Karen Dizon, Colleen Lynch and John Michelli were all part of a group of 25 volunteers that participated in the 2011 University Mission trip, which was coordinated by the Diocese of Joliet Peace and Social Justice Ministry Office. Benedictine University, the University of St. Francis, Elmhurst College and Illinois State University also sent students on the trip.
The group volunteered at an orphanage, two day care centers, a hospital supported by the Joliet Diocese, a neurological hospital for children and a soup kitchen. They worked in different barrios and the students rotated so that they could experience each site.
“I went to day care centers to interact with the children in Bolivia. At those centers, I would play with the children and spread the love of God. You do not need to be able to speak Spanish to show these children that you care about them and that you are there to help; there is a universal language of love, which we all seem to understand,” said Michelli, who is earning a degree in social work. “This trip has made me realize that I am going into the right profession and my job in life is to serve God and help other people in the world.”
Dizon, a Lewis theology and art student, designed four murals for the group to paint at a day care center and at a center for children with special needs.
“Throughout the process, other students were able to help contribute to the completion of the murals,” she said. “It was a group effort but the most rewarding part was how the children responded to the artwork. It was amazing to see smiles on their faces. To be a part of a project that brought joy to their lives was an unforgettable feeling that I will always treasure.”
The group worked with a dentist to teach children in the barrio the importance of brushing their teeth. Donna Martin, assistant professor in the Lewis University College of Nursing and Health Professions, guided nursing and pre-med students as they provided assistance at the Joliet diocesan hospital in surgery, passing medications and spending time with patients.
Donations the group brought with them from the United States filled 24 duffel bags full of school supplies, vitamins and shoes. More than 300 children received shoes. “Seeing the children so excited when we walked into the room and seeing them rushing to the gate to say goodbye to us every day, it just melts your heart and you never want to leave them,” commented Colleen Lynch, a nursing student.
The group also hosted a birthday party for needy children that have never celebrated a birthday. It was complete with goodie bags, pop, balloons, snacks and a clown. They also participated in several events, including a dance recital put on by the children from the psychiatric center, traveled to Tarabuco, visited the archbishop’s home, enjoyed cultural performances, and more.
“It's so rewarding to see the impact our students have on the Bolivians and one another,” said Martha Villegas-Miranda, Lewis University Coordinator of University Ministry Outreach.