SOUTH BRONX, NEW YORK: New York City is often described by its iconic landmarks and sights. However, it is really the forever changing people of the city who make it the place it is. Amazing people with amazing stories, stories which the members of Vancouver College's Bronx Outreach Team had the honor to be a part of, if only for a short time. Ask any of the young men and they would likely tell you that the best part of their trip was the time spent with the students of Public/Middle School 29 and St. Anne's after-school care program. These great kids live and attend school in one of the poorest communities in the United States, a huge contrast to the privileged backgrounds most of us on the trip come from. Walking through the Bronx on the first day, it was already very obvious how different this community was from our own communities. A little unnerved by the time we arrived at PS/MS 29, the suggestion by our teacher to go talk to the middle schoolers having lunch was followed apprehensively. We began by tossing a football amongst ourselves, until a boy from grade 8 walked up and joined us. This would eventually become an intense game of two-hand touch football that helped bring us all together. Sport allowed us to break down the barriers that were keeping us apart, and we developed many relationships over the week while we volunteered at the school. Both there and at St. Anne's after-school care program, getting to know the kids and learning about their goals and hopes was amazing.
Despite the adverse circumstances they were in, we spoke to kids who dreamed of becoming FBI agents, artists, joining the military so they could help people; students who loved math and science, and who were brave enough to come up to us and make a connection rather than the other way round. Yet, they were also very aware of the situation they were in. One group of grade 3 girls remarked how "this is a ghetto school" when asking why we had come. They had trouble understanding why someone would want to spend time in a place they knew, even in grade 3, that people looked down on. I was lucky to be put in a grade 4 classroom while at the school, and the absolute affection of the kids was amazing. Throughout the trip, it was inspiring to see the conviction and affection these students had, and an important reminder that no matter where we live, we are all a lot more similar than we think. This trip was an important reminder of the humanity we all share, as well as our individual responsibility to love all people as Jesus would.
LIMA, PERU: Twelve students and three teachers embarked on a journey of service to Peru over Spring Break. The experience was immersive and focused on culture, spirituality, and advocacy. The team built two homes for families in need, painted numerous other homes, and volunteered at a school. Much was experienced and reflected on during this immersion trip. "If you have come to help the poor, you're wasting your time, but if you've come because you believe your liberation is bound with mine, let us work together" said Brother Stephen Casey. There is a social stigma towards developing countries that ascribes the local civilians to be poor, yet they possess wealth in areas our society may easily overlook. Community is the most critical part to a happy life and that is exactly how the people of Peru live. They were happy. They did not need the latest pieces of technology or clothing the "rich" have. Maybe the reality was that they are "richer" than we are but one thing holds true, they live like us. From rich to poor we are one and the same. Seeing the contrast in Miraflores to Jicamarca only added to this message. The rich lived in skyscrapers, the poor in huts, still, everyone is human and we all share the same likeness. We learned that we need to be the spark in one's life so they can begin to grow a burning fire of hope and success. Hope is their final puzzle piece to having a great life and it is our job to provide it to them. Vancouver College's 2019 Pilgrimage to Peru was truly special and one the team will never forget.
Marcus Saldanha '19