Sr. Patricia Laughlin, principal of Fe y Alegria 58, prepares the Canadian students before the first day back to school. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Lee

Loretto Sisters bring together students in Toronto and Peru

  • May 18, 2018

It took a trip to Peru for Grade 12 student Carolyn Lee to gain a new appreciation for her classroom in Toronto.

When the students of Fe y Alegria 58 school in Jicamarca, near Lima, Peru, arrived for first day of school, they were brimming with excitement. Many had walked for hours up the mountain so that they could get this education and it really put Lee’s life in perspective. 

“When I asked them a question during class, all of them were really excited to answer,” said the 18-year-old from Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School. “But nowadays, in school (in Canada), when a teacher asks a question, everyone tries to avoid being picked. So it’s really funny to see how much we take for granted.”

Lee was among the 18 students and five teachers that spent their March break on a service learning trip, organized by Adventure Learning Experiences Inc. and the Toronto Catholic District School Board. 

This year’s trip was a mission to a Peruvian school run by the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters). Sr. Patricia McLaughlin moved from Toronto to Jicamarca in 2002 to revitalize a school that the Sisters took over from the founding Jesuit community. 

“You go up a mountain and the mountain is sheer grey stone and you get to the top and nothing grows,” said Sr. Evanne Hunter, provincial superior of the Loretto Sisters in Canada, who had visited the Peruvian school five years ago. “Everything is grey, even the sky is grey. It’s the most depressing place I’ve ever been to and then they have this colourful school.”

The first part of the students’ trip was to inject colour into the building. They painted the exterior walls, the bathrooms and the classroom doors with every colour of the rainbow. On the third day, it was the first day of the school year and the students (ages five to 18 years old) were welcomed with mural walls. 

“That day, we just met with the students, spoke to them and played some soccer and volleyball with them,” said Lee.

The Toronto students each prepared two subjects to teach the students — one sport and one academic subject. Lee decided to teach her favourite sport, frisbee, and her favourite subject, social science. 

Lee said she was nervous about meeting and interacting with the students because of the language barrier. To help prepare, she spent weeks learning simple Spanish phrases and practising on a language learning app. Still, she couldn’t have anticipated the one thing that she and the Peruvian students bonded over. 

“We were singing along to the song, ‘Despacito’ (by Justin Bieber), with them,” said Lee. “That was really enjoyable because even though we were from two totally different cultures, we still had something in common.” 

The Loretto Sisters have mission schools all around the world, including Ghana, India and Peru. 

Hunter, a former teacher and principal at Loretto Abbey, said she likes to encourage as many students as possible to go on these service learning trips because they  enrich the experience of the students here in Canada. 

“It’s important for them to learn how people in other parts of the world live and they come back changed,” said Hunter. “We take it for granted here, but kids in other parts of the world, it’s a real thing they want and would do anything for.”

This is the second service learning trip Lee has done with the Loretto Sisters’ communities. Now that she’s graduating high school, she’s looking to do something in health care that will give her the skills to help the sick and vulnerable. 

“It has really helped me, in a sense, find myself,” said Lee. “I now know what I want to do in the future. I know that there are people that are living in these poor conditions and I’d really like to help them.”

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