Senior Service Project Trip a Learning Experience for All Involved

Julian Garcia, Staff Reporter

It’s been several weeks since seniors returned from their annual senior service projects, but the lessons learned remain. Sixty students chose to make the trip to San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala where they lived in a convent among Caramelite nuns for the eight days they stayed in the country. From building chicken coops, to laying concrete and bricks, students say they now have a better grasp on what’s important in life from the people of Guatemala.

“There was never a moment when I thought ‘is this even worth it,’ because I knew that my actions were directly alleviating people’s poverty,” Gabriel Guerra-York said.

Rockhurst boys were able to immerse themselves in the culture of rural Guatemala by eating the traditional food of the region, prepared by the sisters. These mendicant nuns provide basic necessities such as clothing to their community and give service groups sanctuary while they stay in their town.

“I really felt that I had adapted to the unfamiliar environment and started embracing the people of Guatemala on a personal level,” Henry Wilkerson said while talking about his experience as part of a panel held during Mission Week. “I was inspired by [the nun’s] consistency in which they worked and the pure joy they found in assisting others.”

The houses of local townspeople, often with packed-dirt floors, were scattered throughout the steeply-sloped streets of San Andrés. This forced students to experience firsthand, the daily lives of construction workers who carry tools and materials on foot to worksites miles away.

“The people of Guatemala [are] extremely good hearted; in San Andrés, almost everyone we encountered greeted us with a smile. They’re honest, hardworking people who cherish their families,” Christian Gale said.

The abject poverty many people in Guatemala experience is very much a state of being that doesn’t affect their outlook on life, as seniors saw. The resilience and strength of the locals is inspiring and made many seniors reevaluate the way they view the privileges they have in the United States, such as simply choosing what they want to do for work.

Teachers alike learned a lot of valuable lessons from the people of San Andrés.

“We are all human. We all experience the same things. [This experience] has…taught me to be still, be calm.” Spanish teacher and Assistant Director of the Hurtado Scholars Program Vanessa Wiegman said.

Not only did seniors have the opportunity to work in solidarity with those in need while in San Andrés and surrounding towns, but they also enjoyed the beautifully picturesque views Guatemala has to offer. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, students even hiked to the town cemetery to watch the sunrise above the colorful houses that paint the landscape. On their final day in the country, students drove two hours to Lake Atitlan and took a boat around the towns surrounding what has been called one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

While the natural beauty of Guatemala was a highlight of the trip, students say the work they did not only helps local families, but leaves lasting impacts on themselves. They say this eye-opening experience showed them that in a society that often places the value of material possessions over people, it is more important to go against the grain and serve those in need.


Related: Senior Guatemala Trip Proves Unforgettable