“We do what we can and leave the rest to God.”
Sister Maria Leonor Montiel (Sister Len is to the left in photo) was born in Looc, Romblon, Philippines. She received her B.A. in Communications from Ateneo de Manila University in 1991. Sister Len worked with Vietnamese refugees as a cultural orientation teacher for one year. Following this, she worked in community development at the Womens Desk of the Institute of Social Order in Quezon City, Philippines. During this time she was trying to discern her vocation. A poster of the Maryknoll Sisters in a church caught Len’s attention so she visited them.
“I didn’t feel like a stranger on my first visit. I felt at home,” said Len. So I kept going home to Maryknoll. In 1994 Sister Len entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation.
In 1997, Sister Len was assigned to Cambodia and studied the Khmer language in Arizona. She had good language background already speaking Visayan, Tagalog and English. Sister Len was also chosen to attend the Congress for Young Women and Men Religious in Rome to discuss the shifting landscape of religious life as they headed toward the 21st century. Eight hundred young religious attended from eighty countries. With the challenges shared in this meeting, Sister Len began her travel to Cambodia.
In Cambodia she joined a collaborative team of Maryknoll Sisters, priests, and lay missioners as well as missioners of other countries and groups, all of whom work with highly dedicated Cambodians. Sister Len first lived in Phnom Penh and worked with young people who form more than half the population of Cambodia. She worked with and helped the localization of the Youth Resource Development Program, a Cambodian non-governmental organization which aims to facilitate critical thinking, self-awareness, leadership skills, social consciousness and social responsibility among college students.
In 2002, after making her final vows as a Maryknoll Sister, Sister Len moved to Anglong Kngan a resettlement community of about 3,500 urban poor families whose slum dwellings were gutted by suspicious fire, and they were forcefully relocated by the government. Sister Len, with a team of Cambodians, in collaboration with other organizations and the government, helped build the community. The Maryknoll Anlong Kngan Community Development Project that Sister Len developed with the team, provided assistance in the establishment and running of the public grade and high school, public health clinic, an HIV/AIDS/TB awareness and homecare program. This included income generating projects, scholarships for poor children, a mothers group, mobile health education and a literacy program for children and basically trying to catch those falling in the cracks.
In 2008, Sister Len received her Master’s Degree in Social Work at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Sister Len was quoted in the university bulletin saying. “In places like Cambodia there are very limited social services. We are helping to rebuild communities devastated by poverty, HIV-AIDS, corruption and a recent traumatic history of genocide.”
Sister Len and two other social work students, Ly Long and Dalin Meng, are part of a new training collaboration between the University of Washington School of Social Work and the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
After her studies, Sister Len returned to Cambodia to collaborate with the Cambodian Social Workers in starting the first School of Social Work at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, and teaches Social Work at the university. She also continues her community development work, helpiing the poor, and works in the Seedling of Hope Project for Adults living with HIV/AIDS.