Stepping away from the University to serve others
This past Thanksgiving break, I participated in an immersion trip sponsored by the Loyola and Xavier Residential Learning Communities. Approximately 50 Santa Clara students, freshman through seniors, as well as several faculty members and a University friend made the trip to Tijuana, and together we helped to build homes for three Mexican families. Although this was not my first immersion experience, the trip certainly reinvigorated my feelings regarding the educational importance of stepping outside of the University to serve and be present to the needs of the broader community.
I have always connected with writer Thomas Merton’s understanding that “The purpose of education is to show a person how to define herself authentically and spontaneously in relation to her world—not to impose a prefabricated definition of the world, still less an arbitrary definition of the individual herself.” In this way, I consider community- based learning opportunities provided by SCU to be an essential supplement to the education that I receive through my regular courses. That this world is complex and ambiguous is revealed to me quite vividly through engaging with the community; that I am an individual who has much to offer this world is equally uncovered.
In these past few years at Santa Clara University, I have worked for the Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP) and the Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Center for Community-Based Learning. Both of these organizations provide Santa Clara students with an excellent framework through which they may experience the social problems confronting the nearby city of San Jose, the United States, and the rest of the world. My involvement with SCCAP helped me raise the consciousness of my fellow students about the issue of homelessness by organizing social actions about issues such as affordable health care and housing. Through the Arrupe Center, I was able to learn more about the exchange between students and the homeless, serving as a liaison between the Center and Julian Street Inn, a homeless shelter in downtown San Jose. In addition, I was able to intern at a Nicaraguan orphanage through the Arrupe Center’s Jean Donovan Summer Fellowship program, at the same time receiving credit through SCU’s Department of Political Science by studying academically and first-hand the Nicaraguan revolution.
This is not volunteerism in the strict sense of simply performing a service. Instead, it is a process of exchange whereby the myths and stereotypes of those actively engaged are broken down so that a new reality of true understanding and solidarity may be built. In this way, our group constructed more than a house during Thanksgiving break. We encountered beauty among the muddy slopes in Tijuana, and this compels us to continue making these connections.
I surely will not forget the family whose home I helped construct, nor do I feel that they will soon forget me. The connection between SCU students
and Mexican family was evident as we worked hand-in-hand with them. The father at the home where I worked was a man whose joy-filled presence humbled me, as did his genuine receptivity to us. It is in such openness that I find the hope and strength to continue actively working for justice. Hence, the engaged individual in the volunteer experience is both acting and acted upon, and attention to the realities of all the participants involved is essential.
As I prepare for life beyond my undergraduate studies at SCU, I am presented with a special privilege and a unique responsibility. As a Santa Clara student, I am no doubt a privileged individual with many opportunities. Many alumni move on to important and influential positions not only in Silicon Valley but also throughout the rest of the country and globe. From teachers, to mayors, to business people, the University is a fertile ground of intellectual and commercial cultivation. Yet inextricably bound with this privilege is a responsibility.
The calling presented to me is to carry on these important encounters I’ve had during these past four years. In this way, the faces and stories of people such as the families in Mexico will not only emerge in future personal interactions, but will transform into policy, lesson plans, business transactions, and a new way of life.