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By Stasi Formica
Staff Writer for The Ionian
This past May, Iona in Mission gave ten students the opportunity to lend a helping hand for two weeks in the African country of Zambia. The Republic of Zambia gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964, but is unfortunately still suffering from an overwhelming amount of poverty, ill-education and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Student participant on the trip Kimberleigh Costanzo described Zambia as “an incredible country made up of some of the most welcoming, kind, inspiring, hardworking people I have ever met.” Another student partaking in the adventure, Rob Droel spoke on the faith of the people. “Their faith is what gives them hope and it animates their lives,” he said.
The group partnered with the Christian Brothers in Zambia and Brother Banda in particular, who helped plan activities and visits in order to ensure the trip’s success. Iona in Mission Coordinator Tiffany DiNome called the trip’s success a “perfect balance of service and cultural emersion.”
During their stay, Iona in Mission students visited the cities of Kabwe, Mazabuka, Livingstone and Lusaka, where they visited local schools and homes with dirt floors, lacking both electricity and running water. Costanzo explained that the experience was an opportunity to see “exactly what earning less than one dollar a day looks like.” The Christian Brothers in Lusaka run both a public school for all students and a private school for boys, and they are currently trying to raise money to build a girls’ restroom so the school can begin to accept girls as well.
Although receiving a good education is very rare, most of the students remain “hopeful that they can somehow find a way to get to college” said Resident Minister Jeanne McDermott. Droel recalled the same spirit amongst the students when talking about the work they did at the Edmund Rice Centre offering help in computer skills. “That was one thing which struck me,” he said, “just how inquisitive the students were and how serious they take their education.”
While visiting the private school, the group split up into teams, going to different classrooms to share information about their differing cultures. Questions were asked about everything ranging from government and the economy to families and dating. “There was a tremendous amount of laugher and shyness,” McDermott said, “It was my one of my favorite activities.”
The group also traveled to a home for Girls at Risk, which aids victims of abuse, mutilation, rape, incest, pregnancy out of wedlock and dangerous home life situations, as well as providing an HIV/AIDS hospice. “It was one of the saddest but most inspiring things I’ve ever done” said Droel.
The Christian Brothers in Zambia are working hard to help get people education about HIV prevention and AIDS awareness, especially where the youth are concerned. By holding youth group discussions, the Brothers encourage complete transparency in sharing. The transparency came as a shock to the group, McDermott said, “as very personal questions were asked right up front during the first discussion.” This kind of sharing, however, is vital to the culture due to the HIV and AIDS epidemic throughout the country.
The participants of the Zambia Mission Trip strongly encourage other students to take part in Iona in Mission. Mission trips, said McDermott, “allow us a first-hand experience of another’s circumstances, frustrations, joys, challenges, opportunities, and relationships.” The importance of a mission trip is not only helping those in need, but discovering and connecting with people and cultures around the world. “I got to see that Edmund Rice’s mission and spirit is not something which is constrained to 715 North Avenue or even to North America, but is truly something which is lived out globally,” said Droel.
Participating in Iona in Mission has been considered a life-changing experience by many. “Your eyes will be opened to things you never imagined and you will find yourself, upon your arrival back home, thinking more about the consequences of your actions and what you can do to help the unbelievable people you met,” said Costanzo. Her favorite part of the trip? “The people I met. I will carry their stories with me forever.”
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