Woman ditches farm roots to serve in Third World countriesFULDA — Alyson Buschena was working at the Heron Lake Watershed District in 2010 when she decided she wanted to experience something new.
FULDA — Alyson Buschena was working at the Heron Lake Watershed District in 2010 when she decided she wanted to experience something new.
Raised on a farm, the Fulda native decided to drop everything familiar to her and become a missionary for a year in Latin America.
On Tuesday, Buschena sat in the sunlit dining room of her childhood home and dished out the details of her life-changing experience that started in the summer of 2011.
“I’ve always loved traveling and wanted to see more of the world, and do some service work while I was young and still could,” said Buschena, a 2008 graduate of Northwestern College in St. Paul.
This quest led her to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a worldwide Christian ministry based in Pennsylvania.
She was accepted into its Service and Learning Together (SALT) program, which placed her in Bolivia for three months and Nicaragua for eight months.
MCC helped with three-fourths of the mission cost, which left her responsible for raising about $4,000.
Her friends, family and Journey Ministries church in Worthington helped with the fundraising.
“Some of my friends did a tip night at Pizza Ranch in Worthington,” Buschena said. “It wasn’t difficult (raising the money); people were really generous.”
In August 2011, she began the first leg of her trip in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. She was a caretaker at a Christian children’s home called Talita Cumi, meaning “Rise Up” in Greek.
She was supposed to live there the entire year, but had to be relocated to Nicaragua after three months because her visa was denied.
“I think I was still new enough to the Bolivian culture that I was good at adapting and rolling with the punches, but it was a difficult transition for me,” Buschena admitted. “I really loved my job in Bolivia and the children there.”
Talita Cumi is proud to be a coed home because this means it can keep siblings living together, Buschena said. The children in the home are either orphans, or were abandoned or abused by their families.
She said there were about 24 children living there and eight workers, whom they called tias, meaning aunts in Spanish.
Her days at the home were filled with taking care of the children and doing communication work. While the children were at school, Buschena said she built relationships with Americans, working to promote and find sponsorships for the home.
“When the kids got back from school, we would have lunch,” Buschena said. “Then, everyone had to wash their clothes by hand every day, from the 4-year-olds to the 18-year-olds.”
After washing clothes, it was homework time. With 24 children, it was hard to keep them focused and on task, she said. Since they knew Buschena was still learning Spanish, they would sometimes trick her and tell her they didn’t have homework when they really did, she said with a smile.
In addition to homework tasks, she also worked with several children to improve their speech.
“When they came there they could barely speak at all because they stuttered so badly,” Buschena said.
She also taught a crocheting class, which she described as “entertaining.”
“We were trying to make hot pads. Some of them were good square pads, others were kind of rainbow shaped, but it was pretty good,” said Buschena, smiling.
While the children were warm and welcoming, she said it was hard for them to get close to missionaries because they knew the missionaries wouldn’t be staying long.
“They’ve had so many adults come in and out of their lives, so after the first week or so, the novelty kind of wears off,” Buschena said.
She said leaving the Bolivian home was one of the hardest parts of her trip. When the time came to bid farewell, several girls gave her gift bags filled with their prized possessions.
“It was little bottles of shampoo, body glitter and pictures of themselves, which sounds like nothing but when you think (about it) that was everything they had,” Buschena said.
After leaving Bolivia, she was relocated to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.
“It’s the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti,” Buschena said. “They’ve had a lot of social and political upheaval over the years.”
While in Nicaragua, she worked for eight months as a communicator at CIEETS, which stands for Interchurch Center of Theological and Social Studies.
While living in Nicaragua was more difficult for her, she said it’s a beautiful country and is grateful to have honed her Spanish skills.
For the most part, Buschena said she enjoyed the food of both countries. They offered an array of fresh fruits, her favorites being white pineapples and fried plantains.
“The farmers here would love Bolivia, because it’s all meat. In Nicaragua it was a lot of fried food,” Buschena said.
Her free time was spent exploring South American cities, hiking volcanoes, going to the beach and visiting missionary friends.
One of her favorite experiences was hiking through the Amazon Rainforest, and touring an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua.
“You could see the lake and volcano in the back-ground; it was beautiful,” said Buschena, adding that monkeys roamed through the trees.
While in Nicaragua, she had two host families. The first woman she lived with didn’t have the funds to properly maintain her house, said Buschena, noting that there wasn’t a stove or refrigerator in the house.
“Her house was in really run-down conditions and not super sanitary,” Buschena said. “It’s not that she was dangerous, but she wasn’t keeping the house up. There were wild animals living in it.”
She said bats would get in through holes in the walls. Joining them were pigeons, a chicken, geckos and large ants crawling throughout the house.
“I would get ants in my bed, which was not fun,” Buschena said. “It’s just the way it is; there’s not much you can do about it.”
Despite the housing conditions, Buschena made the best of her situation and said she understood MCC’s scramble to find another placement after she was forced to leave Bolivia.
In Nicaragua, she used public buses for transportation. She said most of them used to be American school buses that districts sold due to their older conditions.
“They were always jam-packed full of people,” Buschena said. “You forget about having any personal space.”
As an American woman, she said people had a preconceived notion that she had lots of money.
“It was assumed that I had all these resources and privileges. The sad thing is that I know I do. Even though I chose to live like that for a year, I knew that at any time I could have gone home if I wanted to — that was the challenging part.”
“As far as being an (American) woman, I couldn’t walk down the street without getting cat calls and all sorts of attention that I didn’t want,” Buschena said.
While she was occasionally scared, she said she accepted life for what it was and didn’t let it get to her.
“I got followed home and grabbed on the street a couple of times,” Buschena said nonchalantly. “That gets to you pretty quickly, but I just ignored them.”
When comparing her home life to that of Third World countries, Buschena said one of the major differences there is that the water gets shut off without notice, often on a daily basis.
“You could never really predict when it would come back on,” Buschena said. “The Nicaraguans don’t have money to buy a tank, so they just have to hope it’s not off for too long.”
Water problems aside, Buschena said she’s open to living overseas again, just not alone.
“I don’t anticipate going back in the next couple of years, but maybe eventually,” Buschena said.
For those interested in missionary work, her advice is to go for it, but research the options.
“It’s really a life-changing experience,” Buschena said. “(People) shouldn’t expect it to be easy because it won’t be, but I doubt they would regret it.”
Buschena said she learned a lot in a year. It’s imperative to think about those less fortunate, no matter where they live, she said.
“I think it’s important to have a more global under-standing of the world and to understand that it’s not just us,” Buschena said. “Just because we got lucky to be born here doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think of other people.”
Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.