During spring break this year, nearly 30 Merrimack students used their education and Augustinian values to help improve the lives of those in need.
This was made possible by the College’s SEND program, which provides students, and staff, service opportunities during spring break. The program returned in 2022 after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when a group of 10 students volunteered at food pantries and schools in Camden, New Jersey.
This year, Merrimack students traveled to Honduras, Greece and South Dakota.
“It was a great bonding experience for the students,” said Antoni Piascik ’24, a mechanical engineering major that organized the Honduras trip. “(The Hondurans) said it means a lot to them for schools to come down and help. I got to talk to each of them quite a bit and they taught us a lot about their country and what they knew. It was a great time to create relationships and I’ve come to love everyone on the trip.”
Once in Honduras, students were tasked with designing the most ecological and cost-effective freshwater system for a remote village of 87 residents. After a full week of land surveying and GPS data collecting, the group was able to draft a master plan to present to local government officials for permits.
“Seeing this is what you can do with your major, for me, it lit a little bit of a spark,” said Harrison Bell ’24, who also went on the Honduras trip. “It showed what I am working towards. There were only 10 students on the trip, but we bonded really well. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Similarly, Itzel Guzman ’24 and Thavary Hay ’24 joined together for the trip to Athens, Greece.
“We were shadowing doctors in a refugee clinic,” said Hay. “These people, whether they were insured or uninsured, were given a discounted price for vaccines and treatment in general (and) they were able to get referrals at no charge, basically. The doctors were able to explain everything that was going on to us and we were able to help these underrepresented communities of people who are already going through a hard time.”
Last year, Guzman helped reinstate Merrimack’s Health Professions Club for students looking to pursue a career in the healthcare field. Hay was chosen as the club’s fundraising chair. Twelve students made the trip to Greece. Hay considered it a vital part of their education as they got to see a more difficult part of the healthcare field that is largely underrepresented.
“Before we went on this trip, I was thinking about doing something in the future (with) Doctors Without Borders,” Guzman continued. “It feels like it would be intriguing for me to do, especially after having this experience. I think it’s something to keep doing.”
Gabby Heroux ’23 took her second SEND trip to South Dakota after heading down to New Jersey last year. She and nine other students built outhouses and bunk beds and chopped firewood for residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“In Pine Ridge, a lot of the people there are living very well below the poverty line,” Heroux explained. “At certain points when it’s really cold during the winter and they run out of firewood, they’ll start taking apart different things in their house that are made out of wood or they’ll start burning clothes. It’s really hard-hitting when you hear those things.”
Heroux said the group formed a strong bond during their excursion which helped them deliver quality service to the people of Pine Ridge.
“The most important part of the trip is the community that you’re helping,” she said. “You’re not going to solve an issue in one week and you’re not going to make this huge remarkable change, but you’re planting a seed that will continue to grow.”