By Emmaline Jurgena
The Catholic Messenger
Twenty-eight houses have been built in Guatemala largely thanks to volunteers from an annual service trip led by Kathy McCue, campus minister at Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City.
A total of 17 students and alumni, as well as one family, traveled from Minnesota, Colorado and Iowa to volunteer in Antigua, Guatemala, this June. Once they arrived, they partnered with ImagineinGuatemala, an organization that guides service groups during their time in the Central American country.
The volunteers lived with local families during their 11 days in Antigua and ministered in the community in a variety of ways, in addition to building homes. Each individual brought toys, clothes, first-aid kit supplies and other goods that he or she gathered through donation. These donations were distributed during their stay in Antigua, and a clothing drive was held for families in the community. The group traveled to a local dump site, a location where some Guatemalans made their homes, to share a meal and kick around a soccer ball with them. The group also visited an orphanage for children whose lives were affected by HIV.
The volunteers, along with several locals who helped lead the groups, split into teams. Each group worked independently to build the structures that would become homes. Each 12-by 16-foot structure is built of cement and brick with tile floors, and is equipped with electricity. McCue believes the labor it takes to build the homes is made up for by the rewards, calling the service “the hardest work you’ll every love.”
Each house is outfitted with a stone plaque, in the hopes that the service volunteers will return to Guatemala some day in the future, and will be able to find the home that they helped build. Indeed, that day comes sooner rather than later for some individuals; McCue said many students who go on the trip have returned another year, or have encouraged family members to go.
“They come home with a very new perspective and, I would say, a broader sense of the world. They have a better understanding of what they are blessed with and privileged with,” McCue said.
University of Iowa student Allison Garmager went on the Guatemalan service trip for the first time this summer. She attended Regina during high school and was familiar with the trip, but was inspired to go after meeting others in college who had participated in similar programs.
Garmager felt that, while the entire trip was memorable, several experiences especially stuck with her. One was traveling to the garbage dump to visit the people who resided there. The emotional weight of this visit was difficult to grapple with, and broadened her perspective on how others live. Another experience occurred after her team had finished building a house and were leaving the site.
“One of the moments I really remember is the neighborhood kids that we met, and had become close with, running down the street after us, waving. To me, it really showed that we had affected their lives and, at least for those four days, maybe made them a little better,” Garmager said.
Ultimately the trip offered a way to assist others, which was hugely rewarding for her.
“It seemed like a good way to help people, and it was, and you got to see the impact of your work as well. I would definitely go again.”