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AMA Alum (Worcester and Philippines) Elliot Uvin-Simmons writes about his Philippines experience from 2016-2017


Round Two of AMA and Time is Running Out!

Hello Assumption Family! Kamusta?...It’s your friend Elliot Simmons-Uvin, or as some of you might know me better Mr. Moody. For those of you who were unaware of my whereabouts, for the past eight months, the cow has traveled 8,626 miles to Sibalom, Antique, Philippines, for my second year of AMA. This year I’m no longer called Mr. Moody, but now Joe. This year has been quite the adventure of working as a teacher, exploring the Philippines with co-volunteers, and finding God in the smallest things.


My AMA year began way back in September when I became the Grade 6 English and P.E. teacher at Sta. Rita Academy (SRA). I remember entering the school for the first time, trying to poke my head into the classroom of sixth graders to see who my students would be, were they well behaved, how many were there, and how is there English. Then the day came my first class, September 3, 2016. There were 43 new faces in front of me, their English was average, and they were excited to have an American teacher. The only difficulty was language. I couldn’t understand Tagalog or Visayan, and they couldn’t understand my English vocabulary. Despite the language barrier, there were many moments when we enjoyed one another’s presence. For example, we sang YMCA camp songs at the start of class, and they asked endless questions about life in America and my personal life.  We bonded over Pokémon and even painted a mural together. As I got to know my students more, I started to understand the culture of the Philippines; the role of faith, and the sacrifices some families make just to make ends meet. As a teacher I have realized that it’s the little things that you do that go a long way. The simple kind gestures that come from the heart; a simple high five, a joke, or spending five minutes after school to explain/finish a project really makes the difference. Even though I am only here for one year, I have learned so much from my students, the faculty, and the staff of Sta. Rita Academy, and the RA Sisters. As I continue to adjust to the culture of the Philippines, I continue to be exposed to many challenges, and new opportunities every day.

There have been many “firsts” in my journey. My first time going island hopping, swimming in a waterfall, hiking with slippers, swimming in a cold spring, hitchhiking, riding a tricycle, teaching English and P.E., commentating on graduation, dancing at the Department of Education Night and SRA Family Day, to go camping with the boy scouts, to try to learn a new language, and finally tasting the culinary art of the Philippines. These new experiences were a lot of fun, but at times they were awkward, uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful because I had to communicate with people with limited language skills, travel to unknown places, and go out of my comfort zone. It was these experiences that allowed me to take a leap of faith, to grow personally and professionally, and in the end to strengthen my confidence in myself and my faith in God.

If I were to answer the question, “What is the one thing you will never forget about the Philippines?” I would say the people. The people have made my experience so fruitful and enriching. Here, I’m a tall white American, named Joe. Also known as Sir Elliot, or just “L.” I have especially enjoyed the AMA community; the Kamustahans, Mid Year, and Year End activities with the other volunteers make you feel like you’re a part of one big family, with endless brothers, and sisters. Filipinos are hospitable, compassionate, jokesters who know how to make you feel welcome and have a good time - it is the people that have made this year an unforgettable experience. Some of you are curious I’m sure about what have I learned so far in these eight months. Well, I’ve learned to let go, to let of go time. By letting go of time I can be present in whatever journey awaits. These eight months have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience, embrace, and receive a different culture. I think it's only fair for me to say, “It's more fun in the Philippines!” Talk to you all soon. This Joe’s got to go. I’m grateful for all those who have supported me along my journey so far - both at home and here in the Philippines. 

Elliot painting a mural with the children
Elliot in Phillipines with mangos!
AMA Elliot with children in the Philippines.

Liz Clayton

(Liz is a native of Florida and graduated from Florida State University). 

I came to Worcester knowing only a handful of Spanish vocabulary: about the same speaking level as the  average 5 year old who watches Dora the Explorer. After nine months in Worcester I have only learned the word for shark: tiburón. So I was a little unsure that I would be able to teach a class of ESL. But since I wasn’t asked to teach a class of ESL until five minutes before that class began, I didn’t have too much time to be worried about it. I walked in, set my things on the desk, flipped through the book and asked the students uncertainly, “So, do you want to start with the vocabulary?”. With pens in hand ready to take notes they just said, “You’re the teacher.” I was completely intimidated. I wanted to correct them: I am not a teacher. I haven’t had any training. I don’t know how to teach English, I only know how to speak it!

Afton Caterina

(Afton is a native of Michigan and graduated from St. Mary's University in Notre Dame, IN).  

Serving in Worcester these last two months, I have met so many people that are worthy of at least a one-page reflection in the AMA newsletter; everyone has taught me something, everyone has shown me the face of God in different ways.  It’s really quite a challenge to narrow it down.  In fact, I don’t think I can, so I’ll just tell you about the most recent person I met, if you keep in mind that I get to meet people like this almost every day…   

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Rebecca Ickes

(Rebecca is from a small farm town in Illinois and graduated in May, 2009 from DePaul University.  Her studio art major and interest in kids naturally led her to a year of service at Kids Kabin, a project started by the Assumption Sisters some years ago).

Black and White


While walking around an art show in downtown Gateshead (the town across the Tyne River from Newcastle), I found myself staring at one particular painting longer than others.  The scene was that of a city neighborhood, painted entirely in black and white with children playing various games in the street.  What drew me in was that the children were painted in bright primary colors, completely transforming the dreary cityscape that took up most of the canvas.  Later, as I reflected on my time here, while looking out over Newcastle from the top floor of a flourmill turned art museum, I realized what had caused me to stare at that painting for so long.

Abby Samelak

(Abby comes from North Carolina and garduated in May 2010 from Appalachian State University, where she studied graphic design.  She spent years working at  Y camp near her home, and her skills with kids are certainly coming in handy during her AMA year!)

You Are the Potter


I've officially been living in Newcastle for a little over one week! What a week it's been. The past few days have been spent learning more about the other sites where we can volunteer, working hard at Kids Kabin, meeting new people, figuring out the complex workings of our kitchen (none of us are very skilled in the fine art of cooking), and shopping for food and other essentials. It's been incredibly fun but it will be really nice once we settle into a schedule and a routine. 

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Beth Sheehan

(Beth is a 2006 graduate of Assumption College, where she had a double major in Social Rehabilitation and Philosophy.  She is learning how to handle unexpected challenges gracefully during her year as an AMA.) 

An Experience of Surrender and Trust  

I had always known that doing a year of volunteer service would be a time of challenge and growth.  For me, when I left for England to begin working in L’Arche, a Christian community for developmentally disabled adults, I figured that the greatest challenge of the year would be related to the work I was doing.

Flannery Kearney

(Flannery grew up in Worcester, MA and is a 2010 graduate of the University of Notre Dame.  Her heart for service began long ago and she strives to continue allowing her heart to grow through her experience at L'Arche). 

Tell Me About Yourself 

    In my first week here I had a meeting with the Assistants Coordinator of L’Arche Cork who asked me to tell her about myself. I began with my family, my six brothers and sisters, my parents, my great-grandparents and everyone in between.  I moved on to my hometown, my friends, my schooling, my Irish ancestry, my convictions and my douts. I, Flannery Kearney, arrived at L’Arche with a resume, a profile of the merits I had achieved and the degrees I had earned. Though I can sometimes stumble when trying to relay the most important parts of my life, it was not hard to tell her who I am.

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Brendan Carey

(Brendan is from Weymouth, Ma and graduated in May, 2009 from Stonehill College, where he majored in philosophy and was very involved in peace and justice issues.  He took these interests and a big heart with him when he was sent as an AMA to Mexico City.)

¿Por qué estoy aqui?

Mexico, home to some of the lowest labor standards in Latin America, jails full of people whose only real crime is being poor, transnational corporations that dominate natural resources and workers' lives, is also home to one of the world’s richest men (Carlos Slim), and the 12th largest national economy in the world. Thus, it is easy to see the inequality, injustice, and violence that is the cornerstone of our global economic system. It is also humbling to realize how privileged I am in this very system that I condemn. I have benefited greatly as a middle class American while the vast majority of the world has suffered to support my lifestyle. And because of this, even as I am here in DF attempting to live in solidarity with the people that have been forgotten and left behind by “economic development” and “progress,” there is a gap between them and me that I cannot cross just by being here. 

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