Every year Marian University San Damiano Scholars complete a sophomore service project showcasing several aspects of the program’s formation of community, service, leadership, and discipleship.
Will Grabowski ’16 and Brittany Kehoe ’16 worked together on their service project in which the two scholars, along with 10 students and Mark Erdosy, executive director of the Rebuild My Church program and director of San Damiano Scholars Program for Church Leadership, traveled to Valle de los Angeles (Valley of the Angels) orphanage in Guatemala from May 10-20.
Grabowski and Kehoe first learned about the orphanage at a San Damiano Scholars retreat led by Fr. Michael Della Penna, OFM. Fr. Michael is currently a missionary and runs Valle de los Angeles. His stories inspired Grabowski and Kehoe to make their service project a mission trip to the orphanage.
What started as a big idea transformed into an eye opening trip.
Throughout the trip, students taught English classes to Spanish-speaking students, delivered food to poor families, and helped with general day-to-day tasks in the orphanage such as making lunch, organizing supplies, or playing with the children.
What struck Kehoe was the harsh reality of home life in an underdeveloped country.
“Some of the homes being lived in had roofs made out of scrap metal, make-shift walls, and as many as nine people living in one house. The amount of poverty there was far worse than I was expecting,” said Kehoe.
Although students stressed the difficulty of being face-to-face with poverty in Guatemala, the group left feeling highly impacted by the experience.
Student Emily Tomlinson ’15 had a special connection to the work involved on this mission trip, “I was motivated to go because my majors are Spanish and applied educational studies. I feel like this was a perfect fit for me and is what I want to do in my future.”
Emma Laut ’15 returned from Guatemala feeling honored and blessed to have worked with the organization.
Laut says, “As the Valley of the Angels staff continues to educate and love the children as Christ would, they will bring a social change that the future needs.”
While the trip was a great success, there was work that began long before boarding the plane to Guatemala. The planning process involved emailing San Damiano Scholars inviting them to apply for the mission trip followed by an anonymous selection of 10 students who Grabowski and Kehoe felt would be a good fit for the trip. Grabowski and Kehoe held monthly meetings throughout the 2014 spring semester in order to discuss airfare, planning details, and ways in which participants wanted to assist at the orphanage.
Marian University mission participants took one excursion day to Antigua while away in Guatemala. They purchased goods from street vendors, sampled traditional Guatemalan foods, and continued to take in the beautiful scenery.
Katie Barrett ’15 insists, “You would think that maybe the language barrier would’ve been rough, but it wasn’t! Kids are the same everywhere and we were still able to connect and bond with them. I would go back in a second.”
To learn more about Valle de los Angeles orphanage, visit the website.