Students take a break to serve others

Reeny Heard

This winter break, when you’re skiing down the snowy slopes out west, think of South Africa. When you are sunbathing on the warm beaches down south, think of Vietnam. When you are spending time with the family and friends that you have not seen all semester, think of the 22 Villanova students who will be giving their time to help strangers they have never met.

This semester, the Campus Ministry program has organized two winter break service trips to South Africa and Vietnam. While this is the fifth group of students to go to South Africa from Villanova, the Vietnam trip is a pilot program.

The South Africa trip was started at the request of two former Villanova students and Noreen Cameron, the head of service break trips in Campus Ministry. They were responding to the fact that many students on campus do not know what apartheid is.

“We are missing out on part of our history that can teach us what we do not want,” says Cameron. “We have to see what hatred is, so we can recognize goodness.”

The purpose of the South Africa trip, like all the service break trips, is to have a cultural exchange in which students from the University can learn about the lives of those who truly suffer by living in solidarity with those people. By doing service and learning from the people they meet, students can return to Villanova, and use the experiences they had to become advocates and a voice for change.

“We need to come in touch with the untouchables,” says Cameron. “We can’t ignore these people on the fringe. We have to bring them into the light.”

The service break trip program is founded on three major goals: to be people of service and recognize the needs of others, to be a community of people and recognize the different types of people in the world and to do the spiritual work of God.

While these are the main hopes of the Campus Ministry program and Cameron, every trip is different and every student going on a trip has his or her own goals in mind and reasons for going.

“I want to see a nation that has optimism about its future, optimism about its country,” said senior Jeffrey Maurone who is going on the trip to South Africa. “I want to see the hope of a people that were once oppressed and now have opportunity.”

The Vietnam trip was proposed to Cameron by senior Kathleen Krackenberger, who spent spring of 2004 studying abroad in Vietnam. One of the hopes for this trip is that students will meet and have a cultural exchange with the people of Vietnam in order to work towards ending any hatred people in our country could have for the Vietnamese people as a result of the Vietnam War. Cameron is concerned that citizens of this country take war personally, and they begin to hate all people from the enemy country.

“They are people,” Cameron says of the Vietnamese. “We need to recognize this and learn to love and be engaged with Vietnamese.”

The work that is done on the service break trips varies from trip to trip.

For the South Africa trip, the students are working with an organization called OMG Tours, which links together local missions in Africa with the global Christian community. Though the students do not know the exact work they will do yet, it is considered a Habitat for Humanity trip, which means they will most likely be building houses for impoverished families.

The group going to Vietnam will be working with an organization called Peacework, and the work they do in Vietnam will be to build a school. The funds for this school came from three $5,000 contributions from three different sources: Villanova and Villanova students, the YMCA of Vietnam and Peacework. The construction of the school will have been started before the students arrive in Vietnam, and the students will complete the work and be present for the dedication of the school.

Mission and habitat trips at Villanova do not begin with the actual trip. There is much preparation in the months leading up to departure to insure that they are successful. For most service trips, this means a weekly group meeting to do icebreakers and work on group dynamics as well as to discuss the logistics of the trips and the realities the students will be faced with while doing their service work.

For the two winter trips this preparation is even more extensive, as they have been working together since the meetings started for fall service trips, but they do not leave until January. The South Africa trip often has more than one meeting a week to learn about the conditions in South Africa, to understand the history of apartheid and to get to know each other.

For both the South Africa and the Vietnam trip, fundraising is a frequent topic of discussion at these meetings. Both trips have been doing extensive fundraisers including trying to obtain sponsorships from car dealerships, selling tickets to promote bands at local bars. The South Africa trip was responsible for selling t-shirts and refreshments at the Desmond Tutu lecture. Future fundraisers include the selling of tin angels to be distributed during the holiday season. With the flight to South Africa costing $1,600 a ticket, these trips are not cheap.

All of this work and fundraising might make one wonder whether it would be more productive to just donate the money that the students would spend on such trip necessities as airfare, meals, and accommodations. For the students, Campus Ministry and the people they serve, the trip itself is worth it.

“We are planting seeds,” said Cameron. “It is an exponential kind of thing.”

Her hope, and the hope of all involved, is that students will return to campus and put into action what they learned on these trips. These trips are changing the way students go out into the world and the way they live their lives.

As a result of the service break trip program, 288 students went on 18 trips this fall and 22 more will go this winter. These students then return and can become better citizens of the world. They have experienced something entirely unique, and they are able to look at the world with opened eyes.