A Volunteer’s Story in Timor-Leste
Before converting to Catholicism as a young adult, Keith Collins may never have given a thought to the phrase, “finding Christ in the face of a child.” After heeding the call to volunteer with the Salesian-affiliated Cagliero Project last year, however, this now-retired mechanical engineer encountered the experience on a daily basis.
While “finding Christ in the face of a child” isn’t the Cagliero Project’s official motto, it easily could be. Established in 1991 by the Australia-Pacific Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco, the organization shares a similar philosophy with its U.S.-based cousin, the Salesian Lay Missioners (SLM), who follow the phrase as their guiding light. Both organizations match adult volunteers to Salesian-run programs around the world—and provide life-changing opportunities for these volunteers to care for and lead disadvantaged youth.
Born in Singapore and raised in Perth, Keith is one of the first two Cagliero volunteers to have served in Timor-Leste. He arrived in January 2019, and immediately made a uniquely positive impact that has lasted well beyond his six months there.
At the Don Bosco Comoro Technical Community Center in Dili, Keith taught students the skills of his discipline, and dedicated himself to helping them improve their English. According to Father Abilio E. Correia Guterres, who lives in the Salesian community at Dili, this latter effort will be invaluable to the students’ ability to find employment after graduation.
“By the way he carried himself during his time with us, Keith taught us a lot about his dedication and commitment to sharing his skills with the students and staff of our Technical Center,” says Fr. Abilio. “Keith’s perseverance was always on display as it was not always easy for him, however he made it through! He has been an exemplary lay missionary, proclaiming God’s word as a volunteer, through his words and more importantly, his deeds.”
By all accounts, he is also an excellent cook, and found great pleasure introducing hungry students to new flavors and cuisines. Fr. Abilio reports that Keith’s dishes made quite an impression on these girls and boys—an experience that was mutual. Keith was so moved by the students’ disadvantages that he continues to support them financially from Australia, so that they can afford the food they need to succeed in the classroom.
“The presence of such an incredible lay missionary helped our community to grow deeper into our own Salesian identities,” says Fr. Abilio. “Keith’s volunteer period was dedicated to the improvement of young people and a profound testimony of the value of a spiritual Christian life.” Just as Keith discovered Christ in the face of his students, his service—according to Fr. Abilio—made “God’s love visible for all who witnessed it.”
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