Trip to Ecuador transforms 8 students

By AnnMarie Chacko
March 16, 2006

Laura Gorgol

Eight Cabrini students skipped the beaches and opted to help a starving neighborhood in Ecuador during spring break week. The students learned that happiness does not always come with a designer label. The students also learned that hunger is a fatal problem throughout the world, but the people of Ecuador still remain positive.

For these students, they saw, felt and lived this experience, and their lives were changed while on their trip to Ecuador with the Catholic Relief Services program, Rostro de Cristo (face of Christ).

On Feb. 24, with their packing all done and butterflies in their stomachs, they departed for Duran, Ecuador, not knowing what to expect. They arrived at night where the atmosphere was poor and not at all sugarcoated. They were scared, nervous and shocked with what they saw.

“At night, you saw poverty. But in the daytime, people were so nice and friendly,” Brenna Bangs, a junior elementary education major, said.

Bangs was one of the eight students who went to Ecuador. She joined Chris Leeds, Bob Moren, Jolaine Gero, Karly Brennan, Curtis Iorio, Kathleen Grant and Hadi Adam Poresky. They were accompanied by David Chiles, the director of service learning, and Laura Gorgol, the campus minister, as well as two women from Catholic Relief Services.

The four focus points of the trip consisted of simple living, intentional community with the residents, to develop long-term strategies and solutions and to see the face of Christ in the Ecuadorian people, according to Laura Gorgol, and one of the chaperones on the trip. To achieve that, they visited neighbors, hospitals and after-school programs. They built relationships with the people of Duran in order to understand their lives. They ate on a dollar a day to experience the life of many in Duran.

“We fed 10 people with $5. We think that’s a lot, but, in reality, they don’t have $5,” Bangs said.

Gorgol said, “It was a transformative experience for the students as well as for myself and David [Chiles]. This experience changed their view of the world, their roles in it and their responsibilities,” Gorgol said.

When visiting the schools, one of the first observations was decent education was not free. In fact, education was scarce for some. Schools were overcrowded, understaffed and severely under-funded. At most schools, basic supplies like paper, pens and books were not available to the children. In spite of this, the Cabrini College students were able to find hope in schools like Nuevo Mundo, a school that offers scholarships for needy children.

“People there seem happy and they’re not materialistic at all,” Jolaine Gero, a sophomore marketing major, said. “They were driven by their faith and love for their families. They were so accepting and made us feel welcome.”

“I learned that a rich economy such as the U.S. is nowhere as near as nice or welcoming as those who live in pure poverty, where teachers make $130 a month and doctors only $160 a month,” Bob Moren, a freshman religious studies major, said.

“People in the United States are very ignorant. This experience made me conscious of who I was and who I wanted to be when I came home,” Gero said. “Coming into this trip, I wanted to see what I could do for people. But having left there, I see what they have done for me.”

Each person who went on the trip to Ecuador left there with an experience. For some, it was life-changing. For others, it opened their eyes. But for all of them, it was one where they learned, lived and grew to understand.

“My experience in Ecuador is one that changed the way I look at everything,” Moren said. “There is so much I have learned and will apply when I go back after I graduate.”

Gero agreed and said, “People need to see it for themselves what it’s like to live in a third world country and see what we saw.”

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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AnnMarie Chacko

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