A New Kind of Paradise
Mynor Maldonado came to Saint Mary's and found Utopia.
But this version of paradise was in an unlikely place—deep in the heart of Colombia. Here, the Christian Brothers have built a campus of Bogota's La Salle University called Utopia to offer a better future to young people living in an area wracked by drug wars.
Students who have never had a chance to escape the poverty and peril of their environment are trained to become agricultural engineers. The hope is that instead of planting the coca plants that have fueled a brutal war over cocaine profits, they will learn to grow legal crops and create "new generations of peace."
"It was a challenge," said Maldonado, who graduated in May.
He never envisioned coming to a place like Utopia, but his path to the groundbreaking school was paved by his early experiences. A native of Guatemala, he came to the United States during the civil war in his homeland. In his teens, he volunteered with Project Amigo, which helps poor children in Colima, Mexico, stay in school, and co-founded the Project Nicaragua Service Club, enlisting other students to transform an abandoned house there into a bustling school.
At Saint Mary's he connected with Brother Michael Avila, who then led the Christian Service Internship program at the College. The program, now called the Lasallian Service Internship, offers students a chance to explore the religious tradition of service at sites throughout the Bay Area, nation and world.
Brother Michael advised him to follow his passion for service work, setting the stage for him to become part of the Brothers' ambitious experiment in the hinterlands of Colombia.
"This became the defining moment for me," said Maldonado.
Along with several other SMC students and the former director of the Mission & Ministry Center, Marie Lawler, he traveled to Utopia in January Term of his junior year. There he tutored students in basic English skills—and by the time he returned to Saint Mary's that spring, he had discovered a new direction for his life: to be a school counselor.
"The students would naturally come to me," he said. More than a year later, they still keep in touch through Facebook and seek his advice on everything from study skills to relationship dilemmas.
This spring, Maldonado was accepted into the Master's in Counseling program at SMC's Kalmanovitz School of Education and was awarded a Lasallian Educators Fellowship, which pays for the education of students who will carry on the work of the Brothers by serving in schools.
He seems more than ready to take up the mantle of Lasallian partner.
"Living Lasallian is a lifestyle," he explains. "It's for anyone who wants to help give opportunity to other people."