Just a few days after the school year ended, 13 Jesuit High School students took a flight into the unknown, embarking on a new school service immersion mission trip in Guatemala.
They can’t wait to go back.
“When we were leaving Guatemala, they told me they wanted to do it again next year,” said chaperone Laura Coleman, P ’17. “Obviously, it had a big impact. It was amazing.”
Coleman and Carmelo LoSauro ’10 led the 13 students – Cyler Camara ’21, Jamie Cimino ’21, Sage Farhad ’21, Lucas Gobea ’20, Max Gonzalez ’21, Kellan Kirkpatrick McMullen ’21, Gabe Morris ’21, Nick Reifschneider ’21, Mac Revelle ’21, Tanner Sanchez ’20, Nico Smyth ’21, Gio Taylor ’20, and Nicholas Vega ’21 – from June 1-7 on their mission at the Valley of the Angels orphanage/boarding school on the outskirts of Guatemala City.
“Service and friendship” is the second line of the school Alma Mater, and it summarizes the mission week for the Jesuit students.
“We were serving those kids and the local families, but we also were building amazing relationships with all of the kids there,” Coleman said. “They were immediately embracing of us, and when they saw their school logo on our (clothing), they loved it – they knew our hearts were there to be with them.”
Valley of the Angels was founded in 1993 as an orphanage and now serves 200 underprivileged Guatemalan youths as a boarding school. They live there for about 10 months of the year, in a refuge from poverty and other issues, while receiving an educational opportunity.
The Jesuit contingent’s daily service largely consisted of compiling and distributing commodities such as sugar, cornflour, and crackers in the local community to the families of the school’s children (and those of another local Catholic school). While the Valley of the Angels school itself is located in a wealthy oasis of valuable homes on rolling hills behind armed gates, the surrounding neighborhoods were wracked by poverty.
“They live in shacks, they have nothing,” said Coleman, who is the employee benefits coordinator at Jesuit. “But they would invite us in and share whatever little they had, and we would pray with them.
“The people were all love and kindness.”
Each morning the Jesuit students would fan out among the tables in the cafeteria for breakfast, laughing and joking with children they had just met and, for the most part, didn’t share a common language.
“It was the companionship and relationships,” said LoSauro, who teaches and coaches at Jesuit. “Happiness is simple, and you don’t have to speak the same language verbally to connect. Body language and gestures, being present with the kids, sharing with them, unplugging from our phones and our lives to be there for them, providing positive role models. That’s what it was about.”
School was in session at Valley of the Angels, so several days during the week the Jesuit students taught English in the classroom. After lunch each day was play time, which meant competing in and bonding over sports.
“We’d get a ball and figure out a game,” LoSauro said. “Soccer, basketball, baseball – great playground experience.”
“One day it was raining so we did other things; I did fractions with this little girl,” Coleman said. “She’d show me how she solved it, and I would show her how I did.”
On the last day, the Jesuit students prepared lunch for the school, making pizzas with ham and creating salads with cabbage and carrots. They also attended Mass several times during the week. Their contact at the Valley of the Angels, Fr. Michael Della Penna, celebrated Mass with them at a local church with cloistered nuns, and the Jesuit contingent spoke with nuns afterward.
The Jesuit students also visited the nearby city of Antigua, and toured a coffee distributor, the Truth Trading Company. When the week was up and it was time to depart, the Guatemalan youths performed a special skit and gave each Jesuit student a personal thank you note and certificate.
“I’ll remember the laughter and the love,” LoSauro said. “We’re already looking forward to going back.”
For more information about the Valley of the Angels and its mission, click here.
View a photo slideshow from the Guatemala mission trip below, and below that is a video of Max Gonzalez '21 speaking about the experience at Convocation: