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Tenacity in action

by Anndria Flores (B.A. ’12, M.A. ’16)

Terrill Kucera is not your ordinary educator.

Terrill Kucera works for Catholic Relief Services as an education program manager in Bamyan, Afghanistan.

The well-traveled alumnus has worked abroad with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for most of the last decade. His current passion is learning a fifth language, Dari, so he can build meaningful relationships working with Catholic Relief Services as an education program manager in Bamyan, a town in rural, mountainous Afghanistan.

“I see language as my foothold to getting to know people. You can know everything, but if you can’t communicate well or build relationships, your expertise doesn’t really mean anything,” said Kucera (M.A. ’16).

Incongruent with his remote location, he uses technology to coordinate meetings with local staff members, who are experts on education and the local environment, to check the progress of educational activities facilitated by Catholic Relief Services. He makes field visits when possible to new and existing community-based schools in areas so remote and dangerous that not even the local government can reach many of them.

“It’s a challenging environment. Even though we work to start community-based schools in some areas that are contested between local armed groups and the government, Catholic Relief Services abides by core humanitarian principles and remain neutral, impartial and independent.”

It’s a long way from his days as a St. Mary’s University International Relations graduate student, just a few years ago.

Kucera oversees an $8 million budget funding schools and educational programs, such as an accelerated learning program for girls who previously were prohibited by the Taliban from going to school. The goal is to eventually turn the classes over to the government to support and to strengthen the capacity of local teachers so the Afghanistan Ministry of Education sees them as viable options.

GIVING BACK GLOBALLY

Prior to working in Bamyan, Kucera held a 10-month fellowship with Catholic Relief Services in Madagascar after earning his master’s degree from St. Mary’s — a fellowship opportunity recommended by Professor of Political Science Larry Hufford, Ph.D.

Wanting to take what he learned at St. Mary’s into the world, Kucera found time during the Madagascar fellowship to write a proposal for a grant. He was awarded $50,000 to start a youth entrepreneurship program to develop sustainable local businesses.

“I didn’t want a degree to just get a better job so I could get paid more money,” Kucera said. “I wanted something that was going to enable me to help people, promote the common good and stewardship. All of these values I saw at St. Mary’s.”

“I didn’t want a degree to just get a better job so I could get paid more money. I wanted something that was going to enable me to help people, promote the common good and stewardship. All of these values I saw at St. Mary’s.”

Likewise, Hufford saw in Kucera a student with real-world and international experiences. Having those types of students strengthens the St. Mary’s graduate International Relations program, enabling faculty to take them on a transformative journey, Hufford said.

Prior to attending St. Mary’s, Kucera worked for an NGO at an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. When the organization transitioned out of the orphanage, leaving it without funding, Kucera searched for alternative housing solutions for several boys needing just one more year to complete school.

Kucera, far right, celebrates Eduardo Polanco, second from right, one of the boys of whom he became legal guardian, at his high school graduation in 2014 in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. Pictured with Galan Armando Silvestre, left, Gregori Polanco, second from left, and Cesar Ortega, center. Not pictured is Rodinzon Felix.

Kucera knew the boys could continue school if he became their legal guardian. He recalled seeing volunteers visit the orphanage, make false promises to the children and never return.

“I felt like they were selling these kids dreams, and it made me think about what I’ve committed to in my life and how to keep a commitment. I really wanted to be committed to these boys.”

At age 23, Kucera became the legal guardian of five boys: Cesar Ortega, Rodinzon Felix, Galan Armando Silvestre, Gregori Polanco and Eduardo Polanco. His plan to spend one year in the Dominican Republic turned into five.

“It tells you a lot about a person’s soul,” Hufford said. “He’s a young man whose values were those of compassion. That led him to see these five young men and their potential.”

“It tells you a lot about a person’s soul. He’s a young man whose values were those of compassion. That led him to see these five young men and their potential.”

Kucera talks to two of the boys every day and the other three about once a month while in Bamyan. They’re all in different situations, most working full-time jobs in the Dominican Republic. The youngest is 20 and in college.

“My greatest defining moment was taking on those boys. That really led me to think about what’s important to me and to really stick to that — to be tenacious and make sure what I say is what I do.”

“My greatest defining moment was taking on those boys. That really led me to think about what’s important to me and to really stick to that — to be tenacious and make sure what I say is what I do.”

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