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Colombia Mission

Colombia Mission

This spring, Jesuit High School's Mission Drive raised more than $10,000 to help children in Colombia gain access to education.

But where exactly did that money go? Who was it helping and how was it helping them? And how could Jesuit and its students learn more about the people those funds were intended to serve?

In July, a contingent of 13 Jesuit students sought to answer those questions and continue their formation as servant leaders by taking a weeklong mission trip to Colombia. Jorge Carranza '20, Sean Clare '18, Nick Connor '18, Brendan Fisher '18, Henry Fleming '19, Alex Garcia '18, Chris Gold '18, Nick Haggar '19, Andrew Hanna '18, Sergio Ruiz '18, Ryan Stewart '18, Sebastian Torres '18, and Tomas Varon '19 immersed themselves in discovering how they can better serve others, both in South America and back home in Tampa.

 "This was an incredible opportunity for our students," said Jesuit college counselor Peter Baxter, who chaperoned the trip along with Jesuit's assistant principal for discipline, Dr. Angelo Pastore. "Our purpose there was to listen and learn – for our guys to meet some of Colombia's youth social leaders, and to give our students a chance to see themselves as social leaders as well."

In Colombia, they developed a deeper understanding and appreciation of the issues, and in turn became inspired to do more.

"We knew we had raised money for this cause as a school community, but to be able to meet people on the ground in Colombia whose work the money is supporting – people who are leading the tough, daily work of helping children in Colombia receive an education – it was really inspiring for us," Baxter said.

The week-long, service-learning experience was coordinated with the international Jesuit service organization Fe y Alegria, which advocates for children's access to education throughout South America and is a force in the region. Restricted access to education is especially acute in many parts of Colombia due to decades of intense conflict resulting in hundreds of thousands of children displaced throughout the country.

Cartagena, a port city on Colombia's northern Caribbean coast and away from the conflict, served as the base for the Jesuit contingent. Throughout the week the students engaged directly with three other "delegations" – groups of students only a few years older than the Jesuit students – to share experiences and learn how each of the other groups serves their local communities.

The students spent time with local youth leaders from Cartagena as well as with a cohort of young artists and social leaders who joined them from the cities of Santiago de Cali and Buenaventura. Both cities are located in Colombia's western Pacífico region and are home to new Fe y Alegria cultural spaces made possible in part by this year's Jesuit Mission Drive donation.

For the Jesuit students, some of their common daily experiences in Colombia resonated.

"What really stuck with me the most about Colombia was how little was wasted there," Ruiz said. "During every meal, everyone tried their best to not let anything go to waste. Whether it was through eating more than they normally would, or making an effort to share with others, everyone was always grateful for what they had."

In the final days of the trip, the Jesuit students were joined by a group of university students from northeast Spain, with whom Jesuit's Marian Pilgrimage group coincidentally had crossed paths a month earlier in Loyola, Spain.

Together, the delegations explored social issues facing youth in their respective regions, while also spending time in communities around Cartagena to witness the tireless work Fe y Alegria has been doing to promote education and a culture of peace.

The Jesuit group also visited the St. Peter Claver Church.

"We saw his relics, we visited his room where he saw slave ships arriving so he knew when to go out and minister to them," Baxter said. "He is said to have converted over 300,000 people in his lifetime."

For the students, the Colombia mission trip was remarkable.

"It was my first time entering South America, and it was by far one of the most memorable experiences I've had through Jesuit," Ruiz said. "Now that I'm back home, I try my best to apply what I learned and experienced to my own life, to not take anything I have for granted, and to try to expand our influence by helping those in need wherever they are."

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