El Salvador, “I Love You Forever”

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A Life-Changing Mission Trip

By Elizabeth Meittinis

This winter break, I had the privilege of traveling to La Union, El Salvador, to participate in a mission trip serving the families in that community by working at a camp for kids. Since my freshman year, I had been anxiously waiting for my chance to take part in this service opportunity. When I was accepted for this year, an endless amount of anticipation filled my heart and soul in the months leading up to the trip.

I couldn’t wait to meet the children we would be working with and their families. Although I was excited, I was also anxious that not knowing Spanish would hold me back from fully immersing myself in the trip. However, when we arrived, we were greeted by many hugs and smiles from the children, and I knew we could communicate through the language of love.

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Upon our arrival, we were taken to the home of martyred Blessed Oscar Romero. After learning about Romero through history classes, religion classes and the multitude of service projects I’ve been on, it was surreal to see the actual home and the place where he was martyred. Oscar Romero gave hope to the people of El Salvador in a troubled time; he was a savior giving them faith during a period when the country was thrown into war. The people of El Salvador look to him as a hero and it is so beautiful to see how grateful the people are for all he gave to them.

We lived through the four pillars of Dominican life (Study, Community, Spirituality and Service) every day, but the most profound pillar throughout this trip was definitely Community. We became one big community with everyone who lived in that town, and witnessing the sense of community that they all share was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. They truly are one big family and they look out for one another and take care of one another as if they were blood-related.

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We began our days greeted by hugs from all the children at the camp. Stepping out of the van and seeing the bright and smiling faces and hearing the cheerful “Buenos días” from everyone was the perfect way to begin our day, and it immediately brought a smile to my face – a smile that didn’t leave my face the entire day. Our morning routine included dancing, music and a visit from someone dressed as St. Catherine of Siena before we split up into our camp groups. The camp followed a different theme each day based on St. Catherine of Siena. It amazes me how faithful these people are regardless of how little they have. They are so thankful for everything and praise God unlike any other people I’ve ever seen. It was a beautiful and inspirational thing to witness during my time there. My faith has always been a significant aspect of my life, but it has developed even more since my trip to El Salvador.

By splitting up into groups, we got to know the children on a more personal level. We spent the day in art, music and sport workshops that were sometimes a little bit of a challenge with 2-5 year olds! As a Childhood Education/Special Education major, I was definitely in my element. Working with children is something I am extremely passionate about. I was completely drawn to their eagerness to learn, their trusting nature, and their inquisitive minds. One of my fondest memories of the week was teaching my little Dorita and Melvin how to say, “I love you.” By the end of the week, they would simply just look at me, and burst out “I love you.” What a moving feeling! Being around children and being able to make children smile brightens up my day. This trip confirmed that I am meant to become a teacher.

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Through every service trip I’ve been on, I have received more than I have given.  As our time in El Salvador was coming to an end, everyone in the town expressed their gratitude. They did not realize how much they have given to us. The people of La Union humbly showed us compassion, faith and unending love that I will carry with me my entire life. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my experience and smile. Until my chance comes to go back once again, I will carry the people of La Union in my heart every day.

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Founding a Microfinance Project: My Incredible Experience in Uganda

By Christopher Martin

Uganda Microfinance Team

On the morning of New Year’s Day 2017, as most people were still sleeping in, Dr. Peter Garrity of the Division of Business and I headed to JFK International Airport ready to embark on our second trip in six months to Masese, Uganda. There were two purposes of our trip: we were going to work at H.E.L.P. Primary School, which is a free school that Dr. Garrity and his wife Delia helped start seven years ago, and finalize our microfinance nonprofit project. With the support of the International Education office and the Molloy Honors Program, I have been lucky enough create a project that I am deeply passionate about and to visit a country that I have learned to love so much.

The village of Masese is an impoverished village located directly east of the Nile River and right on Lake Victoria. Masese has a population of 30,000 people who are mostly refugees displaced from South Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, as well as from the Lord’s Resistance Army who terrorized Northern Uganda.

Uganda Kids

During our time in Masese, I had the opportunity to help paint the wall around the school with the help of some of the students.  I taught the students how to paint, and, while we were painting, we got caught up in a dust devil (which is similar to a small tornado). At the end of the day, it was incredibly rewarding to see the new vibrant wall that we painted together.

The microfinance project that Dr. Garrity and I have founded will give small business loans to women in Masese. These loans will help women start businesses and give them the chance to help themselves climb out of severe poverty. This is a long-term, sustainable approach, and our goal is to empower women in our village.

Uganda Peter and Chris

I walked around the village and met many of the people who were loan applicants. Walking through Masese was truly a humbling experience, and it made me appreciate how fortunate I am to live on Long Island. The village is comprised of piles of garbage that animals eat from and children play in. I noticed the large number of children who do not attend school. It is quite difficult to explain what this experience is like because, although the United States has areas of the less fortunate and poor, we have absolutely nothing that compares to this kind of abject poverty.

After my walk through Masese, I only had one thought in my mind: There is a solution to this. Under the harsh exterior of Masese, there is this strong level of beauty that is unmatched. Ugandans are the most selfless, positive, hopeful, and generous people I have ever met in my life, and their devotion to God is like no other. My interactions with the people of Masese have given me the drive to do my best to help them receive a chance to climb out of extreme poverty. I would also like to bring my experience in Uganda back to Molloy and get more students involved in our project. I am working towards starting a new club at Molloy called the Molloy-Masese Partnership that will work on the microfinance project, as well as make students aware about other cultures in developing nations. I am truly grateful for the opportunities that Molloy has given me and am optimistic for the future of Masese.