Students Show Their L.O.V.E. During Winter Break

Fifty students and 10 chaperones recently set out on five life-altering adventures during the winter intercession with the College’s Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience.

The amount of student interest in Manhattan College’s Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience (L.O.V.E.) has amplified dramatically since the program started in 2007, with close to 400 students participating in programs during the past five years. The program was created to further promote the College’s Lasallian tradition of expanding the pillars of service and social justice by building community, deepening spirituality and experiencing cultural immersion. In fact, 50 students and 10 faculty and staff chaperones recently set out on five life-altering adventures during the winter intercession.

“I think the L.O.V.E. trips are unique because they offer students a chance to jump-start a life that is altruistic rather than self-serving,” says Jenn Edwards ’06, coordinator of social action for the office of campus ministry and social action at Manhattan College. “The trips help students open their eyes to a world that is much bigger than the world they live in. It also helps them to view themselves as conscious global citizens — even if the trip was to New Orleans or San Francisco, the culture is completely unique.”

The L.O.V.E. program is supported completely by student fundraising and donations made by the College community.

“My hopes are that these trips help students to understand where their unique gifts and talents can be utilized in a positive way to meet the needs of the community, the country and the world,” Edwards adds.

Ecuador

Twelve students and two chaperones spent eight days in Ecuador living simply on $2 a day, cooking native meals and sleeping under bug nets. The group partnered with Rostro de Cristo, a Catholic volunteer and retreat program based in Durán, Ecuador, that strives to provide a life-changing experience for young people from the United States to connect with Ecuadorians through their common faith, and collaborate on long-term solutions to end poverty and to improve the lives of the people.

In order to learn more about the culture, Rostro de Cristo organized meetings between the Manhattan group and local neighbors. The group also played with children at after-school programs, visited Chicos de la Calle, a shelter for homeless children and teenage boys, and met with patients at Damien House, a hospital for people affected by Hansen’s Disease (leprosy).

“It is not possible to, in a sentence, describe the impact that the poorest of the poor children, as well as adults, had on my life. They taught me what it means to be truly happy, and helped us all see what is really important in life  relationships,” says Michael DiDonato, a senior chemical engineering major.

To learn more about their experience in Ecuador, view the YouTube video.

Namibia

Seven students ventured to Windhoek, Namibia, in January to work for the Bernhard Nordkamp Centre (BNC), an after-school program that offers academic enrichment and support, as well as athletic, cultural, social and craft activities, as a way to help children thrive in the classroom and combat the effects of poverty.

“It always made me feel so proud of my [fourth-graders] when the children would smile at us, and keep thanking us for being there,” says Tegan Nelson, a sophomore international studies and Spanish major. “It showed me that even though I cannot change the world, I can change a single person, and that is OK with me.”

“The most enjoyable part of the trip was easily the kids, and we spent many hours with them playing chess and foursquare and reading,” agrees Michael Sullivan, the L.O.V.E. Namibia student leader and a senior chemical engineering major.

Chaperone Daniel Collins, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director for the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, adds that he was impressed with the students for working hard to raise the money and remaining lighthearted and warm to each other.

“I probably learned more about what it means to be part of a Lasallian community on this trip than through any other experience at Manhattan College,” he says.  

To learn more about their experience in Namibia, view the YouTube video.

New Orleans

The New Orleans group teamed up with the faith-based community development organization Project Homecoming to complete the finishing touches on a newly constructed house for a family who lost their home in Hurricane Katrina. The 12 Manhattan students and one chaperone split their time between installing siding

on the house, and prepping and installing floor tile.

“By the last day on Friday, we wanted to do as much as possible because each house that gets finished means that the city is one step closer to being able to erase the disaster that was Katrina,” says Russ Stevens ’06, a third-year L.O.V.E. New Orleans chaperone and assistant director of admissions and financial aid. “It is that type of attitude that washes over you when you are in New Orleans.”

When the team of Manhattan students was not assisting in building the house, they pitched in on chores at the house where they stayed and visited areas of the city devastated by Katrina.

Zachary Zerio, a sophomore communication major, explains how Isabell, a New Orleans native and one of the site managers for the group, broke down on the students’ last day and said, “You could have chosen to be anywhere on your break…but you came here.”

To learn more about their experience in New Orleans, view the YouTube video.

Rwanda

The Rwanda L.O.V.E. trip was motivated by Alain Rwabukamba, a 1994 genocide survivor and senior electrical engineering major, and his idea to organize a student service trip to his homeland. The group of nine students and three chaperones departed on Dec. 30 for Rwanda.

The Manhattan College group spent its first week witnessing the history and culture of Rwanda by visiting various genocide memorials, including the Kigali Genocide Memorial built on the site of more than 250,000 graves, and Nyamata Catholic Church. The Nyamata Catholic Church is a place many ethnic Tutsis thought they could take refuge and militia would not enter a place of worship, and this resulted in the death of 10,000 people.

“Every so often when we were walking or driving somewhere, it would occur to me that where we were, only in my own lifetime, there were bodies here, all over here, everywhere,” says Lois Harr, director of campus ministry and social action and adjunct instructor of religious studies. “When I went to the Genocide Memorial, I stood off by myself and sobbed like someone I knew died.”

The group also learned about a project to teach genocide widows to farm sweet potatoes, organized by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, which has had a presence in Rwanda for more than 50 years.

The second week, the group volunteered at the Duha Complex School and Hameau des Jeunes orphanage organized through Rwanda Education Assistance Project (REAP). REAP was started in 2008 by Ed Ballen, Rwabukamba’s mentor and American father, with the mission of empowering the Duha Complex School to become a model rural public school that can be replicated throughout Rwanda.  

While there, the students were assigned tasks related to their majors  from playing with children and using rice bags to create word and number posters, to fixing bookcases, desks, and removing broken glass from window panes. A few students also demonstrated a water filtration unit designed by Manhattan chemical engineering students and cleaned the village’s well to help improve the quality of the water.

Rwabukamba explained how spending time with the children in the orphanage and school was eye opening for his fellow classmates. “They never imagined a life without both parents,” says Rwabukamba. “They witnessed it and tried to experience how others feel in terms of reflection and it was tough to talk about.”

To learn more about their experience in Rwanda, view the YouTube video.

Read a poem written by a Rwanda L.O.V.E. participant reflecting on her experiences 

San Francisco

From Jan. 7-15, a group of 10 Manhattan College students and two chaperones headed west to San Francisco to make a difference in the local community. Students worked with the St. Anthony Foundation, St. Vincent de Paul Society and De Marillac Academy, volunteering at a soup kitchen and a wellness center for the homeless and tutoring children in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.

“I visited San Francisco a few years ago and saw the dire need of the homeless, and I am so honored that I was able to bring my peers with me to do such service,” says Christopher Rizzo, the student leader and a senior marketing/management major. “The trip has changed the way I look at those in need forever.”

Rizzo mentioned how interacting with the homeless community and hearing about the struggles they face was an eye-opening experience for the group.

To learn more about their experience in San Francisco, view the YouTube video.