While most college students can be found returning to their hometowns for winter break or partaking in a vacation, last month one group of Loyola students participated in a 10-day cultural immersion and service program in Kingston, Jamaica.
The program, Ignacio Volunteers, nicknamed Iggy Vols, offers the opportunity for students and staff to take part in an immersion opportunity that also does service in international communities.
The idea of these trips are for students to practice Ignatian ideals.
From selling milk and cookies at the library to charging other students for rides to and from Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, students fund raise pay for the trip.
Upon arrival in Kingston, the students were divided into groups to work at sites such as Mother Teresa’s, a home for the destitute and dying, Missionaries of the Poor Bethlehem house, an orphanage for physically and mentally disabled young people and Jacob’s Well, a shelter for mentally and physically disabled women, said Andrew Harper.
The students’ jobs were to help residents in any way possible. The volunteers did chores such as feeding or bathing disabled individuals, or just talking to them, explained Will Hsu.
After the end of each work day, the students reflected on their work by sharing their experiences in an open discussion and relating it to their own spiritual and individual growth.
Will Hsu, community director of Carrollton Hall, worked as a staff member during this trip. He volunteered alongside students and also assisted in leading reflections. The trip is meant to be eye-opening, and for Hsu, it was.
Hsu said he was pushed out of his comfort zone, particularly by working with individuals who were mute or missing limbs and trying to figure out what they needed.
“I remember helping put a resident to bed and he began opening about his life story,” Hsu said. “On the last day, when I was parting ways with the individual he began to pray for me wishing me the best on my journey, and suddenly he began to cry. I don’t consider myself someone to be particularly religious, but seeing them cry – I began to cry myself, and I never thought that I could connect with an elderly individual in that way.”
His experience caused him to reflect on his own life, and to connect with a paternal grandfather whom he had lost touch with over the years.
Andrew Harper, environmental biology senior, had a similar life-changing experience. He decided to do the trip last minute, inspired by it being his senior year and wanting to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.
Harper said one of his favorite moments was visiting Jacob’s Well.
“It was the first time the group was split up so I was feeling very anxious, but the second we opened the doors, there were many women cheering and happy to see us,” Harper said. “Immediately I was comforted and realized how great it is to be with others and serve our community. It speaks to our core Jesuit values of truly being ‘for and with others,’ and it forces us to do just that.”
Ten students and two staff attended the Kingston trip, other trip options include the New Orleans immersion trip. More information on how to apply can be found on the Loyola website.