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Winter Immersion Trips

Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010

This December, thirty dedicated broncos will trade time with family and friends, for time with communities in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Lima, Peru. The Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education sponsors two unique immersion trips during winter break through the Kolvenbach Solidarity Program. This year students will continue rebuilding homes in New Orleans and learn about the reality of Lima, including working in community garden programs.

The eighteen students bound for the gulf coast will work with the St. Bernard Project, a non-profit community-based program that strives “to create housing opportunities so that Hurricane Katrina survivors can return to their homes and communities.” While New Orleans is half way across the country, SCU students are passionate about the struggles gulf residents face five years after Katrina.

The environmental justice issues in New Orleans are apparent. Students will meet with community leaders, learning how communities responded to the storm and the challenges they still face. Reflection time is scheduled daily so students can discuss the role race and poverty played in the evacuation process both before and after Katrina, as well as general city planning in New Orleans.

“Students participating in immersion trips learn about environmental justice issues that are most pressing in the community they are visiting,” Valerie Sarma, Associate Director of the Kolvenbach Solidarity Program, said.

“We have found that students are very passionate about justice issues impacting the gulf coast region and one of the motivations for participating in the experience is to learn more about these issues,” Sarma added about the New Orleans trip.

Thirteen broncos will see ten days of summer as they head across the equator to Lima, Peru. Partnering with Community Links International (CLI), students will work in local community gardens to foster local organic practices. In the past, the Ignatian Center worked with CLI in Puebla, Mexico, but due to US State Department Travel warnings opted for South America this year.

“When we were in Puebla last year, the group helped families cultivate the soil in their gardens with organic compost. We worked with a community-based organization that was encouraging the residents of the area to grow more of their food organically and providing education and support for this. The students assisted in planting process,” Sarma said.

Sustainability is more than recycling and driving a Prius; a key concept that is often overlooked is social equity.The experience of SCU students in the coming weeks has the potential to change the lives of both the students and the community members they will be visiting. These immersion trips foster solidarity with people and communities drastically different from the Santa Clara bubble many of us grow accustomed to and give students a new understanding of the world in which they live.

“SCU students return from immersion with a new awareness of injustices facing local, US and international communities. The communities that students visit are challenged by material poverty and limited access to resources, but these are communities that also have many assets that are shared with the students on immersion,” Sarma said.

An Ignatian Center immersion trip helps many students find their true calling. “Our goal is that students reflect upon this experience and allow it to inform their vocation to become agents of change. A few examples of this are students that have participated in immersion trips and then gone on to pursue post-graduate volunteer work through JVC or Peace Corps. Students pursue graduate work, work in education, and start businesses engaged with sustainable practices,” Sarma said.

Macklin Behmke, '12, reflecting on his experience in Ecuador this past September, said “After my experience in Ecuador, my understanding of success changed drastically. No longer was I viewing success as a measure of personal achievement through a career, but as personal achievement through experiences shared with others. My time in Ecuador proved to me that success is not measured individually, but collectively."

Immersion trips are scheduled for spring break and summer. For more information visit the Ignatian Center’s website.

By Emily Orbanek, '11, Sustainability Intern, with assistance from Michael Nuttall, Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education.

Tags: Centers of Distinction, Community Engagement, Education and Research, Environmental Justice, Program Highlights, Spirituality, Student Life