By Elizabeth McIff
While summer vacation means rest and relaxation to many students, some spent their summer finding fulfillment in serving the poverty-stricken people of South America.
“I decided that during the school year all I did was concentrate on myself,” said Summer McCann, 22, a senior from Salt Lake, majoring in public relations. “Going to serve the people of Peru seemed like a great opportunity to completely envelop myself in a good cause.”
McCann, along with 25 others, spent 10 days working in Peru. The group delivered medical supplies, constructed green houses, visited hospitals and helped start school libraries, said McCann.
Traveling with the group was BYU student Erin Sipherd, 22, a senior from Auburn, California, majoring in recreation management. Of her experience, Sipherd recalled the joy she felt during her service.
“I will never forget the emotional reaction of one of the teachers when we gave her some school supplies,” Sipherd said. “She was speechless over a box of poster board, glue and markers.”
McCann and Sipherd discovered this opportunity through Chasqui Humanitarian, a non-profit group based out of Salt Lake.
Chasqui plans and conducts humanitarian expeditions to Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
While there are many services that bring volunteers to aid South Americans, Mandy Johnston, 22, a senior from Marietta Georgia, majoring in Psychology decided to travel to Guatemala this summer in search of ways to serve on her own.
Johnston spent 13 weeks of her summer learning Spanish and serving the people of Xela, Guatemala.
“When I arrived in Xela, I enrolled in a Spanish school and found a charity to work for run by Australians called Quetzaltrekkers,” said Johnston. “Through them I was able to perform the service I wanted while I was there.”
Working in South America brought living conditions the women never knew existed.
“The first time I went to a village in Peru I was amazed at how they lived,” McCann said. “Their homes were adobe huts, they cooked over an open fire, they slept in the dirt next to pigs, and many had never showered or even washed their hands before.”
Like McCann, Johnston spent most of her time helping the poverty stricken children of Xela.
“Xela is a big city surrounded by very poor towns,” said Johnston. “Children of these towns are sent into Xela by their parents to shine shoes and find their own way of living on the streets.”
Through Quetzaltrekkers, Johnston was able help build dormitories for these children and feed them regular meals.
“My trip to Guatemala changed my entire perspective on life,” said Johnston. “It is unbelievable how poor these people are. Now, everything I find most important in my life is anything, but materialistic.”
McCann and Sipherd similarly found their experience in Peru to be a life changing memory.
“I was incredibly humbled as I performed the work,” said McCann. “I was so overwhelmed with how blessed I was, I even started to question why they were born where they were. But then I realized, to them what they have is a blessing. They really don”t know any better, I just hope our work benefited their lives.”