Each year, Saint Xavier University (SXU) offers its students a chance to make a difference and help pay-it-forward to underprivileged communities in Belize, Central America. The International Mercy Service Trip offers students the opportunity to experience a new culture while building a house for a family in need.
This past May, 11 students, one Sister of Mercy, one faculty member and one director for Mission Integration and Mercy Heritage traveled to Belize for learning and service. The group of volunteers consisted of the following:
- Lena Barbor, senior, nursing;
- Teresa Bria, senior, sociology;
- Lisette Carrera, freshman, biology;
- Christopher Esparza, sophomore, nursing;
- Albey Mathew, senior, nursing;
- Eric Smith, senior, nursing;
- Brianna Stuckey, junior, nursing;
- Julie Tinley, senior, psychology;
- Marc Tan, senior, nursing;
- Megan Lavelle, senior, nursing;
- Andrea Valenzuela, freshman, chemistry;
- Sister Jacquie Dewar, Sister of Mercy;
- Jeff Tangel, adjunct instructor of Environmental and Sustainability Studies
- Andrea Stapleton, director for Mission Integration and Mercy Heritage;
The group worked with Hand in Hand Ministries, which provides services like housing, education and healthcare to people afflicted by poverty. They worked to build a 16×16 home for a family of five; parents Freddy and Niomie and their three children, Guadalupe, Carla and Freddy Jr. SXU’s team of volunteers finished the house in record time of only three days! To continue their charitable efforts, the group then assisted Hand in Hand in constructing their new building, which will house their administrative offices, their outreach program and serve as a hurricane shelter for the poor neighborhood around it.
Also, the volunteers got to spend time at the Outreach Center, which provides day care, educational services, and health care to children and their families who suffer from poverty and poverty-related diseases. During their trip, the group learned a great deal about the education system, the health care system, and the challenges faced by people living in poverty.
“Service and immersion trips such as the Belize trip offer students an opportunity to expand their worldview in many ways,” said Andrea Stapleton, director of Mission Integration and Mercy Heritage. “They recognize the impact of social and political systems, of global economics, and thus come to recognize systems of dependence and the meaning of subsidiarity. They see and experience the lessons we try to convey about social justice and the significance of faith and joy.”
Additionally, the group enjoyed some time learning about Belizean culture and history, which included a performance by the Garifuna dancers and singers. In addition to the educational experience, SXU students and staff admired the Mayan temples.
The Belize trip helps participants make the association of SXU’s core values – compassion, service, hospitality, excellence, diversity, respect and integrity.
“The students learn not to just be better community members, but are truly transformed by these experiences,” said Stapleton. “They learn about what it means to be part of a global human family; the impact is beyond value. They have changed the lives of a family long term by making a home for them, offering them protection, rest, security and dignity. The students use their own money and they fundraise in order to provide a home to complete strangers. These service immersion trips transform lives, and the impact is too great to measure!”
To learn more about the International Mercy Service Trip, visit the SXU website, keyword: Belize.