Alumna Serves in Bolivia with Franciscan Mission Service

Alumna Serves in Bolivia with Franciscan Mission Service

by Sarah Smith, BA’07

Kitzi Hendricks, BA’11, never thought she would be where she is today.

As a Creighton student majoring in psychology, she was unsure of her future career plans. But a senior-year service trip, an internship and an Internet search later, she decided that aiding the underserved was her calling.

She recently returned to the United States after spending three years volunteering as a Franciscan lay missioner in Cochabamba, Bolivia, with the Franciscan Mission Service — a group that trains lay Catholics for service missions in impoverished and marginalized communities. Hendricks served at a shelter for girls who had suffered from abuse and as a human rights advocate for victims of torture. She says her experience was immensely fulfilling and has inspired her to pursue a career serving those in need.  

Hendricks’ initial interest in working with a Latino population began her senior year at Creighton during a service trip to El Paso, Texas. She then interned with the Omaha/Douglas County Victim Assistance Unit, working with a victim advocate who handled domestic and sexual violence cases, the majority of which involved Spanish-speaking people.

“I recognized the massive need for advocates who not only speak Spanish, but who understand the context of Latin America,” she says.

While searching for post-graduate volunteer opportunities, she found the Franciscan Mission Service website, and discovered that its mission aligned with her interest to serve in Spanish-speaking communities.

“I felt called to it,” she says. “This is it. This is where I’m supposed to be.”

After completing a period of discernment and a three-month training program — which included community living and courses in social justice, cultural learning and mission history — she was placed in Cochabamba. She spent her first year volunteering at a shelter for adolescent girls who had experienced sexual, physical and emotional abuse. The next two years, she interviewed individuals who had been tortured during the country’s dictatorships and recorded their testimonies for historical purposes.  

Working with torture survivors, and consistently hearing so many graphic stories, was emotionally draining, she admits. She began to have nightmares, and eventually saw a therapist. She also changed her daily activities, avoiding graphic news reports to help limit negative news, exercising more and seeking out spiritual direction. But she also felt thankful to be there for the survivors, and to possibly play a role in their healing.

“These people are so strong. And they’ve confided in me to share their stories and pass them on.”

She especially remembers one survivor, an elderly man who lived alone and had no contact with his family. During one of his interviews, he performed a moving song that he had written about his hurt and loneliness. He told Hendricks that he would like the song played at his funeral.  

“It was so sad; I had tears in my eyes,” she says.

Although emotionally difficult at times, she says her interactions with the people of Cochabamba were rewarding and something she will never forget.

“I won’t forget the people and how they made me feel and the time we spent together. I won’t forget what they taught me.”

It also gave her a different perspective of life in the U.S.

“I feel like I’m relearning everything again,” Hendricks says. “I’m seeing it with different eyes.”  

She credits Creighton for nurturing her interest in service and preparing her for mission work.

“Almost everyone I was surrounded by (at Creighton) had an interest in serving others,” she says.

Hendricks plans to enroll at Santa Clara University in March to earn a master’s degree in counseling psychology, and hopes to one day counsel Latino immigrants.

Hendricks credits her experience in Bolivia with stoking a passion for service in her personal and professional life.

“It set me on a different path. I’m really excited for where I’m going because of where I’ve been,” she says. “My entire thought-process is different. My entire way of going about life is different.”