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Service in the Valley of Angels

Service in the Valley of Angels

Each summer, Jesuit High School students engage in several service immersion mission trips. One such week-long trip this summer, in July, was to the Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala. There, 15 Jesuit students fulfilled an extraordinary week of service, engaging with and assisting the children, performing manual labor, and much more. Along with chaperones Mr. Connor Smith, S.J. and Spanish teacher Nayvi Hernandez, the Jesuit students were Daniel Alvarado-Borjas ’24, Robert Bogle ’26, Ryan Burriesci ’25, Nicolas Bush ’25, Caal Cisneros ’25, Sean Corrigan ’24, Daniel Dewey ’25, Michael Galvis ’24, Aidan Garrity ’25, Albert Josue Gutierrez Martinez ’25, Marvin Martirez ’24, Sean O'Leary ’25, Oscar Olivera ’25, Eric Santiago Ramirez-Betancur ’24, and Nathan Reich ’24. After returning to Tampa, Olivera wrote about the experience at Valley of the Angels. His story is below, and below that are photos from the mission trip.

By Oscar Olivera '25

This summer, for the first time since 2019, a group of Jesuit students and faculty returned to the Orfanato Valle de Los Angeles, an orphanage outside of Guatemala City, serving at-risk youth by providing them a safe space with schooling, medical and psychological support, and an invitation to follow Jesus. Ultimately, the trip was beneficial for everyone, and there is no doubt that every single one of us will carry the beautiful experience in Guatemala in our hearts for the rest of our lives. 

The orphanage is undoubtedly simple and humble, yet beautiful in its own way, for it represented everything to hundreds of kids, kids who viewed their “hogar” as the only thing keeping them safe from the uncertainty of the outside world. While the children went to school, we did manual labor around campus until 1:30pm. Then we ate lunch with the kids, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening tending to their needs.

In the mornings we labored side by side as brothers, hauling logs onto trucks, painting the parking lot, scraping moss from the drainage canals, piling wood, and transporting thousands of bricks. But the highlight of the trip was the afternoons spent with the children. We helped them with their homework, said prayers together, did chores, but most of all we played games and sports, everything from soccer to finger jousting. Playful and innocent, they reminded me strongly of my own childhood. Then, we ended each night with prayer and deep reflections on everything we were experiencing. 

What was most touching was the kind, generous heart every single child had despite having been through so much. As shared to us by Friar Joaquin, these children had all suffered tremendously. Many were victims of prostitution, rape, and violence. Yet this did not dent their spirit; it was pure and beautiful and friendly to the core. Not once did I see any of them misbehave. They shared all their belongings without thought, despite having so little to themselves. They even surprised us by baking a load of empanadas for us to enjoy as a midday snack.

One day, when given candy (a rare treat for them) they first offered some to us, before sharing it with their friends and eating it themselves. They welcomed us into their home and treated us as friends, regardless of how much they really knew us. They, despite most of them being so young, behaved better than most of us Jesuit students at adoration and Mass. They sat up straight and showed deep reverence for God. During one adoration, each student went to the ambo one by one and said what they were thankful for.

They saw everything as a gift from God and prayed fervently in thanksgiving and then prayed for others who are less fortunate even than they are. They even prayed for us missionaries, for our safe travels and for our families. In many ways, they were the ones who sought us out and changed our lives. Before we left they sent us home with big hugs and small gifts of gratitude.

Our service, however small, made a difference in their lives, but ultimately, they made a difference in our lives, too. This group of poor, humble orphans taught me that social media is not necessary for happiness. They taught me that not even the internet we take for granted is necessary, for they were rarely able to use it. They taught me how to properly live life with joy, to appreciate everything as a gift: education, food, shelter, family, and friendship. Most importantly, they taught me that the value of a person is not measured by appearance, money, or possessions, but by valor, character, and goodness of heart.