Service takes on new meaning for Cathedral students

Categories: My Page Essays

chsserviceThe Visitor asked Erin Anderson, a junior at Cathedral in St. Cloud, pictured in photo at right, to reflect on her recent trip to the Dominican Republic, part of the Global Issues class at the school. The trip was planned and led by teacher Dick McMorrow.

“All trips I lead from Cathedral have the same purpose,” he said, “whether to Tanzania or the Dominican Republic, and that is to first introduce young people from Cathedral to issues facing a billion people around the world that are different from their own — for example, issues related to poverty, lack of access to clean water, improper sanitation, lack of infrastructure, barriers to education and so on. Second, to participate in service and realize that they can become part of the solution and, third, to provide the entire experience within the context of our Catholic faith and tradition.”

More than 120 Cathedral students have had this experience since 2008. “It is important because most realize that an experience like this is the beginning of a life of service, not a box to be checked off,” McMorrow said. “These trips complement the excellent education at Cathedral [and] the students’ faith formation, and it is one of the many opportunities Cathedral students have to explore the world.”

By Erin Anderson
For The Visitor

On March 29, I set off with 20 other juniors from Cathedral High School and eight chaperones for a service trip to the Dominican Republic.

Our days were spent at either our manual labor site, the orphanage, the parish or the school.

At the parish and school, we spent time with the children, learning the culture and donating our time and gifts to help those who needed it.

The orphanage we visited was named “Casa de Luz,” meaning, “House of Light,” and was home to orphans with special abilities.

Unable to walk on their own or incapable of speaking, the smiles we received from the kids made us realize how much of a difference we made in their lives, along with the impact they left on us.

Personally, the manual labor site was the most impactful. Our goal was to rebuild a house for a woman whose home had burned down in an electrical fire six months prior to us coming.

For these past months, she had been living in a chicken coop with her daughters and granddaughter.

When we first arrived, there was nothing but an outline in the dirt for her new home. We spent days mixing cement, pouring concrete, sawing wood and nailing boards.

Within the next week, her whole home was almost complete. The gratitude and appreciation she showed us was incredible.

All the days we were at our work site, the children from around the town would gather and play around us as well. They taught us games, played with our hair and followed us everywhere. I think their company impacted us just as much as ours affected them.

The appreciation they had for such little gifts of hugs and companionship made us all realize how much we take for granted and how we focus on the inconsequential things in our lives.

My teacher, Mr. [Dick] McMorrow was constantly reminding us to live in the moment, to make connections and to act through service and compassion. I owe a huge thank you to him and all others that made this trip possible.

I thank God for the wonderful life I am able to live here — with clean drinking water and a roof over my head — for I have seen the other side of life where not everything comes so easy.

We arrived home at 12:30 a.m. on April 9, and I believe we all saw our lives through a different set of eyes.

I will always carry these memories of my experience with me, for I know I left a piece of my heart back in the Dominican Republic as well.

I hope to continue working through service throughout my life, because I believe there is always a need for help and an opportunity to do so.

Blog excerpts

Students took turns writing blog entries daily during the trip. The following are excerpts from some of their posts:

Thursday, April 2

“While pouring freshly mixed cement at the work site, we were hauling buckets on buckets over to the house foundation and handing them to the workers. Something that really spoke to me was how the workers responded to problems during the construction process. When there was a leak in the foundation, they patched it with wetted-down paper bags. For support they used oddly shaped and broken-down pieces of what I saw as junk wood, but they saw as useful. It was eye opening to observe the different ways two people could see the exact same thing due to different perspectives.”

Good Friday, April 3

“We got back to the hotel to find that we were going to be doing a walk around the town in our travel groups to form a Stations of the Cross. We were to take a picture that represented that station and we had to have a short explanation. Aaron and I (Trevor) were in the same group and our stations were “Simon helps Jesus” and “Jesus’ crucifixion.” There were two kids who got a kite stuck in a tree and they were too short to get it out. We walked over and got it out of the tree and asked if we could take a picture with them. They were very thankful of us helping them. This represented Simon helping Jesus. For Jesus’ crucifixion, we went to a local fish store to get a picture of a fish being cut or hung. This happened to be a very long walk but the people working there were very happy to see us, Gringos. They were happy to let us take a picture with their store and even let me hold a live fish out of their bucket. The picture we used was a sliced up fish that reminded us of the whip marks of Jesus’ back. …

“When we got back, everyone compiled what he or she found to a slideshow that we then shared to everyone. We then had a prayer session like we do every night where we talk about journal subjects and we go around and say how we saw God’s love today. Many people saw many good things that showed God’s love but Jake’s story stood out the most. He shared how we saw God’s love in one of his close friends that he made at the orphanage. What he said brought many tears to the group.”