Christine Guerrini

Every year, Villanova students anxiously await the upcoming fall break to be free from schoolwork, residence hall and all the responsibilities of living on their own. While many look forward to going home to good food, a warm bed and a loving family, a small, dedicated group of Villanova students selflessly give up their week of relaxation to participate in Habitat for Humanity service trips and mission trips in various parts of the nation and around the world.

Habitat trips are arranged through Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization whose mission is to build homes for God’s people in need of adequate housing, according to the Campus Ministry Web site. Most Habitat groups travel to different cities within the United States and work on the construction of homes for those with low incomes.

However, Habitat for Humanity does not simply give away homes. The organization requires the recipients of the home to put in several hundred hours, or “sweat equity,” in which they actively participate in the building of their own home or other homes. They also pay a mortgage, though it is only the actual cost of the house and land, so it is substantially less than what would normally be charged.

Mission trips, however, perform many different tasks depending on the needs of the area. Some trips perform tutoring, visiting the elderly, teaching English, working at AIDS hospices, repairing homes and interacting with the community, according to the Campus Ministrys Web site.

Most of Villanova’s mission trips take place in countries outside of the United States, making the whole experience unique for most students, who must adjust to a completely different culture and way of life. These trips provide a unique opportunity to live with and understand a people completely different from those at Villanova.

Both Habitat and mission trips include time for reflection on the conditions of the area and the blessings that most Villanova students have in comparison to many people in the world. While expanding their cultural horizons, most students who attend one of these trips also find that they expand their circle of friends, as participants become extremely close and continue to stay good friends after their trips.

This year, students went to several locations on Habitat trips, including Almost Heaven, W.Va.; East Cooper, S.C.; Arkansas Valley, Ark.; Slidell, La.; El Paso, Texas; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Sea Island, S.C.; Brunswick, Ga.; Mobile, Ala.; and Eagle Butte, S.D. The residence of these areas are poverty-stricken and in need of a hand to improve their housing situations. However, Slidell, La., is still in the midst of recovering from Hurricane Katrina, showing just how devastated that area is over a year later.

This year’s mission trips traveled all over the world to places like Diego/Tijuana, Mexico; Costa Rica; Nicaragua; Chulucanas, Peru; Tohatchi, N.M. (a Navajo Indian reservation); Honduras; Guatemala; Rostro de Cristo, Ecuador; and the Texas-Mexico border region.

Most students who attended Habitat or mission trips this October break said they were deeply satisfied with the experiences they had, such as learning about new cultures, learning about building and construction and learning to appreciate all their blessings. Students can continue living out their Habitat experiences by participating in the Saturday Habitat for Humanity trips to local communities.

Villanova students can read the statistics and look at numbers on a page easily. What they cannot get is the true impact of the service in which their fellow classmates participated. How will a service break trip affect someone’s perception of the world around him or her? How can the work enhance not only others lives, but his or her own?

A few of participants from fall break’s Habitat for Humanity and Campus Ministry mission trips shared their experiences with The Villanovan.

Junior Katrine Herrick traveled with Habitat for Humanity to Waterloo, Iowa. She served as a group leader, overseeing her fellow members as they did construction. A lot of Habitat trips involve building houses or offices for poor or devastated areas.

“Midwestern poverty is much different from poverty here,” Herrick said. “It is much cleaner. The lawns and landscaping are neat … which takes your eyes away from the broken doors and windows, the decomposing siding and roofing.”

While the conditions in Iowa were mostly stable, those in Slidell, La., were still slowly improving.

“One-third of Louisiana just got water [for the first time since Katrina] the Friday before we arrived,” Liz Circe said. “This was weird to think about because we were still in America.”

The Main Line has abundant resources and finely built homes, so it can be easy for Villanova students to forget that this isn’t the case throughout the United States.

Sophomore Grace DeLuna, another Habitat volunteer who traveled to Slidell, shared Liz’s shock.

“Going to New Orleans and seeing the magnitude of the destruction … so many people were affected by the tragedy,” she said. “[It] made me realize how huge of an impact Hurricane Katrina really had. I did not understand how big this situation was living in the North until I actually saw it.”

Each Habitat trip raised the students’ awareness within the smaller scope of the country.

On a broader scale, mission trips brought their services outside of the United States. Sophomore Heidi Krump traveled to Chulucanas, Peru.

In addition to some manual labor, Krump also had the opportunity to play and talk with the children of the town, as well as visit the sick and elderly.

“This was an intense and impacting experience for all of us: to hear individual stories, to see the serious lack of health care and the humble one-room homes with mud for a floor,” she said.

The culture shock was not one-sided, either.

Many of the Peruvians had never seen a Caucasian person, and some followed the service trip groups down the street or popped out doors to say “hello.”

Krump shared their sense of awe, marveling at “the simplicity of the city and the hospitality and faith of the people.”

Despite the unpredictable and unfamiliar conditions of each location, whether within the U.S. or not, the work and the progress of each service trip personally satisfied the participants.

“We did flooring, and after every few minutes, you could look at the room and see exactly how much progress was made,” Circe said. “It was so satisfying.”

Service groups became extremely close, bonding over their mission. Herrick’s group in Iowa decided “in order to ‘live in communion’ with those affected, as it was difficult to do a year later, we decided to take only cold showers, not have our cell phones and other little things the last half of the week.” Some groups even began planning a reunion after the second day of the trip.

Krump, however, sums up the overall feeling that service trips wish to accomplish:

“I can personally say, and I’m sure that my group members would agree … I cannot believe that I went somewhere so far away and felt so at home.”

For those students returning from break trips who are looking to continue their service learning capabilities, or for those who did not participate on a service break trip but are looking to start, service learning opportunities are still available across campus.

The Office of Service Learning coordinates with the Office of Internships, the Office of International Studies and faculty to open up new immersion experiences and local opportunities for students to serve locally and around the world.

Through transformation of the typical classroom style of learning into experiential learning, Service Learning challenges its students to become very active in their education.

“Villanova’s love of serving and devotion to knowledge can take the world and transform it,” said Noreen Cameron, creator and director of the Office of Service Learning. “What makes coming to Villanova different is that it is dedicated to using the power of knowledge for the sake of the common good.”

Service learning is coupled with the service break trip program to ensure that there will be opportunities to continue the work and education that students experience on Habitat and mission trips. Service Learning requires that there be reflection, reciprocity and leadership taken on by students regarding issues surrounding under-privileged communities. An example of service learning on campus is the sophomore Service Learning Community in Alumni Hall.

Residents register for a specific ethics class designed to incorporate social justice into the core curriculum.

They also engage in weekly service at one of three local sites and participate in structured reflections to create an understanding surrounding their social work.

“You can break down myths with knowledge,” Cameron said. “One can bring the academic mission of the university to life by finding truth through experience.”