Nine Saint Mary's College student-athletes reached out to the community on a global scale during a recent service trip to Lima, Peru. The aim of the trip was to renovate a local school and help underprivileged children, who suffer from hardships such as poverty and physical and mental abuse by their parents.
In Peru, a country in which more than half the population lives in poverty, the Gael student-athletes got a firsthand experience of how people in other parts of the world live. The service and religious-based trip was organized by Randy Farris, Saint Mary's first soccer coach, and Here for Kids International, which specializes in organizing outreach trips throughout the world.
The athletes who made the trip included: Emma Kroloff, Jordan Marada and Mackenzie Ring (women's soccer); Kenton Walker II and Tim Harris (men's basketball); Megan York and Shannon Lowell (volleyball); Tom Mohoric (men's soccer) and Andrea Bailey (women's basketball). Many of the Gaels didn't know what to expect before heading to Peru, since many had never been outside the United States, let alone to a third-world country. But this once-in-a lifetime experience was just something they couldn't pass up.
Students Labor at Orphanage
The group began its week by renovating an orphanage in a Lima slum. In the mornings they would do construction work, such as pouring concrete paths, laying out sod, moving bricks and digging trenches to repair run-down areas of the facility.
"Working construction is never easy, but there was something about being with the team that would really give you energy you didn't even know you had," said Kroloff.
After a challenging day of physical labor, the student-athletes took advantage of an opportunity to interact with the children by teaching and playing sports such as soccer, football, basketball and volleyball.
Saint Mary's women's soccer midfielder Marada remembers the children as "very polite and so open to play and talk to us. They were so easy to love and taught us to do the same. I also thought it was amazing how they could put their tragedies behind them and put on a smile while playing sports with us. They laughed like they did not have a care in the world."
Despite language and cultural barriers, many of the Gaels did not find it difficult to converse with the children because they found they could communicate through sports. Playing with the children opened the athletes to new experiences and emotions.
Bailey recalls, "The most amazing thing to me was how, even through all of their turmoil, how happy the kids were, how much love they had to give and the strength of their Christian faith."
A Visit to a Home
The Gael student-athletes also had the chance visit some of the children's homes. In one house, a single mother was living with 11 children. Some were her own and some were children she was taking care of. The family's living space was a shack with two twin beds, thin walls, no electricity and a bathroom that consisted of a hole in the ground. The Gaels brought the woman and children food, including rice, fruit, pasta and potatoes - enough to last for months.
"I will never forget walking into that house and seeing how happy the kids were and how proud they were to show us their house," said Ring. "There were many stories from the trip, but this experience really brought into perspective how some people are living."
On the last night with the children, the Gaels treated them to a dinner. It was the first time many of the children had ever been to a restaurant.
Forming Special Bonds
Many of the student-athletes formed a special connection with at least one of the children, and they said they would remember them for the rest of their lives.
Marada described how she grew close to an 8-year-old Peruvian girl named Chantal. "I gave her a bracelet of mine, and she told me she would keep it forever," said Marada. "We sat together at dinner and she looked through my pictures, asking about my family, my boyfriend and my life back in the States. I never passed up a chance to hug her and tell her how much I care about her and love her. She told me she would pray for me and that she loves me so much, and I immediately started to tear up."
During the last few days of the trip, the group experienced more of the Peruvian culture by visiting many of the local sites and Peruvian towns, including the ruins of Machu Picchu. Still, the Gaels said they will always remember what they learned and experienced those first four days, spending time with the children and growing to appreciate all the opportunities they have at Saint Mary's College.
George Robles '13
Photo of Jordan Marada and Peruvian child courtesy of SMC Athletics