On Thursday, All Saints Day (November 1) after celebrating Mass commemorating the Holy Day - Montini Catholic students who traveled to Jamaica over their summer break with International Samaritan - stepped forward to share their experiences. In preparation for a second trip (and what will be Montini's 5th global mission) in the summer of 2019, the students hoped to share their thoughts and reflections on their life-changing venture. They also hoped to inspire others to consider taking part in future mission trips.
The nine young students (along with chaperones, Mr. Denis Block and Ms. Stephanie Kuecker) gathered at O'Hare Airport on an early Sunday morning, July 8th. With the exception of senior Grania O'Flaherty, who traveled to Nicaragua with Montini and International Samaritan in 2017, none of the students had participated in a global mission trip, and weren't quite sure what to expect. All, however, were open to the experience and dedicated to helping their brothers and sisters in Jamaica.
The mission trip took the Montini volunteers to the Riverton Meadow community in Kingston, Jamaica, one of the poorest in the Jamaican capital. Most families in Riverton live in shacks made of zinc and have little or no resources or money. The students visited the Garbage Dump area - a place where most people in that community work to make a living and many often eat what they find among the trash. It was there that the Montini students were exposed to the struggles that many Jamaicans face on a daily basis.
The highlight of the trip for most of the students was when they got to visit the community's summer school where they helped teach math, reading and basic grammar skills to kids of all ages. "We were amazed by how much each teacher was expected to handle," said Enya O'Flaherty, who was encouraged by sister, Grania to join her on the trip. "With an entire school as big as about one of our art rooms, each child was still incredibly happy and grateful for what they had."
Sister, Grania added, "The children were very excited to see us. I do not think I can put into words how grateful everyone was that we were there. Just by us being there, playing with the kids brought so much joy to the community." Grania was very inspired by the way the young children could have so much fun with simple things. During their visit, the group painted the school's playground with the efforts to bring joy, energy and color into their world. "We really wanted them to know that someone cares about them and wanted to help them," said Grania.
"We donated an abundant amount of school supplies, games, toys and other necessities to the kids," informed senior Marissa VanDeVeer. "We also donated a generous amount of money to one single mother with four kids. She and 8 others lived in a house that was made up of one room and one bed. We had the opportunity to personally deliver this money for resources for her and her family. She was beyond grateful and started to cry. She couldn't stop thanking us for our generosity."
Junior Kylie Boyer was very impacted by the mother's emotional response to their generosity. "After all of us saw this reaction and how it impacted her, we all knew that our contribution was much appreciated and needed," she said. "We all felt a sense of purpose and belonging that day, and we knew in that moment that what we were doing was right. It was a moment we will never forget."
Senior Sophie Gallagher told her Montini peers that each of the members who attended the mission trip had a life-changing experience that will last forever. "We realized that you never really quite understand the struggles of people until you experience it first hand."
The school's first global mission occurred in June of 2015 when they sent a team of nine to work with the garbage dump community in Nicaragua. The group helped build a house for a single mom and her eight children. "It was such a powerful experience, a life changing experience," said Mr. Michael Blanchette, Campus Minister at Montini. He has been instrumental in helping Montini Catholic's service ministry to go global.
International Samaritan is an organization that serves victims of severe poverty in developing countries by partnering with them and others to alleviate hunger, homelessness, endemic disease and ignorance. The mission of this organization is to build homes for single moms, and support educational programs for the children. Inspired by the parable of the good Samaritan, the group works to alleviate hunger, homelessness, and endemic disease across the world. According to International Samaritan, volunteers such as Montini Catholic not only lend physical and educational support to their missions, but more importantly, they bring hope to the people served. International Samaritan is proud to lead service-learning immersion experiences that touch the lives of both the people they serve, as well as the volunteers.
"It was such a great experience to see the way some people live," said senior Haley May, who encouraged her best friend, Hope Rickord (a senior at Willowbrook High School) to attend the trip with her. "It was amazing to see how they could be so happy with nothing. This trip made me realize how I should appreciate what I have."
Mr. Blanchette is very proud of his students for stepping up to the unknown to make a difference. "They have become more aware of how others live in the world and it challenges us to be more conscious of living simply so that those who are in need can have more. It reminds us all of what is important in life."
Photo above: Front row l to r: Hope Rickord (from Willowbrook High School), Sophie Gallagher, Samantha Mullins, Mia Gramann; Second row: Haley May, Marissa VanDeVeer, Kylie Boyer, Enya O'Flaherty, Grania O'Flaherty, and representatives from International Samaritan;