Program Gives Students Opportunity for Summer Travel, Service

Monday, May 21, 2012

While many students anticipated the arrival of summer as a time to unwind, 48 SJU students were instead anticipating their departure on service trips to Ecuador, Guatemala and New Mexico. The students, selected from a pool of over 100 applicants to this year’s Summer Immersion Programs, attended a Commissioning Mass on the eve of their journeys, which are taking place from May 15th through May 24th.

Students traveling to Ecuador are staying in the town of Durán, where they are working with volunteers from Rostro de Cristo, an organization founded in 1988 by the Archdiocese of Boston. Jason Bartlett, program outreach coordinator for campus ministry, explains that the SJU Immersion Program in Ecuador works to empower local communities to make decisions and changes for themselves. “Throughout their stay in Ecuador, the students participate in after-school programs with local children, visit the elderly and even visit a community suffering from Hansen’s Disease,” said Bartlett.

Those traveling to Guatemala are likely finding their stay much more labor-intensive. “Some days they’ll be painting classrooms; other days they may be pouring concrete,” said Bartlett, who is also serving as a facilitator for the trip.

In Guatemala, students are finding a unique learning experience in the opportunity to observe the aftermath of the nation’s civil war in the 1980’s. “The students are staying in the town of Tecpán,” said Bartlett. “There, they’ll witness the blurred boundaries between the native indigenous groups of the region as well as the recent influx of city expats, who have returned to the town after the war.”

In New Mexico, students are staying in the town of Tohatchi, home to the Diné, a Native American tribe which is part of the Navajo Nation. Saint Mary’s Mission, which has partnered with Saint Joseph’s, is working to immerse the students in the Diné culture, spirituality and way of life. Despite the economic challenges currently faced by the Navajo Nation, the focus of the trip will not be rooted solely in issues of poverty.

“The students will meet the residents of the Navajo Reservation, hear their stories and learn from their culture,” explained Beth Ford, SJU Campus Minister and a trip facilitator.

“In New Mexico, students will have the opportunity to see what it’s like to live in a nation within a nation, and they’ll see the reality of life on a Native American reservation — not only the social conditions, but also the native spiritual practices of our country,” added Bartlett.

Although each trip will take the students on a unique spiritual experience, they all share the goal of promoting the Ignatian ideals that founded the University. “On this trip, students will get to reflect on their own spiritual journey,” said Ford. “They will see firsthand how they are called to respond with a faith that does justice.”

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