Escaping from the chilly blasts of the winter and going to somewhere tropical is usually what college students are hoping for during their early spring break. Eight students got the chance to do just that, but spent more of their time in Ecuador learning about social justice rather than basking in the sunlight.
As part of an immersion trip set up by Rosto de Cristo and Catholic Relief Services, the students went to Duran, Ecuador and spent time living off of a dollar a day as the Ecuadorians do.
“It was incredible. In fact, it was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Brian Scelzo, a junior finance major, said.
The eight students who went were Scelzo; Laura Woods, a junior special education major; Kevin Burke, a sophomore finance major; Renee Roff, a sophomore elementary education major; Jessica Zawrotny, a sophomore psychology major; Jennifer Smith, a senior marketing major; Bridget Flynn, a sophomore elementary education major; and Christine Graf, a sophomore English and communication major. Laura Gorgol and Jeanie Gustafson, of the Wolfington Center, also went. They lived in a retreat house together for a week.
“This was definitely my best spring break,” Woods said. “I learned so much about the Ecuadorian culture, poverty issues, the people I went with and even myself. I would not trade it in for anything.”
Woods said that she became interested when her boyfriend talked about his experience with the trip and that her interest in social justice made her want to go even more.
The trip started off on Feb. 24 and went until March 4; two of those days were for travel. The temperatures were in the 100’s and the experience was religious.
“Every moment of the day, during our visits, people were thanking God for everything that they do have, whereas here I can imagine people cursing God for everything they do not have,” Scelzo said as he compared poverty in Philadelphia to Ecuador.
The days started off with a 9 a.m. to noon insight of different lifestyles and facilities throughout neighborhoods. Subsequent afternoon activities involved participating in after-school programs where volunteers helped the children in geography, mathematics and character education. They also visited Damien House, a hospital specifically for patients with Hansen’s disease, formerly known as leprosy.
“I truly appreciate everything I have here at home and even though it seems like it’s the bane of my existence, I value my education more than ever before,” Scelzo said. He said that he feels privileged to be part of the top 1 percent of the world to get a college degree; he learned this on his trip.
Scelzo’s most memorable moment was when he visited the after-school program called “Manos Abrietas” or “Open Hands.” He remembered that afterwards the 50 children got fresh water and bread to eat and there were only four rolls left. They were begging for more to give to their family.
“From that point on, I realized how wasteful of food we are and how wasteful of food I was, and I am committed to change that about myself,” Scelzo said.
Woods felt that the value of a dollar was one of the greatest lessons she learned. She said that many people reflect on her trip and comment about how hard it would be to live off of only a dollar. But she feels it wasn’t that hard to do and it made her aware of those who go hungry everyday.
“I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity and I am very excited to continue working for social justice,” she said.
“It amazes me how even giving a little bit to others can truly help.”