By George Robles
While college students throughout the country tend to flock to Cancun or Miami to party for spring break, nine Saint Mary's College student-athletes received the experience of a lifetime. The athletes reached out to the community on a global scale with an service trip to Lima, Peru. The trip was organized with the purpose of helping renovate a local school and spend time with underprivileged children, who have been struck by hardships such as poverty and physical and mental abuse by their parents.
In Peru, a country in which more than half its population lives in poverty, provided Gael student-athletes a first-hand experience how other parts of the world live.
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). 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.
Many of the Gaels did not know what to expect before heading to Peru, as many of them had never been outside the comfort-zone of the United States, let alone a third-world country. Yet, this once-in-a lifetime experience was just something they could not pass up.
The group began its week renovating an orphanage where many poverty-struck kids lived in conditions that define third-world slums. In the mornings they would do construction tasks such as pouring concrete paths, laying-out sod, moving bricks and digging trenches to repair areas of the facility that were run-down.
"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," explains Anchorage, Alaska native and women's soccer freshman Emma 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 Jordan 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 heir 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. They found communication rather through these sports. Playing with the children allowed the athletes to open up to experiences and opportunities they do not generally have in America.
Women's basketball player Andrea 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."
The Gael student-athletes also had the chance visit some of the natives' homes and see the conditions families live through day in and day out. One specific house they visited was the home of a single mother living with eleven children. Some of them were her own and some she was taking care of. The families living space was described as a shack with two twin beds, thin walls that did not have a ceiling, no electricity and a bathroom that consisted of a hole in the ground. The Gaels brought the woman and children food such as rice, fruit, pasta and potatoes, which would last the family 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," explains freshman soccer player Mackenzie Ring, "There were many stories from the trip, but this experience really brought into perspective how some people are living. It was amazingly impacting."
On the last night of working with the children, the Gaels treated them to a dinner-which was the first time many of the kids had ever been to a restaurant. Many of the student-athletes had a special connection with at least one of the kids, where they would remember for the rest of their lives.
Marada described how she grew close to a eight-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 towns, including the historical site of Machu Picchu. But, despite the time for relaxation, the Gaels will always remember what they learned and experienced those first four days, spending time with the children and growing to appreciate all of the opportunities they have at Saint Mary's College.