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Ignacio volunteers bring help to the needy in Belize and Jamaica over the holidays

Loyola press release - January 22, 2010

A group of Loyola University New Orleans community members rang in the new year in Jamaica and Belize while coming to the aid of those most in need.

Eleven students and staff recently returned from a Belize winter camp, and 14 returned from a Jamaica Christmas camp as part of two Ignacio Volunteers Program trips, where they taught and coached children and participated in a short construction project. The two trips held during Christmas break were organized by Loyola’s Office of Mission and Ministry.

In southern Belize, students worked in rural Mayan villages for their service projects. They held a camp at a primary school in San Jose, a village without electricity or running water. Each participant taught English, math and arts and crafts in the mornings, and led students in sports and games in the afternoons. From bathing in the river each morning to sleeping on mats on the floor, the volunteers immersed themselves in the culture’s simple lifestyle. They also assisted in building a thatched hut at a new school in the village of Corazon Creek.

In Jamaica, students volunteered for local Catholic service agencies during their stay, including a home for the displaced and abandoned elderly run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. Volunteers also worked with infant children from the Mona Commons Basic School in a disadvantaged shanty-town area of Kingston, and taught academic subjects in the morning and played sports and children’s games in the afternoons.

Volunteer Melanie Ziems was encouraged by a friend who traveled to Jamaica for the camp in 2008. Ziems, a mass communication major, said it was an eye-opening experience for her.

“I was amazed at how little it takes to make someone smile. Several of the kids we worked with at Mona Commons were completely elated to just climb on our backs or braid our hair. They didn't need expensive toys or anything, they just wanted some attention,” said Ziems.

“I was also really surprised at the faith of the Jamaican people. It seemed like a place where people would be desolate and depressed, but it was actually there that I witnessed more faith in God than anywhere else I've ever seen.”
The volunteers, chosen through a competitive application process, met weekly before the trip to learn about each country’s culture, plan lessons and find ways to raise funds for their trip. All were required to attend an overnight retreat and day of service prior to the trips.

Ziems’ trip inspired her to think about reaching past the United States’ borders again for future service work.
“The recent catastrophe in Haiti has me dying to pack my bags and go get on a plane to do what I can to help,” says Ziems.

The goal of the Ignacio Volunteers program is to provide an international volunteer service opportunity for Loyola students. While being exposed to the pressing economic and sociological issues in the Caribbean and the developing world, students provide support and assistance to the children of Jamaica and Belize, who are in great need.

The Rev. Ted Dziak, S.J., Jesuit Center Director who led the Belize group, has seen firsthand how instrumental service and learning at the same time is.

“Immersing students in another culture helps them lend a helping hand to people in need while also allowing them appreciate the culture in which they live. Service is one of the hallmarks of a Jesuit education,” Dziak said.

The Ignacio Volunteers will be returning to Jamaica and Belize this summer. For more information on future Ignacio Volunteers events, e-mail jesuit@loyno.edu or visit the Office of Mission and Ministry's website.