Spring Break for high school students in Florida brings to mind carefree days on the beach or lounging by the pool.
For five Jesuit students this year, however, it meant something much more memorable: A service commitment to those in need in Haiti.
Cooper Urbanski ’15, Nathan Egli ’17, Bo Gwinner ’17, Ethan Dieck ’18, and Ben Ledwon ’18 were among 15 local students affiliated with Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa who took part in a mission trip during their Spring Break in March to assist the Haitian community of St. Suzanne.
“We thought it would be a great experience,” Gwinner said. “And it was.”
Haiti, a small Caribbean nation of about 10 million that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, has a per capita income of less than $2,000. The country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010.
Among many things, the Christ the King mission group helped to distribute food and clothing to the people of St. Suzanne, an inland town with a population of about 20,000, going into the homes of the disabled to deliver needed items. They also built a yam farm on the side of a mountain, and assisted at local schools, medical facilities, and at St. Suzanne Parish.
Despite the destitute conditions, the Jesuit contingent was uplifted by the spirit of the Haitians.
“The people there are a lot more thankful for what they have,” Egli said.
Local children would tag along much of the time – “they followed us everywhere,” Egli said – and at the end of each day, the group played a soccer match against local youths.
“The kids played barefoot – it’s almost like they’re indestructable,” Egli said. “Nothing stops them. They just keep going.”
Egli, who lived for several years in Belgium and speaks French fluently, initially was asked to come on the trip to help with interpreting (French is one of Haiti’s official languages). Egli asked Gwinner if he was interested, and Urbanski, Dieck, and Ledwon committed as well.
As good as it felt to be helping, the group was deeply impacted by the need for more.
“As much as we did, it was sad to see how much needs to be done,” Gwinner said.
Yet the Haitians overwhelmed their guests with grace, hospitality, and generosity despite their poverty.
“Everything they could, they would give to you,” said Gwinner, who celebrated his 16th birthday while on the trip. “They may not have much, but what they do have they cherish so greatly. It’s amazing. It makes you think.”
The Jesuit students from the Haiti trip are eager to be a part of future mission trips, perhaps returning to Haiti next spring with Christ the King and/or participating in one of the annual service immersion experiences arranged by Jesuit.
In recent years Jesuit groups have been taking summer trips to Appalachia, South Dakota, and Nicaragua. Additionally, numerous Jesuit clubs and individual students serve those in need throughout the Tampa Bay area year-round.
Please see photos below from the Haiti mission trip:
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