Guatemalan immersion: Faculty, alumni, students depart Feb. 26

By Jesse Gaunce
February 9, 2011

Ramiro Coché Castro, administrator of the Juan-Ana Coffee farm assists alumna Traci Beltz picking coffee beans in January, 2010. --jerry zurek/ submitted photo

For the last two years, students have flown to Guatemala to spend a week working and learning alongside the disadvantaged people in the region. This year, students will depart on Feb. 26 until March 5.

This trip will differ from the last two, as alumni, faculty and even relatives can attend. The new twist to this trip has Dr. Jerome Zurek, chairman of the communication department, very excited.

“Bringing together all these parts of the college is really exciting,” Zurek said. “This is more about learning about the lives of these people and working alongside them.”

Zurek and Dr. Raquel Green organized the trip. It is being sponsored by the alumni office, and it is their first year doing so. The group will be going to San Lucas Toliman, which is the same place they have gone to every year.

The trip was originally started by Dr. Marie Angella George in February 2009 along with students, professors, faculty and one alumnus.

Ten will be participating in the trip this year. However, the maximum can be 15 participants. The first trip saw five students attend and the second saw seven.

One Cabrini student talked about how it was not only money well spent, but also how it opened her eyes.

“Before I went, I never had interest in going on a service trip,” Kelsey Kastrava, junior communication major, said. “After I learned what was going on in ECG, I got to experience it first hand. This is a trip that I’d recommend to anyone. Not just people interested in social justice, but also for people who are interested in travel and learning about culture.”

Beltz works alongside faculty to build a road to the coffee plantation. --jerry zurek/submitted photo

Zurek and Kastrava both talked about how this trip has impacted them. For Zurek, it drives him to become a better teacher. He also described it as being the highlight of his year.

“It is the most meaningful and inspiring week of my life,” Zurek said. “It gets my batteries charged for the whole year and it makes me want to teach harder and better. These are great people. This is more of an inspiration for us. We could have just used spring break to relax but we’re working hard so they know we value them.”

“I thought I was just going to be a tourist,” Kastrava said. “I basically got to be part of their community for a week.”

Some people may think that just because people are poor, they are stupid. Zurek says that is not the case.

“Although these people are poor, they still know exactly what is needed to improve their lives,” Zurek said. “But war and prejudice has kept them down. Now they are building their future.”

While the trip has had an emotionally positive impact on those who attended, it was not all fun and games. Students were able to see first hand how much money the people of San Lucas Toliman made in just a  half a day.

“We worked for about a half a day and as a group we made about 50 cents,” Kastrava said. “We cleaned one of the local schools in the area with water and crumbled up newspapers. We could see the ink rubbing off on the windows and I don’t know how they do it. The lack of resources we had was odd to us but it wasn’t to them.”

For any Cabrini students, faculty, alumni or relatives who are interested, the cost of the trip is approximately $900 and it covers airfare, hotel and food.

Faculty and students work together in Guatemala during a January 2010 immersion trip to build infrastructure in the country. This year ten people will be participating. --jerry zurek/ submitted photo--

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Jesse Gaunce

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