by its mission.

Thank you.