For one week in March, 12 Jaspers had the opportunity to blaze new grounds by taking part in Manhattan College’s first Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience (L.O.V.E.) trip to El Salvador.
Working with the service-immersion program Project FIAT (Faith In Action Together), the students were able to lend hand and heart to many causes in an underserved rural village and urban community.
One of the group’s first tasks was to help a local contingent of Engineers Without Borders dig a trench in the poor, rural village of Las Delicias, where a pipe would bring clean water to nearly 400 families.
“It was a very physically and emotionally demanding environment there. You saw people literally changing throughout the week, learning and growing,” says John Moran ’15, a CIS and business analytics major. “And you learn what you’re capable of when you’re there.”
Foundations of Friendship
In nearby Ciudad Arce, the group volunteered at a school, mixing concrete and laying the brick foundation for a new classroom. During breaks, the L.O.V.E. students played pickup games of soccer and basketball with the children.
Despite the heat and strenuous working conditions, new friendships trumped any discomfort. Kayli McTague ’17, an English and French major, says she still thinks about the people she met in El Salvador each day — from Fernando, a 14-year-old quadriplegic, and his family, to Romi, a college student who was orphaned at a young age and raised by abusive relatives.
You go on these service trips thinking you’re going to help other people, and you inevitably end up getting so much more than you’re able to give.
“I’ve never been more aware of how connected I am to people in general,” says McTague, who helped organize a birthday party for Romi — the first and only one she’s had in 24 years. “You go on these service trips thinking you’re going to help other people, and you inevitably end up getting so much more than you’re able to give.”
The group also visited Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), the site where six Jesuit priests were killed for speaking out against the government, and watched a documentary on the life and work of Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero, who spoke out against poverty and social injustice before being assassinated in 1980. His martyrdom has prompted the Catholic Church to consider canonization.
In addition to visiting an orphanage and serving lunch to the village children and elderly, the group had the opportunity to spend some time in the classroom teaching English to students.
Returning with Renewed Purpose
Moran, who plans to enter the business world after graduation, says the L.O.V.E. experience has broadened his worldview and made him aware of the issues facing people in other countries.
“You’re a totally different person from the day you land to the minute you leave to get back on the airplane,” he says, excited to lead next spring’s return trip to El Salvador.
McTague says since being back on campus, she’s more aware of water conservation and more appreciative of her own education, having met many girls in the poor communities who dream of becoming doctors, architects and lawyers.
“I think it’s really amazing the dedication that people here at Manhattan College have to education, and to the belief that education is the cure to every issue that exists in the world,” says McTague, who was inspired to serve as a Catholic Relief Services Campus Ambassador this coming fall. “I’ve never been around so many people that I share this ideal with than in the Lasallian community.”