Caldwell, NJ. , Jan. 29, 2019 – For several years, Caldwell University students and staff have been volunteering in villages in Belize during winter break. They do the important work of rebuilding in a part of the Central American country where people have very few modern conveniences. This January, a group of nine students and two staff members did service in the village of San Miguel for one week. They built a partition to make a one room building into two, which now allows for two classrooms to accommodate the growing school enrollment.
The manual labor is helpful to the community, but as Colleen O’Brien, director of Caldwell’s Campus Ministry Office, tells the Caldwell students, there is something more important to the experience than the actual construction work. “It has to be about relationship building,” she explains. It is about the people and the bonds they form—bonds with the villagers and bonds with each other, she says. And it is about seeing that human goodness is universal no matter where you live on God’s earth.
The experience teaches, “that humanity requires us to be humble and to do good,” said Jenelle McLeod, a graduate student from New Brunswick, New Jersey, who took part in the mission trip. “Everyone has a purpose…and every person and every experience we encounter contributes to each of our purposes,” said McLeod, who is majoring in mental health counseling with a school counseling concentration. It was the little things, that were really big things, that had an impact on the volunteers—like when the mothers of the parent teacher group would bring empanadas and corn cakes to the work site each day.
Daniela Diaz, a junior and business administration major from West New York, New Jersey, appreciated learning about a new culture and the people, which helped her reflect on her own life. “Life is simple. It is us humans that make it complicated,” said Diaz. Playing with the children at the school was what she enjoyed most.
Amber Raines, a junior and psychology major from Millville, New Jersey, was on the mission trip for her second time. The strong sense of family that she witnessed in Belize had an effect on her, “…being there makes me value and appreciate the family that I have more.”
Cutting down on digital device usage took some adjustment but the students found that it helped them cherish the excursion even more. “It was an amazing opportunity to be able to let go and take advantage of the trip and the experience,” said Diaz. McLeod said it allowed her to delve deeper and focus more closely on what she wants for her life. “My commitments to what truly matter to me were further developed during our time without internet or phones.” They were able to build “a closeness like a family” and simplify their living by spending quality time without distractions, she said. Raines said that without social media “you can be more in touch with your surroundings and live more in the moment.”
The students have carried the memories home with them. They are memories of “the beautiful villages with the vibrant children, the beautiful culture, and the bonds I’ve made with my new friends that I traveled with and have come to love,” McLeod.
She recommends that other students who have “a heart to serve” consider taking part in the mission trip in the future. There are friendships to be made. “Even if you go in alone, you won’t come out alone,” said Diaz.