Building Bridges in Bolivia Mission

Ish and Maryann Martinez find short-term mission
in Bolivia to be a two-way street

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[googlefont font=“Cormorant Infant” fontsize=”20″]By John Blazo, M.M.[/googlefont]

Maryknoll missioners are bridge builders, connecting people of different cultures. Maryann and Ish Martinez of Fishkill, N.Y., not only support the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in this awesome task but are bridge builders themselves.

Ish and Maryann, who were both born in New York, first crossed an intercultural bridge when they married 48 years ago. Maryann brought her Italian background to Ish (a nickname derived from the biblical name Ishmael), and he shared his Puerto Rican heritage with her. Recently they crossed a cultural bridge to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where they served for six weeks as volunteers with Maryknoll.

“We have been attending programs at Maryknoll for about eight years,” says Ish. One of those programs is the movie night we host each month at the Maryknoll Society center in Ossining, N.Y. That’s where they picked up a brochure about our short-term volunteer programs around the world.

Ish, a retired computer-systems engineer, and Maryann, a retired school psychologist, who have two sons, thought their life experiences would be assets for mission. They signed up to serve in Cochabamba.

“We felt welcomed by the Maryknollers and local people as soon as we arrived,” says Ish. “We received as much from them as they did from us.”

One of the missions in which Ish and Maryann served was a facility for physically and mentally challenged people. “It was run most efficiently and with great compassion by five Franciscan sisters from Central America,” says Ish.

Maryann noted that the facility was “spotless” and the residents cared for with such devotion. She remembers one physical therapist, who, she says, “knew each resident by name and hugged them and spent hours with them.”

“A number of residents couldn’t speak,” says Maryann. “We read to them, danced with them. Mostly we just tried to be with them.”

“No one should be discouraged or afraid of going on mission if they are not fluent in the native language,” she adds. “There are many instances where words are not needed.”

Maryann and Ish also assisted in a self-help program for women released from prison. It included a restaurant that provided jobs for the women, enabling them to contribute to society and earn a living for themselves and their families.

Maryann says she appreciated the programs Maryknoll missioners offered the short-term volunteers each week to enable them to reflect on problems through the eyes of the Catholic faith.

Returning home, she and Ish volunteer with the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement in Graymoor, N.Y., Maryann sharing her skills in compassionate communication and Ish his computer expertise.

And they are enjoying their new role as grandparents to granddaughter Mila, born last March to son Ryan and daughter-in-law Dina, and grandson Liam, born three weeks later to son Adam and daughter-in-law Brittany.

We at Maryknoll are grateful for Ish and Maryann Martinez and we look forward to seeing them at our monthly movies, where we are always enriched by their presence and sharing.

Featured Image: Near photo from Latin America at the Maryknoll Society center in New York, Ish and Maryann Martinez share highlights of their mission experience in Bolivia. (A. Marsolek/U.S.)

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About the author

John Blazo, M.M