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Using her newly acquired quilting skills, IVEP participant Danitza Padilla works on a quilt in the West Coast MCC Quilting Center. Kathy Heinrichs Wiest

Using her newly acquired quilting skills, IVEP participant Danitza Padilla works on a quilt in the West Coast MCC Quilting Center. Kathy Heinrichs Wiest

Two assignments make the most of IVEP participant's gifts

Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
August 21, 2008

REEDLEY, Calif. – Danitza Padilla finished her year in Reedley, Calif., with a new understanding of the risks and rewards of experiencing a different culture. Padilla came to Reedley from her home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, as a participant in Mennonite Central Committee's (MCC) International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP).

With her time divided between two very different assignments, Padilla was stretched to meet unique challenges and also developed some new gifts.

Her work with migrant women at Jefferson School, a local public elementary school, put her in touch with a population that had come to the United States looking for economic opportunity. Her previous work with MCC in Bolivia gave her the resources to encourage and teach the women.

In Bolivia, Padilla had assisted families whose opportunities also were limited. She helped them establish and manage small businesses. With a background in sociology and conflict transformation, she was able to help families deal with relational problems such as domestic violence and addictions that were threats to their economic success.

Padilla’s experience was a perfect match for the needs of the school's outreach to the mothers of migrant families, says Jefferson School's program coordinator Anita Betancourt. Some of the mothers enrolled in the school's literacy and English classes were facing domestic violence. Betancourt says she prayed for someone with the skills to lead a support group and "God sent Danitza at the right time. She had this unique skill and a heart for it."

Padilla found her heart touched by the many challenges faced by these women who had left families and homes in search of a better life. She was saddened to see that in spite of their move north, they still struggled to meet even their basic needs.

The other part of Padilla's assignment, and the most challenging, was to assist with MCC’s quilting program. While her Spanish skills gave her an easy entry into the work with migrant women, at the MCC center she learned first-hand the frustration of relating in a new language. Building relationships with the quilters took time.

It took less time, however, for her to become a quilt designer. Padilla's natural ability to combine patterns and colors quickly took her from apprentice to skilled designer. West Coast MCC Quilting Coordinator Pauline Aguilar praised Padilla's work, "She blessed our relief sales with several beautiful quilts and comforters."

As Padilla sat with the women, quilting or having coffee, her English skills improved and the friendships grew. The women admired Padilla's creations, but also came to love her inner qualities. "Danitza had such a loving and caring heart," comments one quilt center volunteer.

"I'm so thankful she was a part of my life and I'm grateful that we could learn from each other," says Aguilar.