By Alyssa Seidman
On May 19, 15 members of the Newman Catholic Community on campus embarked on a weeklong journey to Tijuana, Mexico. The trip was part of an initiative called “Builders of Hope,” which works in conjunction with Esperanza International (esperanzaint.org), an organization that builds dignified housing for the needy populous of Tijuana County in Baja California, Mexico.
“During the week, the Newman members worked on one home,” said Father Ted Brown, the campus priest and faculty advisor of the club that led the expedition. “They dug the trenches for the foundation, put in the foundation, and put in a nine-foot high retaining wall to prevent the home from sliding into a canyon.”
“While on the worksite, the family receiving the home works next to us, and cooks the noontime meal for us. We mix with the [local] people. About half the [Newman] group could speak Spanish, so communication was easy,” Brown added.
This is not the first time that the club has done community service abroad in Tijuana: “This is the 13th trip for us,” Brown said. “Over the years, we have worked on 27 homes, and changed the lives of 27 families. We have a commitment to the people. By going back to the same neighborhoods year to year, trust builds up. We have made a difference in one the poorest sections of Mexico,” he added.
When asked about their experiences on the excursion, Post students who participated in “Builders of Hope” had much to say about the spiritual and intellectual growth the trip merited them.
“Ever since I was a high school student I’ve always liked community service and [helping] those in need,” said Miguel Montalvo, a senior Broadcasting major. “[W]hen I heard about the trip from Father Ted, and how it was an international service project helping [to] build communities for the poor…, I knew this was something that would interest me, and be a great experience.”
“All week you put so much effort and labor into this project, and by the end of the week you actually see everything you’ve done pay off,” said Christina Scozzari, a senior Broadcasting major. “You see the structure of a home for a family, and the emotional impact it has on them. Even though it was only a week, you develop such a special bond with these people that is unexplainable and yet so special,” Scozzari added.
“If you have never [left] your home, your neighborhood, or your community, this trip is for you. It allows you to open your mind about your surroundings, and may give a purpose to your life,” Stanley Edmond, a senior Political Science major, said.
“The most rewarding part of the experience is at the end when you see all that the team has accomplished together without even having previous construction experience, and the faces of the families and children who you are building the house for is priceless,” Montalvo added.
“I would most certainly encourage anyone to go,” said Scozzari. “You grow as a person, you make new friends and memories you won’t ever forget, and you experience the heart of Mexican culture. You experience the harsh reality of the poverty they live in, but [also] the warm hearts of the people, and that’s what will have you coming back year after year.”
Father Ted already has plans for next year’s trip to Tijuana: “We will start recruiting early in the semester. Last year, [the club] raised about $5,000, [which covered the program fee], so most [of the students who went this summer] only paid for room and board ($200) and airfare.”
“The service trip fills up very quickly, [and the] meeting for the trip begin[s] late in the fall,” said David Armas, a senior Sociology major and the student coordinator for next year’s “Builders of Hope” trip. “The upcoming trip [takes] place on May 23 to the 30. Information is available at liupostcatholic.org. Click on ‘outreach’ and then ‘Builders of Hope’.”
“[This trip] is an experience that changes the lives of so many people, including the volunteers,” Armas added. “I’ve come to learn so much from them including the humility of living a life not [based on] materiality, but [rather] one based on love and camaraderie.”
For more information about the “Builders of Hope” retreat, visit their blog site at http://hopebuilding.blogspot.com.