If you lived in a city with a trash problem, wouldn’t you look up to people like Maria Zelaya and Lucia Mamani, who scour the streets for items we can re-use? Not in Cochabamba. In this Bolivian city high in the mountains, the ‘thawisas’ are distrusted for working all day long, sorting through trash they can sell for their families.
“Some neighbors disapprove of them because they are not as clean as some people would like them to be,” Sister Judith Esmenda said of the trash collectors. People right in Cochabamba say the thawis are not to be trusted because of their “unstable” backgrounds. The thawis are poor, their work is irregular, and some have problems with alcohol and drugs.
That matters little to Sister “Joy,” as the thawis like to call her. “They are my friends, and I will always relate with them as my friends,” she said. “Hopefully, society will also see them as friends.”
Sister Judith was inspired to become a missioner on a business trip to Korea, after meeting Maryknoll sisters who were promoting the human rights of women working in factories.
Born in Manila, the Philippines, and a graduate of the Philippine School of Interior Design, Sister Judith worked as a showroom manager and sales designer before entering Maryknoll in 1996. She was assigned to Bolivia several years later, in 1999. In Santa Cruz, she did pastoral work with women, also teaching them arts and crafts. Her priority with the youth was leadership training, and they helped in the ministry with children.
Then, while on a visit home to the Philippines, Sister Judith began to realize that the struggles of the Bolivian women were very similar to her own and to those faced by other Filipino women she knew. “This was a call for me to continue accompanying women, seeking the reign of God through the recognition of our gifts as God’s creation, committed to justice and peace,” she said.
For four years, Sister Judith, was on the staff of the Centro Misionero Mayrknoll en America Latina in Cochabamba. Their shared vision is to become a leading center in the process of missionary formation, committed to God’s reign through intercultural dialogue in and from Latin America for the world. She worked in the Latin American Office in Service to Mission, one of the three components of the Center. With the team, she helped create an atmosphere of community, facilitating an exchange of the richness of the different cultures of the participants. With her gifts and talents, she helped prepare various courses offered at the Center, and also in the barrios, parishes and religious communities.
In 2015, Sister Joy was assigned to the Maryknoll Sisters Retirement House in California as Coordinator.