For the second straight year this summer, a contingent of Jesuit High School students visited Colombia for a unique and impactful service immersion experience.
Partnering with the international Jesuit service organization Fe y Alegria, they sought to continue their formation as servant leaders and discover how they can better serve others, both at home and in South America.
Jesuit seniors Mac Dierks, Henry Fleming, Ashton Galloway, Jack Georgiades, Kevin Mauro, Cole Russell, Tomás Varón, and Daniel Youakim, juniors Ben Leavy and Diego Maldonado-Puebla, and chaperones Dr. Cristina Delano, Dr. Angelo Pastore, and Allison Zilka traveled to Bogotá and Cartagena for nine days in July, where they worked with Colombian youth leaders on educational, environmental, and social justice initiatives.
They visited schools, youth centers, and nature preserves, and participated in educational workshops, environmental awareness campaigns, and a mangrove cleanup with their Colombian partners. They also explored Colombia's rich cultural and religious traditions, including the Sanctuary of Saint Peter Claver, the Jesuit missionary.
Two of the students on the mission trip have shared their experience in Colombia. On Aug. 27 at Convocation, Youakim spoke about the mission to the Jesuit student body, see the video of his presentation below along with a photo slideshow.
Below that is a reflective essay about the Colombia mission by Galloway.
Colombia Mission Trip 2019 - by Ashton Galloway '20
This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Colombia on a mission trip with nine of my Jesuit brothers. While only a few hours away by plane, Colombia, located just south of Panama, seemed like an entirely different world. It is filled with a diverse climate ranging from wet, humid rainforests to dry and cool mountainous regions; even my first glimpse of the environment as we were landing at the airport was unlike anything I had ever seen. Upon our arrival in Bogotá, the capital city, we were met by our hosts from Fe y Alegría, a Jesuit organization that provides educational opportunities to the poor all around the world.
The goal of this trip was to have a cultural exchange and to form relationships with the youth leaders of Colombia, while serving them through offering time, respect, and collaboration with various educational programs offered by Fe y Alegría. Throughout these first days, we learned about the Colombian culture and the social issues that the Colombian people are currently facing. We traveled throughout Bogotá and met with many groups of people from different areas of the city. One thing I noticed about all of the people was the generosity in their hearts. For example, I had my 17th birthday in Colombia, and after a few short days of interaction with the youth leaders, they surprised me with a cake to celebrate. That is something I will never forget!
I consider myself an average Spanish speaker at best, and therefore communication was difficult at first. However, everyone we spoke to was so eager and happy to help me with their language, and they were also motivated to learn and attempt to speak English. One of our most memorable projects was a language exchange exercise with students from the impoverished outskirts of Bogotá studying to obtain their high school equivalency degree. The Colombians taught us the names of local dishes with a bingo game, and we taught them some basic English phrases with a game of "Simon Says."
Another common characteristic I observed especially amongst the Colombian youth was an immense passion towards the social issues that are occurring in their country. As cliché as it may sound, this was extremely eye-opening to me, and this interest and involvement in their country's struggles, especially at such a young age, definitely inspired my Jesuit brothers and me to pay more attention to the social issues surrounding us in the United States.
When our time came to an end in Bogotá, we took a short flight to Cartagena, a city on the northern coast of Colombia. As soon as we stepped off the plane, we noticed a difference: contrary to the mild temperature of the mountainous region of Bogotá, Cartagena was extremely hot and extremely humid. In Cartagena, we had the opportunity to attend Mass at the Church of St. Peter Claver. St. Peter Claver was a Jesuit missionary who served the African slaves brought to Colombia. His relic is housed in the church, and we were fortunate to get an up-close look.
Later, we drove to Flor del Campo, a small town outside the city borders of Cartagena. There we met with more youth leaders, worked on a collective research project, and learned about some of the injustices these citizens were facing. This community was one I will never forget. While touring the small town, I couldn't help but notice the presence of music, especially in the Fey y Alegría school in which we worked. Music was an important community builder for the Colombians. For example, after lunch one day, what began as conversing about music turned into the entire room singing and dancing with one another. After making new friends, we all worked together to paint a mural to raise awareness about justice in Colombia.
In our final days, we traveled to Barú, a small Afro-Colombian island community. There we participated in a workshop about the environmental issues that Barú is facing, especially the deforestation of mangroves. Later, we painted a mural that celebrated the beauty and necessity of mangroves to Barú's culture and way of life.
We impacted the communities we visited by showing kindness, attentiveness, and acknowledgment. We saw how important it is to make others feel valued and to show support for others' work, which is something the youth leaders did not always receive from their fellow Colombians. This trip truly opened my eyes and provided me with new friends and experiences, something I wouldn't trade for the world.