by Cora Markowitz
Known mostly for its weekly Wednesday night dinners and discussions at the Parish House, Canterbury Kenyon has expanded its reach all the way to Guatemala and Belize. The group, an Episcopal organization on campus that has never traveled to Central America before, joined a trip that has been a tradition for the past 18 years at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (MVNU).
The group was made up of four Kenyon students, two Gambier community members and nine MVNU students, all led by Harcourt Parish member Dr. James Skon, who is a computer science professor at MVNU.
Qossay Alsattari ’16, an economics major, became interested in the trip after hearing about it through the Board of Spiritual and Religious Life.
“One of the reasons I was really interested in doing this trip is because I really felt that I want to get to know students from MVNU,” Alsattari said. “We always hear about the Naz … but I never had the chance to get to talk to students from the Naz.”
The group arrived in Belize first, where members spent a few days on excursions to local markets, the Belize Zoo and ancient Mayan ruins before crossing the border to Guatemala to begin their service work.
The Kenyon students spent four days building stoves for the people of El Mango, a rural Guatemalan village, working with an organization called Sew Hope, which is led by a Guatemalan named Ismael Martinez.
“In the village they have a lot of workshops about public health and general safety, and they offer scholarships for young kids to come and study, to get funding for food and extra tutoring. Also, Sew Hope has a clinic so all of the people in the village can come and get treated,” Alsattari said.
Through the organization, Kenyon students had the opportunity to work directly with local community members, making the work a collaborative effort guided by the people whom it would affect.
Jane Simonton ’15, one of Canterbury Kenyon’s peer ministers and the Collegian’s co-arts editor, said, “They ask the people to pay a little bit for what they’re getting.”
The Kenyon students also helped construct outdoor sinks called Tippy-Taps, which essentially consist of soap hanging on a string from a branch, with a stick used as a pedal to make water flow. The creative device inspired musical stylings by the group.
“We freestyled one night and we did a whole song called ‘Tippy-Tap,’” Alsattari said.
Though organized through a religious organization, the trip did not focus on religion.
“We did go to a Nazarene church service one time,” Simonton said, but added that “there was no real formation or Bible study going on.”
Nonetheless, being in such a different environment and meeting people with an alternative perspective did have a strong impact on the Kenyon students.
“The trip really helped me in restoring my faith, just from seeing the people’s resilience, and realizing that, yes, there is misery, oppression and a lot of ugly things in this world, but at the same time, there is beauty, and there is kindness, and there are people who are really genuinely interested and who want to force change in their own communities,” Alsattari said.
Alsattari added that the trip’s leader, Skon, told him that, “For him, the ultimate goal of creation is the human connection. … Most of the students did not speak Spanish, but we were able to connect to the people and relate to them.”
The trip also provided Simonton an opportunity for self-reflection.
“I’m an International Studies Development major, so it definitely provided me a lot to think about, like, why are we here, is it better if we send them money, or does it come down to human relation; what’s the most important?” Simonton said.
While it’s not yet known if this service trip will take place again, the students who went on the trip certainly hope it will continue after their great experience.
“Coming back to Kenyon, I felt that trip reminded me of why I am here at Kenyon, and the importance of my education here at Kenyon, and how, yes, we are very privileged in being here, and we should really try to get the most out of this community,” Alsattari said.