Elle Newcome ('16) is a double-major in Pre-Health and Spanish with a minor in Poverty Studies who received a European Internship and Service Grant to live and serve at Casa de Acogida para Madres Gestantes (House of Refuge for Pregnant Mothers) for three weeks last summer. In doing so, she not only fulfilled her own interests and passions, but also lived in accord with the mission of the University of Notre Dame and Catholic Social Teaching. Elle recently wrote to us about her experience:
Thanks to the generous support of the Nanovic Institute, I lived and served at Casa de Acogida para Madres Gestantes (House of Refuge for Pregnant Mothers) in Gijón, Spain. Casa de Acogida provides for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of pregnant mothers and their children. I worked alongside Sisters of Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Downtrodden). Blessed Petra de San José founded the order in 1881. Today, sisters from the Congregation live in community with the pregnant women and infants.
While at Casa de Acogida, I cared for children while their mothers worked, providing much-needed daycare. Through collaboration with other charitable organizations and volunteers, the children were able to visit a Jurassic Museum, go to the beach, and learn to cook croquets. In addition, I sold books and Christmas Lottery tickets at the National Trade Fair to fund the house. Lastly, I enriched my experience at Casa de Acogida by participating in daily mass, vespers, and prayer with the Sisters.
This experience enhanced my educational interests of Spanish, Medicine, and Poverty Studies. Casa de Acogida exemplified the Catholic community living model, where with staff and mothers live on site and participate in household duties together, to address the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of single mothers. Community provides a secure setting where mothers have a network of unconditional support and love. Casa de Acogida provides this support for both the mothers and the children. The mothers and Sisters were family to one another. They care for one another’s children as if they were their own. If one child misbehaved while his or her mother was not present, a community member would gently correct the behavior. This Solidarity echoes Notre Dame’s commitment to Catholic Social Teaching, complementing my Poverty Studies minor.
Furthermore, spending time with the mothers and children deepened my fluency and cultural understanding. Madre Ángela, one of the Sisters, tutored me in Spanish in exchange for brief tutorials on how to navigate her new cell phone. On a broader level, I observed how cultural norms and societal structure affect organizations that support disadvantaged pregnant women. The recent financial crisis in Europe has lead to decreased funding for organizations, such as Casa de Acogida. Due to this phenomenon, Casa de Acogida is grateful for the donation provided by the Nanovic Institute grant, and the opportunity Notre Dame provides its student to serve in areas where there is need.
Because of this experience through Nanovic Institute, I will serve in a Spanish speaking country before going to Medical School. Notre Dame, “seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings, but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice, and oppression that burden the lives of so many.” I embraced this mission while at Casa de Acogida, and will continue to do so in the future. It is my responsibility to share the education with which I have been blessed. I am grateful to Nanovic Institute for the opportunity to represent Notre Dame’s commitment to the Catholic Social Teaching of Solidarity on an international level.