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Being an AMA also sheds light on career options

B eventFriday, 12 August 2022

Eugénie Sentucq is 27 years old, she is currently an engineer-architect and works in London. French, she went to Ecuador as an AMA in 2015 and has returned several times since. This experience has profoundly transformed her personal and professional life.

I decided to go as an AMA in 2015. I had just lost two very close friends, Mathilde through illness and Maxime by an accident after a night of drinking. I was 20 years old; I had succeeded in everything up to that point and had just been granted a place at a school of engineering and architecture in Paris. I had never imagined that I would experience such a loss. However, I had always felt that there was an anxiety in my heart that was lying dormant, but I had always managed to quell it through my multiple activities and my insatiable quest to understand, learn and meet people. Born into a Catholic family in Bordeaux, I heard about AMA through friends. After a weekend of immersion with the sisters in Orleans and a few days of preparation, I left for Ecuador, in search of meaning, in search of life.

When I arrived in Guayaquil, I began by helping the catechists at the Assumption College. But Mother Gina soon understood that I wanted something else, and she arranged a meeting with the director of the Jesuit NGO Hogar de Cristo in the slums of Guayaquil. I was then ‘hired’ to design low-cost bamboo houses for the slum dwellers. I can now say with certainty that my professional vocation came from this experience.

During those months, I walked the streets of Monte Sinai, inspecting houses, meeting families who lived in unbelievable poverty. How could anyone live in a house with cardboard walls and a septic tank in the middle of the living room? Drugs, especially heroin, are the scourge of these neighbourhoods; I saw lost children, barely 12 years-old, with empty eyes, slumped along the walls in the streets. How can you allow drugs to steal your consciousness in this way? I was deeply touched by all these encounters.

During my mission, life in the Assumption community did me a lot of good. I appreciated very much the setting offered by the rhythm of prayers together, giving a kind of sweetness to the hardness of my days. I remember so many moments of sharing; this communion which continues today does me a lot of good.

At the end of my mission, I returned to France to continue my studies in architecture and I knew that one day I would return to Guayaquil to help. At that moment, I promised myself never to get used to poverty, never to get used to these differences, to always get up and look for ways to do good in the world.

Two years later, in 2017, I went to Bristol as part of the Erasmus programme. I started writing my dissertation, which I wanted to be focused on a topic that could improve the living conditions of the slum dwellers in Guayaquil. I was fascinated by the diversity of building systems associated with Guadua bamboo - a species of bamboo endemic to equatorial regions that has extraordinary physical properties. So, I focused my research on bamboo and discovered that bamboo had a chemical property which, when in contact with lime, allowed the silica in its cells to form a cement-like product with remarkable binding properties. Making concrete out of bamboo! Isn’t that wonderful?

After submitting my dissertation, I went back to Ecuador last year to experiment with this “bamboo concrete”. I went back to “my sisters” in Guayaquil and to my little room.

I accompanied them on their various missions at the weekend and on weekday evenings in their prayer groups. I especially love washing up! The rest of the time I was making bamboo concrete mixes. At the end of my stay, we were able to compare 20 cinder blocks of different bamboo concretes. Padre Vega was delighted with the results, the NGO had never heard of the possibility of making concrete without industrial cement, it was a great adventure.

I now work in London in a small design office, learning and digging, calculating and trying to unravel the mysteries of materials.

These experiences have made me aware of being alive, and that my role is to welcome this life, not to undergo it, because - as Zundel says - in my hands all of creation has been entrusted to me, and I have to give it this dimension of love without which it means nothing.

Nowadays, I sometimes have difficulty with ecclesiastic institutions. If I am disturbed by disagreements, I keep in mind that the Church named the Gospel ‘the good news’ meaning the discovery of life as a treasure entrusted to me. I want to give my life a dimension of love to give it meaning. Jesus Christ could well be the person who understood everything and who came to tell us so. I understand the Holy Spirit more as the breath of my life that connects me to those with whom I am in communion, and I feel it in my heart.

Eugénie SENTUCQ

AMA Province of France