The students and advisers flew to the small orphanage Casa Hogar Jaun Pablo II, in LurÍn, Peru outside of the city of Lima on March 19. Casa Hogar is home to at-risk children up to the age of 17. The children leave the orphanage with education, enriched faith, and strength to overcome struggle.
The Grace J. Palmisano Center for Campus Ministry organized seven service-learning experiences for spring break. About 88 people, including students, student-leaders, faculty and staff took part. The teams went to Lima; San Diego, Calif.; Camden, N.J.; Baltimore; New Orleans, and two sites in West Virginia, including Almost Heaven Habitat for Humanity and the Clifford M. Lewis, S.J. Appalachian Institute run by Wheeling Jesuit University.
The Merrimack team that journeyed to Peru repainted a monument dedicated to the Casa Hogar founder Padre José Walijewski. Heavy buckets of paint were carried up many stairs to the top of the hill during the very warm and dusty days. The team divided up to paint different parts of the monument, as a lot of sections needed repainting. They stayed upbeat in order to complete this service project.
“What made it really special was that it was Holy Week when we went, right before Easter, and many community members go to the monument during this time so us fixing it up was much appreciated,” said Amy Byrne ’16, one of the student leaders of the trip.
When they weren’t working on the service project, the Merrimack team went to Mass with the children every morning at 6 and played with them when they got back from school. The children enjoyed spending time dancing, listening to music, and playing soccer. The team also spent time with the maestros, or teachers in Spanish, who acted as the children’s host parents. Two nights during the week they were invited into the maestros’ homes for dinner. They were able to get to know the maestros and ask them questions about their lives. The group shared nourishing meals of chicken, fish, bread, rice and vegetables.
“From the culture alone I learned how insignificant language barriers actually are. There are so many others ways to communicate, especially with children,” Byrne said. “I also learned how insignificant money is in finding happiness. So many people I met were bursting with joy and gratitude and they had none of the excesses we have here.”
Merrimack’s tradition of alternative spring breaks grew from a modest beginning. A group of motivated students banded together to travel by bus to West Virginia offering help to those in need nearly 50 years ago. Since then it’s evolved and educational components added.
The service learning trips are built on the four pillars of service, community, simple living, and social justice.