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Iona in Mission: Reflections from Winter 2016


Gaby Suriel '19

Journey Across the Globe
On the cold night of January 4, the Iona in Mission team and I embarked on a life-changing journey across the globe. At the time, we knew the basics of what we were there to do, but little did we know all that Peru would do for us in the end.

After an 8-hour, 3,600 mile flight we arrived in Lima, Peru. Once in Peru, we headed to a district of Lima called San Juan de Lurigancho, and within that district we found ourselves nestled into the mountains in an area called Canto Grande.

Canto Grande is a very populated mosaic of houses in the mountains of Lima. Around 1,000,000 people live in the colorful hills that surround the city. Our team partnered with the Christian Brothers (Brother Paul and Brother Steve) to aid the Canto Grande region by building and repairing houses, making house visits to families, playing with kids at an orphanage and running a day camp for the beautiful children at Fe y Alegria.

The two-week period that we were there felt like a lifetime. By us climbing the hill daily to bring aid to others, Peruvians were able to open our hearts and minds to levels we never thought before, leaving us to look for the hill in our own lives and home. During the first week, we were able to build a home for a mother, Berta, and her daughter, Anais. During the week we also were able to do home visits and hear stories from the mothers and fathers about how their lives were affected by poverty or the “Shining Path” and how they are grateful for what they have now and are looking forward to the possibilities of the future.

Another day, our team had the chance to visit a orphanage nestled in the mountains of a nearby area called Via el Salvador. There we met the sisters who graciously dedicate their time to the children. We played with the kids and aimed to give them happiness and love, even if it were just for the short amount of time we were there. At the end of our time there at the orphanage, we found that not only were the kids happy, but our own hearts were happy as well from the kids. One afternoon, we visited a dance studio owned by a woman named Aurora. She brought the community together and gave them a studio in which the kids can escape whatever struggle they may be facing, and learn how to dance and do aerobics. She is a mother figure to a lot of the community in that region. She inspired a lot of us to stand up for what you believe in and lead the community towards a better future through youth.

Lastly, running the day camp at the local school Fe y Alegria. I found Fe y Alegria to be what its name entitles “Faith and Joy”. Every day we would go up the hill, and bring the supplies for the day. We would set up activities for the kids to play with, such as basketball, volleyball or arts and crafts. Though we were only running a camp for a week, it felt like a month. The relationships we built with the kids were life changing. Through looking back at the photos we all took, I can tell we all thrived living simply and the kids enlightened us in ways we did not know possible. The children radiate such positivity and happiness that I have never experienced anywhere else.

Through listening to families’ life stories and interacting with kids at an orphanage, we were able to truly open our hearts and listen. We met amazing people such as Aurora, Berta and Emma, ladies that stood up for their community and helped where ever they could. They were truly inspiring. We allowed ourselves to become immersed into the Peruvian culture, which showed us life from a new perspective of simplicity and gratefulness. In Peru we witnessed the hard-working ethic of Peruvian families as we shared meals with them, walked the same streets, rode on the same buses, as well as making conversations with them.

Since we have been back, we frequently ask ourselves "Where is the hill?," "How can we change our community?," "How can we change ourselves for the better of our community?," and we are extremely grateful for all that Peru has done for us. We would all go back in a heartbeat. We were fortunate to have our lives enlightened by the Peruvians of Canto Grande and we encourage everyone to “look for the hill in their lives.”

Kelsey Long '17

Definition of Solidarity
The basic definition of solidarity, in case some of you are unfamiliar with the word, is having unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest. It can also be defined as a mutual support within a group, or togetherness.

St. John Paul II, truly encompassed the meaning of this word when he said, “We are all one family in the world. Building a community that empowers everyone to attain their full potential through each of us respecting each other's dignity, rights and responsibilities makes the world a better place to live."

One word to describe our team would be "diverse." Never have I met such a wide variety of people, and yet our leaders, Jordan and Harley, saw a commonality between us all. Having so many unique personalities brought us depth and insight, creating an energy that radiated consistent positivity. Applying for the mission to Canto Grande in Peru is the most obvious similarity that we shared, but the call to action that we experienced is the most significant. We came with a purpose in mind and we were blessed with the opportunity to carry it out.

For some of us, this was a complete leap of faith. We were entering a place far outside of the “social norm.” Feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty seemed to be reoccurring target emotions pre-immersion, but somehow we found peace fantasizing about what was to come. We were together.
We were able to develop a community consisting of 13 amazing individuals and one great moderator, also accounting for the many Peruvians we were privileged to meet. We were fortunate to meet a handful of women, three in particular by the names of Rosa, Tonya and Aurora; each astounding examples of strength, bravery and independence. Their generous and humbling qualities demonstrate true camaraderie. Although being single mothers, setting good examples for their own children was highly apparent. We spent hours with an array of children and never once was a frown made, a whine muttered or a tear seen; instead, happiness filled the air with every laugh and smile.

I give credit to these women for pushing through every faced hardship with a warm glow upon their face and more importantly for passing these characteristics down to the future generations. These shared behaviors intertwined our world and theirs, there was no longer a difference. As the days went on, our understandings evolved and our walls disappeared. There we were, just men and women, girls and boys unitedly walking.
It is difficult to give full worth to the atmosphere we submerged ourselves in during our time in South America, however, I speak for myself and the rest of us in saying that we have broadened the word "family," outside of mere bloodline. Solidarity relies on the interdependence of one another and that’s just it; we are sisters and brothers, not through relation, language, physical aspects, class or culture, but through presence.
This bunch before me, is full of people with loving hearts, multitudes of talents, mounds of compassion and an abundance of beautiful souls. I know this because I watched them develop day after day. We supported each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and became transparent which allowed us to walk the journey as one. We were together.
I’d like to wrap up with this thought; a quote that speaks very loudly to me. It says: "There is no need for you to change the whole world; just change yourself and you have started changing the whole world, because you are part of the world. If even a single human being changes, that change will radiate to thousands and thousands of others. You will become a triggering point for a revolution which can give birth to a totally new kind of human being." So tonight, our stories are meant to spark a light in you like they have with us. I encourage you to not only seek out, but to generate solidarity amongst, others in your own communities and households. Let’s take that leap of faith, together.

Chris Kash '17

Building Relationships with Others
For me, and I am also going to speak for the rest of the team, our time in Peru was nothing less than life-changing. We were given the opportunity to walk, work, and love side-by-side with the community of Canto Grande and our two amazing hosts, Brother Steve and Brother Paul (most of us called him Pablo). With them, we were able to build a relationship of solidarity that can never be forgotten.

This sense of solidarity allowed us to gain an insight into the lives of the people we worked with during our short amount of time we were there. In regards to the Brothers, they opened their doors for us and allowed us to enter into their lives. We ate, worked, learned, and became one with one another through their openness and love. Steve and Pablo opened themselves up to us in order for us to feel comfortable in sharing with one another.

We were able to share stories and learn about one another, as well as teach each other what one might say are “customs.” For example, we taught Pablo the phrases of “it’s lit” and how to dab, but at the same time he told us stories of the places he’s been through being a Brother and the work he has done. This was only made possible due to the fact of us being in one another’s company. They taught us the obstacles that the community of not only Canto Grande faces, but the majority of Peru. And we were able to see these obstacles for ourselves, and by working with the people to overcome these difficulties, we became one with them as well.

We were able to see the joy, love and compassion that the people hold. This was done through two different ways. The first was through building homes. When you think of us building homes, you probably think of the people watching us while they get a new home constructed for them, right? I mean that’s what happens here in the states. In Peru it’s different. The people who we were able to serve didn’t watch us. They joined us in helping to build their homes. I think of Anais, a 11-year-old girl, and her mom. We were able to build them a new home thanks to their help. They were there for each step of the way – de-constructing the old one, putting up the walls and roof of the new one, helping us paint and finally moving their belongings in. Through this combined effort, we were able to grow with one another. We learned about each other, taught English and Spanish, and most importantly danced together. It wasn’t about finishing the house and leaving. Each moment spent was about growing closer to one another, and all of us built a bond with Anais that can never be forgotten.

But it didn’t end there. Our entire experience was just like this. Every home we built, every person we talked to, and every smile we shared grew us closer to the community and its people. We had the privilege of being with one individual for the majority of our trip: Jorge. Jorge helped us construct the homes, but he did more than just that. He taught us the culture and love of his people. Jorge never gave up on us when we couldn’t understand what he was saying or what he wanted for us. Instead he helped us and was patient. He opened his life to us by introducing us to his family where we were able to meet his three beautiful daughters. We grew so close with Jorge that we will like each other’s Facebook photos and comment back and forth. I can continue on and on about all the people who impacted our lives and who we grew close with, but I don’t think I will do them justice. We learned that being present in the moment and working side-by-side with someone is worth much more than we could ever have imagined. The people impacted us so much that in five years’ time, we are going to be back among our friends. My parting gift to you is this: "If you do everything for everybody, instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up doing nothing for nobody." So don’t focus on the big picture: concentrate on the individual pieces.

Sarah Dembek '16

Life on the Hill
My name is Sarah and I am a senior here at Iona and had the pleasure of spending two weeks over this past winter break in Canto Grande, Peru. Whenever I speak to anyone about my experience one of the first things I always ask is if anyone has ever seen the Disney movie "The Emperor’s New Groove?" The reason I ask this is because I always like a visual when I hear stories and the way that the houses are laid out on top of the hill in that movie is an accurate description of the layout we walked through Canto Grande in Peru.

Taking the 20-minute journey through the desert hills every day for two weeks gave my team members and me an opportunity to learn, not only the layout of the land but also gave us the chance to bond with many of the families living on the hill. These families exemplify the definition of a true community. Everyone cares for each other so much and is constantly checking in on each other’s well-being. While the children of the hill venture off to play with each other because the hills are their playground, the mothers tend to work from home and if the fathers are present in their lives, then they find work outside of the hill.

When we were visiting families on the hill, some of our team members were able to work in the homes of two different women named Tanya and Rosa. Both of these women are mothers and spend their days peeling abba beans for their source of income. They peeled around 70 to 100 kilos of abbas beans a day and made around 35-45 American cents per kilo peeled. A lot of the time the kids sit around and help peel the beans too, just to make sure their family will be paid that day. Tanya had four boys named Luis, Marcos, Carlos, and Diego who all impacted my heart while in Peru. The brothers who later attended our day camp, were difficult to break out of their shells due to the fact that they spend most their days with their mom on the hill peeling abbas.

One of the main lessons I took out of my experience in Peru was the importance of living life with love in your hearts. I used to think that people lived happy lives simply because it was something that came more naturally to them than others. However I learned that you don’t just live a happy life, you get to live a happy life because you carry love in your heart for the people and your surroundings. Although most of the families including Tanya and the boys come from nothing at all, they are some of the happiest people I have ever met in my life because all they have is love. I promised myself leaving Peru to pray every day for love, not only for myself but for everyone around me and in this world, because we all deserve to live happy lives. I challenge you all to do the same.