The UPEI students worked with eight young women who attend the Jardin De Santa Margarita (Garden of Saint Marguerite) school in Sánta Barbara. Courtesy for Elizabeth Iwunwa

UPEI students take faith in action in Honduras

By  Elizabeth Iwunwa, Youth Speak News
  • March 23, 2018

Early in the morning, Sely Teruel walks along hilly, cloud-covered mountains and dusty slopes to get to her school in Sánta Barbara, Honduras, during the week. She lives in one of the surrounding villages so the trek to and from school is about an hour each way. 

Her experience stands in sharp contrast with the lives of the four Canadian students who visited Teruel’s Honduran village last month. Unlike Teruel, they didn’t have to worry about distance and safety. 

Through the collaboration of the Saint Dunstan’s University Institute of Christianity and Culture and the Congregation of Notre Dame, the students and the chaplain from the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) embarked on a service-learning trip to Honduras. 

“I knew the stories of my sisters in the South and I wanted the students to have an experience of the land, the work and the people,” said Sr. Susan Kidd, UPEI chaplain and a sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame.

“One of the Institute (of Christianity and Culture)’s principal missions is to help provide valuable experiential and global learning opportunities for students,” said Robert Dennis, professor of Religious Studies at UPEI who helped organize the trip. “Sending students to Honduras on a service-learning experience was a perfect complement to academic programming in places such as New York City, Rome and Montreal.”

Fourth-year student Katie VanLeeuwen has gone on experiential learning trips to New York and Rome. But this year was very different. For her, the focus of this particular trip was about the body, the heart and the spirit.

“Those (other trips) dealt more with intellectual knowledge, whereas this has more to do with physical labour and the ability to connect with people,” she said.

In addition to working with the eight young women who attend the Jardin De Santa Margarita (Garden of Saint Marguerite) school in Sánta Barbara, the Canadians participated in clearing out the garden where the CND sisters lived, as well as painting the walls of the village’s Instituto Hondureño De Educacion Por Radio (IHER). They also harvested coffee beans grown in the mountains nearby.

The school opened its doors to young women surrounding Sánta Barbara in 1980. Sr. Monica Geroux of the Congregation of Notre Dame established the school with the intention of providing a safe and conducive environment for living and learning.

For many students, the commute is anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. 

Srs. Violaine Paradis and Maria-Jose Jimenez Andres see to the spiritual needs and formation of the young women. 

Although the school is closing this year because of lack of funds, Sr. Maria-Jose says the involvement of the community gives life to the work done there. Jardin will remain in service to the people, but will shift its focus towards creating a holistic health space.

The school has had an undeniably positive impact. One of the students, Jenifer Rodriquez, 18, is set to graduate from high school in November, as is 18-year-old Gabriela Pineda. 

Pineda sang in the choir in her community parish and heard of the school from a fellow chorister. She is now preparing for university, intending to become a paediatrician and run her own practice.

(Iwunwa, 20, is a fourth-year psychology student at University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, PEI.)

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