Ella Tolson spent six months of her gap year in Argentina, working at a children’s home in Buenos Aires. Church Mission Society offered her the opportunity to be part of a project making a real difference, but she discovered that sometimes the most important thing is to just be present.
Ella went to Hogar El Alba, a children’s home in Buenos Aires that looks after children 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The home is in the Longchamps area on the edge of Buenos Aires and consists of four houses, each providing a home for about 13 children and an “auntie” looking after the children in that house.
Ella’s role included working in the kitchen each morning and helping out with fun activities later in the day. She was also able to lead some workshops with the older residents, including one looking at self-esteem. “We would look at what we thought of ourselves and then what God thinks about us according to the Bible, and do creative stuff as well. And then with some of the younger boys we looked at growing as a person and how we can grow with God.”
In the kitchen, Ella worked alongside one permanent staff member supervising, and three others who were working there as part of their time in a rehab programme. Working with the team in the kitchen and hearing the stories of the children in the home, Ella gained a new perspective: “Looking at the people and the situations that they were in, it does humble you a little bit and kind of makes you understand that just because people are in these certain situations doesn’t mean their families are really bad people or that they’re really bad people. They’re just people that made bad choices.”
Yet what struck Ella the most during her taste of overseas mission was not the useful project work, but the importance of friendships and connecting with people: “It was great seeing I could become close friends with people even though there was a barrier with the language. So mission, for me, was just being a friend for people who didn’t have a friend and just being someone that people can talk to. Even though I was working there, the impact that I made was just from sitting down and chatting. It wasn’t massive changes in the community or whatever. It was just for one person. They might have an afternoon where they’re feeling down and you just sit and chat and it makes it makes them feel better.”
Taking a gap year is pretty popular, but why did Ella choose to go with CMS? “I really wanted to serve God on my year off. And so I was looking around at different charities. It seemed like each of the projects CMS was sending people to were really helping communities. CMS also seemed very friendly and welcoming!”
Ella was also able to join in the CMS ForMission training before she went out – spending a week in Bradford experiencing and learning about cross-cultural mission and ways to deal with the challenges, then joining CMS people in mission for their summer conference: “It was really fun meeting lots of different people and chatting with people who’d previously been on mission and listening to advice from them.”
If you’d like to explore a gap year with CMS, or you know someone who might, find out more at churchmissionsociety.org/gap