Semester Break or Service Break?

By Kelly Rickert
Staff Writer

Semester break is coming up, and Marywood students are using their time off to help those less fortunate than themselves. Twelve students from Marywood are going on a ten-day service trip to Guatemala.

The service trip is comprised of volunteers from Marywood traveling to Guatemala and working at the San Lucas Mission. According to Amy Fotta, the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry,”The purpose of the experience is for the students to provide hands-on service, working side-by-side with the native people on their coffee cooperative, in their reforestation program, maintenance of their school or women’s center, as well as being engaged in the experience of immersion in the country and with the people. It is a true experience of learning and serving.”  The volunteers will be leaving Pennsylvania on December 27, and returning January 6.

Marywood’s Campus Ministry has coordinated several international service trips to San Lucas Mission since 2000.  These included Winter Breaks of 2000, 2005-2006, 2006- 2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and May 2009.  Because these trips are organized through the mission, the people of San Lucas are familiar with international groups visiting and working alongside them on service projects.

The service projects that the group will participate in vary based on the needs of the community.  The groups that Marywood has sent in past years have all picked, harvested, and assisted with the coffee cooperative.  According to, The Juan Ana Coffee Program which is run by the San Lucas Mission, “Provides sustainable living for more than 650 coffee farmers and their families by providing fair, consistent wages far beyond Fair Trade standards.  In turn, these farmers provide the highest quality gourmet coffee of the famed ‘world coffee route’ in the highlands of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. So, by helping with harvest, volunteers help these farmers to provide for their families.

The groups have also assisted with planting, fertilizer prep, or preparing seedlings for the reforestation project that the mission coordinates.  This program is a tree nursery, which produces 40,000 to 50,000 trees a year, which are then sold to individuals, or given to schools and other organizations. The trees help with erosion control, are used as ornamentals, for firewood, or to produce lumber in the future, as reported on their website,

Each group has also assisted with at least one building project, such as a house, the mission’s women’s center, or the library.  Along with these, groups may assist with painting walls or furniture for the school, organizing donated books for the school and library, or organizing donated medical supplies for the local clinic.

In addition to their service projects at the San Lucas Mission, the group will have the chance to travel to Chichicastenango to visit a school for indigenous children.  They will also be visiting the marketplace there which will give them more experience with the country’s people.

The group of volunteers has spent more than twenty hours of preparation to get ready for the trip.  Their preparation covered topics like cultural awareness, orientation to the program and country of Guatemala, etiquette for being a socially-conscious traveler, prayer, reflection, and community building.

In addition to this preparation, the group has also been fundraising to cover the cost of the trip, with several events.  These events were several fundraisers held at the flea market and over family weekend, as well as the knit hat, glove, and slipper sale.  Along with these, they also went high-tech with their fundraising, using and Goodshop to raise money for the trip.

So, after all their preparation, the group will head off to San Lucas Mission, in Guatemala over the break.  But they are not the only students who can help those in need.  There are many ways to get involved in service in the local community.  There are opportunities in every community to volunteer, such as local branches of the American Red Cross, Meals-on-Wheels, or Habitat for Humanity.  Along with these, there are also local service projects such as food pantries, soup kitchens, and other projects organized through churches or specific communities.  These organizations are always looking for volunteers, so if you are looking for ways to spend Christmas break, why not follow the service trip’s example, and give back to people in need in your local area.