Two houses in six days.
Hours of manual labor, mixing and pouring cement, chipping and shaping cinder blocks, and digging foundations.
And important lessons on poverty, privilege, and people.
Members of Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Global Service Learning (GSL) student organization traveled to Guatemala this summer for their annual international service project.
This marked the third time the organization has traveled to Guatemala to work with Constru Casa, a nonprofit organization the works to improve the quality of life for Guatemalans living in extreme poverty through the provision of basic housing and support programs.
Students worked alongside masons, volunteers and the families who would soon move into the homes. The earthquake-proof homes included a bedroom with a connected bathroom and shower.
“Seeing a finished home and its impact on the lives of real people made the work that we were doing have more meaning,” said sophomore Paige Wergin, a communication studies and Spanish major from Aurora.
Kara Cavel, assistant professor of social work, accompanied the group to Guatemala. In addition to the physical labor and visits with families who have previously received housing through Constru Casa, the students learned firsthand about the issues surrounding poverty. Nightly conversations helped students process their thoughts and experiences.
“Being exposed to the Guatemalan culture, which seems to highly emphasize the importance of family and community, as well being exposed to the conditions in which many Guatemalans live helped the students recognize and clarify their own values, their privileges, and their beliefs,” said Cavel.
“Students were challenged to examine their biases about what it means to live in poverty, and how more often than not, poverty is a condition that is deeply rooted in a history of oppression,” she continued. “I think the students are aware of this and will continue to seek more profound explanations of the causes of poverty.”
Each year GSL members participate in an annual international service trip, which has included projects in Malawi, Nicaragua, Swaziland, China and Fiji. The organization also participates in an annual national service trip as well as monthly local service projects.
Ty Garner, a senior from Broomfield, Colo., has participated in several local, national and international service trips with GSL. The experiences have influenced his decision to apply and serve in the Peace Corps following his graduation from NWU next spring.
“Service is incredibly important, and it has become a large part of my life,” he said. “I know moving forward that regardless of what job or career I choose, the one thing that I will continue pursing in my life will be serving others in my community and across the globe.”