NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The members of the Iona Preparatory School’s Mission Peru team recently returned home from their annual Christian service trip to the South American country, all carrying far more with them than they had upon their departure 10 days earlier.
They arrived home with crystal-clear perspective, deeper commitment to helping those less fortunate and a greater appreciation for their Iona Prep brothers, all true valuables filling their hearts and minds as opposed to their suitcases.
“At Iona, we talk a lot about the poor – this many people live without water, this many people live under $2 a day,” said James Sloat, a junior from Yorktown Heights. “But, really, when you see it first-hand, it changes everything. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to live on under $2 a day, but when you do, it becomes real and a lot more understandable.”
Added Griffin Regan, a senior from Cortlandt Manor: “It was shocking to see just how different their lives are from ours.”
This was the sixth time in seven years that an Iona Prep contingent answered the call to serve in Peru. The 15-member Mission Peru team, comprising 12 students and three chaperones, spent much of its time in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Lima, Peru’s capital, where the Christian Brothers operate a school. Amid massive internal conflict during the late 20th century, Peruvians flooded the neighborhoods in and around Lima, resulting in severe overpopulation. As the Gaels learned first-hand, some of these barrios are still struggling to catch up to acceptable modern standards.
“One of the places we worked, there’s a mountain, and you buy different plots of land, and you have to carve out your flat land from the mountain,” Regan said. “One of the projects one day was to help dig out an area and make the flat surface. It was very difficult work – the dust was in your eyes – but it struck me how [the people] were going through so much work just to build their home.”
The Gaels got a close-up look at life without conveniences most Americans take for granted – drinkable water, abundant food, indoor plumbing, paved roads and electronic devices, to name a few. Their days were filled with service – everything from lending a hand at an orphanage to getting their hands dirty leveling land or pulling up concrete flooring. Their nights were filled with reflection and card playing.
All the while, they gained an appreciation for the humble, hard-working people they assisted – as well as each other.
“The entire purpose was to be immersed in the culture and not use electronics, and to connect with your Iona brothers,” said Doug Lyon, a senior from Ossining. “I didn’t know everybody on the trip [at the start], but I got to know everybody, which was really nice.”
The trip concluded with a visit to Machu Picchu, where the group took in the lush land amid the mountain ruins of the Incas. It was an opportunity for the Mission Peru members to savor the natural beauty, reflect on their service and ponder the work still ahead.
“They come back changed,” said Brother Thomas Leto, President of Iona Preparatory School and a member of the Mission Peru team. “The group comes away knowing there’s something bigger than Iona Preparatory School. As much as we’re all different, there’s a common humanity – the call to serve goes to a larger community. It’s beautiful to see how the team opens its mind and heart to the grace God gives them.”
Said Jonathan Pugni, a senior from Valhalla: “We’re all called to serve as children of God and disciples of Jesus. We have to be able to serve not just others in our community, but all across the world who need our help.”