Sophomore see caritas in action: fall break provides service opportunities



Tara Powers

Over the week of Oct. 14, hundreds of Villanova students and faculty gave up the relaxation that fall break brought to the rest of the Villanova community.

Instead, they volunteered to be living examples of the caritas that is part of the University’s mission by participating in one of 23 service break experiences sponsored by Campus Ministry.

For fall 2007, teams were sent to 10 Habitat for Humanity sites and 13 Mission Service Experiences, with a total of over 300 volunteers.

Sophomore Elizabeth Awalt went on a Mission Service Experience to Cuirim House in Nogales, Mexico, a city near the Arizona/Mexico border. Curirim House, which was founded four years ago, is a residence for volunteers who come to the city.

Volunteers work in the community, mainly with Kids Café, which provides free meals for local children three times a week.

When describing her first impressions, Awalt was blunt.

“I was in culture shock,” she said.

Cuirim House has no indoor plumbing, so volunteers had to manually flush toilet facilities with buckets of water. Dishes had to be done by hand, and showering was not recommended because of the short water supply. There were also no paved roads, making the atmosphere extremely dusty. The residence had electricity but no heating, even though temperatures could go down to 40 degrees at night in the desert.

“It was a way to live in solidarity with the poor,” Awalt said. “I’m not going to lie – it was hard, but it was well worth it.”

A typical day at Cuirim House started early – breakfast was at 7 a.m., followed by an hour of Bible study at 8 a.m.

Volunteers then worked at Kids Café for several hours, followed by lunch and a traditional siesta, or nap. A half hour of afternoon prayer was followed by several more hours at Kids Café. The day also included nighttime prayer and reflection after dinner.

Awalt did make sure to note that volunteers also had time for bonding – most stayed up after reflection to talk and play games.

“It was neat to apply the lessons we learned to our service,” Awalt said of the Bible study and prayer. “We talked a lot about who Jesus is and how to be a good disciple of Jesus and of God, as well as loving your neighbor as yourself – your Mexican neighbor.”

The volunteers also spent time painting, building a wall in the city and playing soccer and basketball with children from the area.

“It was little things that mattered,” Awalt said, referring to the hand-made bracelets the volunteers gave out to the children. “It wasn’t a materialistic advantage we gave them, but we could tell it was long-term in that they’d remember it forever.”

She also described several excursions the group took that opened her eyes to immigration and its complications.

On Oct. 17, the volunteers made sandwiches and passed them out at an immigration center. There, an organization named Grupo Beta provides aid to people trying to cross the border or who have been deported from the United States by helping them contact their families or find transportation home.

“We got to talk to a lot of immigrants and hear their stories, which was mind-blowing,” Awalt said. “There was one guy who had lived in the U.S. for 10 years.  His wife had a visa, but he didn’t, so he was deported.”

Awalt also described the man’s options now. He could try to cross the desert illegally, risking death on the journey or two years in jail if he returns to the United States and gets caught. Or he could wait 20 years in Mexico without seeing his family to try to cross the border again legally. Yet the man was not worried, having utter confidence that God would get him through.

“Hearing that made me realize that I have no problems in my life whatsoever,” Awalt said.

Although the representatives from Grupo Beta were pessimistic about the conditions surrounding illegal immigration in Mexico, Awalt hoped that their belief that the situation there would never change were not quite right.

For her, the way in which the Mexican people were living was eye-opening.

“The people were so full of faith and love,” Awalt said. “It was awesome to see the joy and happiness these people had. I realize how blessed we are to have everything we have.”