In the summers of 2018 and 2019, a contingent of Jesuit 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 to better serve others, both at home and in South America. They visited schools, youth centers, and nature preserves; participated in educational workshops and environmental awareness campaigns; explored Colombia's rich cultural and religious traditions; and worked with Colombian youth leaders on educational, environmental, and social justice initiatives. The next two years, in 2020 and 2021, Jesuit students maintained relationships with their Colombian counterparts, but due travel restrictions caused COVID-19, their connections were via Zoom.
This summer, the Colombia trip was back on the docket, and a dynamic group of 10 Jesuit students – Gabriel Alvarado-Borjas '23, Angelo Cabalan '23, Diego Cubas '23, Alberto Echevarría '23, Juan Figuera-Parra '23, Ayden Lee '23, Adam Patchen '24, Will Starr '23, Diego Tobón '23, and Tyler Tyson '24, plus chaperones Dr. Cristina Delano, Vindri Gajadhar, and Dr. Angelo Pastore (who has been on every Colombia mission trip) – re-established and revitalized the mission. Alvarado-Borjas wrote the following reflection about the experience.
Colombia Mission Trip 2022 by Gabriel Alvarado-Borjas '23
This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Colombia with nine of my Jesuit brothers, along with Dr. Pastore, Mrs. Gajadhar, and Dr. Delano. The purpose of our trip was to work with Fe y Alegría, a Jesuit non-profit organization that promotes education in disadvantaged communities in Latin America and Africa. I had been waiting a long time to go on this trip; I originally signed up for the Colombian mission trip my freshman year, but the pandemic changed our plans. Instead of traveling abroad, we met a group of Colombian students over Zoom for a virtual meeting. We talked about the struggles the Colombian students faced as they tried to continue their education under quarantine, and we shared our common challenges as high school students. Though we were unable to connect in person, the Zoom experience with the Colombian students was eye-opening. It made me eager to travel to Colombia as soon as we were able, so I was especially excited when it was announced we would be going there this summer.
The first part of our trip took place in Bogotá, the country's capital. We met with a group of students who are involved in a Fe y Alegría group that helps bring about positive changes to their schools and communities. The Colombian kids told us about the problems they faced at school with bullying and harassment. They believe that if there is a problem with how people are being treated, you must speak out and work together to change the situation for the better. We also visited community centers and gardens, where they told us about the importance of nature and taking care of our common home. We painted a mural in the Fe y Alegría community garden, and we also learned about Colombian history, culture, and food. Later we played a game of soccer, and our group taught the Colombians how to play American football. We all had fun playing together, and it made me realize that although we live in different circumstances, we can share our experiences and become friends.
After a few days in Bogotá, we took a plane to Cartagena, on Colombia's Caribbean coast. During this part of the trip we participated in the Fe y Alegría's 5th Annual Youth Meeting, and we were able to meet students from all parts of Colombia who had come to Cartagena to discuss how to make a better future for young people. We traveled together to the island of Barú, where we met a student group dedicated to preserving the island's mangroves. Later we met the National Director of Fe y Alegría Colombia, who spoke about the importance of young people who are committed to justice. We also had the opportunity to attend Mass at the Church of St. Peter Claver and visit his home and tomb. St. Peter Claver was a Jesuit who missionary who dedicated his life to serving enslaved Africans who were brought to Colombia during the 17th century. In 1894, five years before Jesuit High School was founded, the Jesuits established St. Peter Claver School in Tampa to educate African Americans, and today it is the oldest historically black elementary school in Florida.
Throughout the trip, we were able to interact with Colombian students to talk about similar interests and learn about our differences. I discovered a reality that is far from the one we usually experience here in the United States. I met so many kind, respectful, and compassionate people, who, in spite of the difficulties and injustices they encounter, strive every day to make their lives and communities better. Every place we visited, we were welcomed with open arms and kindness. The people we met showed me that it is worth it to fight for what you believe in, and that we must be compassionate and think about others while accomplishing our own goals.
In the evenings, our Jesuit group met for prayer and to reflect on the events of each day. We talked about our challenges, our favorite moments, and the people who impacted us the most. One who stood out was an older woman named Doña Rosita. She treated our group like we were her 10 new grandsons. She had so much energy, to dance, share, and spend time with us. She always made sure we had whatever we needed. On a walk to a nature preserve in Bogotá, Doña Rosita and I had a conversation about the different Marian titles and how much they meant to us. I noticed how similar our responses were. Our Lady of Chiquinquirá meant a lot to her, which led her to be more involved with her Catholic community; similarly, Our Lady of Suyapa has a great meaning to me because she appeared in my mom's dream before I was born. We later learned that Doña Rosita's daughter had recently passed away, and that she was able to find consolation through helping the young people of her community.
Our experience in Colombia was unforgettable. I remain in touch with many of the friends I made there. In Spanish, the words Fe y Alegría mean Faith and Joy, and I am grateful that this experience brought me both.
View photos below from the 2022 mission trip to Colombia.