IMPACT Stories

Featured IMPACT Story

Sharing the stories of Saint Xavier University students, alumni, faculty/staff and friends.

International Mercy Service Trip to Belize

Completed house in Belize.Contrasted against a brilliant, sparkling blue Caribbean Sea is the extreme poverty of Belize. It is estimated that between 30% and 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. Many families are in need of decent shelter.

For one week in May, 11 Saint Xavier University students, accompanied by faculty and staff members and a Sister of Mercy, participated in the seventh annual International Mercy Service Trip to Belize, sponsored by the Office for Mission and Heritage. They were there to work with Hand in Hand Ministries to build a simple home for a family in need. 

Amanda M. Lopez, Ph.D., associate professor of history and faculty leader on the trip said, “One of the questions on students’ minds before we left was, ‘Can we really build a house in a week?’ It turns out we only needed three and a half days!”

For Vicky Villagomez ’14, the decision to participate in this year’s trip was easy. “Belize was calling me. I had previously gone on a spring break service trip and found the experience to be very meaningful. At the same time, I also had heard other students talk about the positive impact the Belize trip had on them. I was hoping for a similar outcome,” said Vicky. 

“I have found Saint Xavier students to be optimistic, good-hearted and hopeful,” said Dr. Lopez. “They are ready to work, contribute and learn. A trip like this expands their horizons and allows them to connect service and our other core values to the larger world.”

The Saint Xavier group was able to construct a simple 16x16 two-room structure for the Ah family; Catarina, her husband, their daughter and their late son’s two small children. Catarina worked alongside the Saint Xavier students on the home. During a house blessing ceremony, Catarina expressed her sincere thanks and gratitude for this miracle from a group of wonderful strangers. 

“This was such an amazing experience. Often times, students and young people get caught up in their own lives. We don’t always pay attention to the bigger picture. I feel a greater understanding of the world around me now,” Vicky said. “I also gained a lot of self-confidence. The work was hard at first, but I like to challenge myself. By the end of the trip, I had earned the nickname ‘the hammer queen.’ I would encourage all Saint Xavier University students to participate in the Belize trip. In fact, I want to go back myself!”

The International Mercy Service Trip to Belize continues to be a life changing experience for students like Vicky. Many of the participants had never been on an airplane, let alone outside of the country. Students also encountered realities that prompted new thoughts about life in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

“I was surprised to see how happy all the children were despite living in such poverty,” said Vicky. “It also made me realize that if you have the ability to help others, you should. When students can share an experience like this, it builds – no pun intended – community between the Saint Xavier community and the larger global community. It speaks directly to one’s ability to have global impact, as well.”

Social researchers often cite the Millennial Generation’s desire to make the world a better place. Because of programs like this, Saint Xavier University students are making the world better for families in Belize and bringing to life the words of Mahatma Ghandi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Saint Xavier University would like to thank all of the generous donors who help make an experience like this possible for our students, including the Sisters of Mercy in Belize, the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community and a grant from West Midwest Mercy Ministry.

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