MCC photo/Brooke Strayer

Oscar Suarez Cabezas (left), from Colombia, and Hilario Chivale (right), from Mozambique, served with MCC's International Volunteer Exchange Program in Ohio. With backgrounds in education, both young men enjoyed their placements connecting with children and helping in classroom settings. 

Imagine packing a suitcase, travelling to a different continent and entering a new community, family and worksite. Does that sound exciting or terrifying or maybe a mixture of both?

Each year dozens of young adults from around the world take on this challenge through MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP).

Hilario Chivale, from Mozambique, and Oscar Suarez Cabezas, from Colombia, just completed their IVEP service terms in Ohio. Before they returned to their home communities in July, they shared some reflections from this past year.

Suarez served at Central Christian School in Kidron in the Spanish and music departments. Before applying for IVEP, he was looking for a new learning experience and hoping to grow more self-confidence.

Chivale served at Agora Ministries in Columbus as a teacher assistant in their daycare program. He looked forward to deeply connecting with kids and seeing worship from a new perspective. Both served as camp counselors at Camp Friedenswald in Cassopolis, Michigan, for the summer months.

Anyone who moves into a different community will experience joys and challenges whether it is a few hours away or in a different state. For IVEPers, there is the addition of navigating an entirely new culture.

According to Suarez, he found a lot of joy working with the music department at Central Christian. Although he noted it was difficult finding friendships with other young adults since most were away at college, he thoroughly enjoyed spending time with his host family and adoptive church family at Orrville Mennonite. Communication was also challenging at times, as he couldn’t always find the right words in English to fully express himself.

Chivale says he is very grateful for the support he received from Columbus Mennonite and several families in particular including Cindy and Jim Fath in Columbus and Beth and Greg Suderman in Elkhart, Indiana. Although he felt isolated from other IVEPers at times during the year and navigated an unexpected worksite change, he also found a lot of joy in forming friendships with the kids at his worksites.

Both Suarez and Chivale studied education at university and were excited to put those skills into practice through their IVEP assignments, along with picking up some new techniques to carry home.

Chivale says he learned a lot about classroom management and setting expectations and rules while creating a positive and safe environment. He was amazed by the types of teaching aides available and looks forward to sharing them with people back in Mozambique. Suarez also learned a lot from how children are taught, particularly through private music lessons. The system of grading was a new concept for him as well.

Now that both Suarez and Chivale are back in their home countries, the natural question is, “What is next?”

Chivale says he is looking forward to sharing about his IVEP year with his church and youth group. He has a heart for serving God and is discerning where that may lead him. Suarez is actively planning a gathering for Anabaptist youth in Latin America, and he says he is also discerning what God’s next surprise is for his life.

MCC wishes Chivale, Suarez and the other 43 IVEPers the very best as they transition back home and move into their next phase of life.