Group sees power of social justice firsthand

By Eric Gibble
March 8, 2011

Johanna Church-DeSanto, Cabrini alumna ‘91, digs a ditch for water runoff. The group helped build homes destoryed by mudslides when Hurricane Agatha decimated Guatemala.

Leaving a soccer field to purchase Coca-Cola from a nearby stand when he was at teenager, Fr. Adolfo Marroquín Azurdia of San Lucas Toliman came back to find 23 of his classmates massacred by the military.

Azurdia from San Lucas Mission shared to a group of 10 students, faculty and alumni who immersed themselves in the society over spring break. He was just one witness to an ethnic genocide that killed over 200,000 over the 36-year civil war in Guatemala that halted its economic growth.

“It is essential for students to understand the issues of developing countries. It is much more powerful than reading a textbook,” Dr. Raquel Green, assistant professor of romance languages, said. “The mission is a perfect example of integral human development. It has been working for 40 years.”

This was Green’s second visit to the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere where more than 50 percent live on less than $2 a day.

“This trip gave me the opportunity to see the layers and complexities of the community,”  Green said.

“The first experience is so much. I looked more at the culture and the interrelations of the different projects this time.”

In order to deepen their knowledge of the importance of sustainability and solidarity, the group participated in a number of development projects within the primarily Mayan community.

One of these projects included working to build a road that would triple production for the Fair Trade coffee farm. Without equipment, the group moved boulders by hand.

“It may have been physically the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it was also the most fulfilling. There’s no government support so the people have to rely on themselves,” Hannah Wheat, sophomore social work major, said.

Other projects also took place within the reforestation farm and women’s center. Through this progressive model, San Lucas Toliman has become a shining example of how social justice leads to economic progress.

In the 1970s, only 3 percent of the population was able to read. Today, that number has sky rocketed to 70 percent, according to San Lucas Mission.

Returning students used this experience to help better not only the community, but themselves.

“This year I tried to take a more practical perspective and see how I can change my life at home to better live in solidarity with these people,” Jenn Prutzer, junior psychology major and second-time attendee, said.

For Sarah Drew, reference librarian at Cabrini, the experience embodied Cabrini’s mission statement of social justice. She believes that anyone who is able to make the trip should do so.

“In my life I try to uphold social justice,” Drew said. “Everyone that’s a part of Cabrini should uphold that mission.”

Dr. Jerry Zurek and Dr. Green plan on returning to the mission annually with a new group. The trip cost about $900 this year.



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Eric Gibble

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