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Life in Uruguay will be focus of Ubuntu eXplorers team

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Judith Siaba
Oct. 12, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Kelly Martini*

When Judith Siaba, a vice president of the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, went to Montevideo, Uruguay, she saw a warehouse with a history.

Once infiltrated by drugs and dealers, the warehouse had provided shelter for several operations, including housing for 300 homeless people willing to fight to protect their space, and a business for sex workers trying to survive.

These conditions existed until a woman from a local Methodist church gained the confidence of the warehouse residents through regular visits and taught their leaders how to advocate with the government for change.

The persistence of the homeless advocates brought them community services — health care, land for building and a new life. Grants from the Women’s Division and United Methodist Committee on Relief helped build homes for some of the families. With leftover bricks, the families built a church.

More stories and experiences such as these can be expected when a group of United Methodist Women heads to Uruguay in October 2006.

Siaba’s visit in July was to help prepare her to lead the U.S. women to Uruguay as part of a new program of the million-member organization and the Mission Volunteers office of the Board of Global Ministries.

The new program, the Ubuntu eXplorers, will enable women from the United States to understand and share together the daily life, struggles, culture, challenges and opportunities of women from a number of countries.

Siaba met with the Rev. Ines Simeone, a clergywoman who chairs the family life committee of the Uruguay Methodist Church. “They are asking for us to do workshops on crafts, to help women learn a skill to improve their income-making ability; and they also want us to share some experiences in evangelism,” Siaba said. “They have their own evangelism campaign, but are interested in some different tools.”

Methodist women in Uruguay have spent a great deal of resources on reproductive health education, so they are interested in sharing joint experiences on the issue, she reported.

Through the Ubuntu eXplorers program, the women also will be involved in work at Uruguayan mission institutions supported by some of their $20 million donation to mission each year.

“I visited one of our Methodist schools, Crandon Elementary and Secondary School in Montevideo, which is over 100 years old,” Siaba said. “The staff is made up mostly of alumni. And, it is highly regarded in the city and country as offering a very good education. They have a very good culinary arts school for the older kids.”

The Instituto Crandon (Crandon Institute) was founded in 1870 by Cecilia Guëlfi, a Uruguayan teacher, as the Evangelical School for Girls. It was supported by the Women’s Society of the Methodist Church.

The Ubuntu eXplorers team will join with local women in a project designed to feed the homeless in an impoverished area. On the other end of the economic spectrum, the women will visit with a downtown Methodist women’s group who have historically raised money for schools, orphans and mission projects around the country.

Siaba said she was affected strongly by meeting women from the warehouse community who now are living in houses built by funds from United Methodist Women and UMCOR.

People in the existing neighborhood, where the new houses and church were built, didn’t want the formerly homeless people moving in. However, since moving in, the new inhabitants of the community have been the epitome of hospitality, according to Siaba. During their first Christmas season in the neighborhood, they set up tables of food outside their houses, inviting all to worship, celebrate and sing songs with them. No one came.

So, they tried again. The second Christmas, hardened hearts softened, and gradually, neighbors came out of their houses to take part in the Christmas celebration.

“These are some of the women we’ll be in partnership with when we return,” added Siaba, who said she understands that their stories may change U.S.-centered views of how to be a Christian.

The Ubuntu eXplorers’ Uruguay trip will accommodate 10 to12 United Methodist Women members. Cost will be under $2,500, including airfare, local transfer and immigration fees, room and board, local host arrangements, local workshop expenses, and a $200 registration fee for a pooled fund for Ubuntu scholarships.

In addition, team members will be asked to provide a suitcase of resource materials suggested by the host organization. Other one- to two-week trips are being planned for next year, destined for Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire.

For more information and registration forms, go to or on the Web . Interested women may also call Mission Volunteers at (212) 870-3825 or the Women’s Division at (212) 870-3911.

Uruguay Ubuntu Explorer applications should be sent directly to Judith Siaba,

Uruguay Ubuntu Journeys Coordinator, Northern Illinois Conference Office,

77 West Washington, Ste. 1820, Chicago, Ill. 60602

*Martini is the information officer for the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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