The Division of Volunteer Efforts (DOVE) at Seton Hall University again sent students, faculty, and administrators on a week-long service trip to El Salvador. These trips are dedicated to raising awareness of social injustice through direct involvement in serving impoverished communities.
Twelve students devoted their winter break to the towns and people of Santa Tecla and San Salvador. Amidst political unrest and poverty, DOVE sought to bring their ministry of presence to those who are struggling in nursing homes, day care centers and soup kitchens.
The students were each assigned a location – the soup kitchen, the nursing home or the day care center – and remained there all week.
"We assigned locations so the students could spend their time in El Salvador making connections," explains Amanda Cavanagh, Assistant Director of DOVE and service-trip leader. "The language barrier is always a trepidation for the students, but they learn to communicate with people beyond the normal ways of connection that we're used to."
Cavanagh has attended eight trips to El Salvador with Seton Hall, noting each one was different than the last. Having experienced this trip both as an undergraduate and group-leader, she says the best part is seeing how the students are affected by the service they are doing.
Students took part in daily mass and nightly reflection which was led by Fr. Colin Kay, newly appointed director of Campus Ministry. This was his first service trip with Seton Hall and he was moved by the experience. The language barrier was an obstacle he overcame alongside the students. "My livelihood is about listening to people and speaking to people and not being able to do that the way I'm used to was humbling," said Fr. Colin. His reflections were nightly debriefs about the difficulties DOVE faced as a group. The theme of the week was the Gospel story of the Epiphany: the visit of the three wise men to the infant Jesus. They meditated on the fact that even the wisest of the wise still seek the light of Christ.
"We do service trips different than other colleges," said Fr. Colin. "Even though we might be in different places in terms of our own connection to Church, our own spiritual practice, our own engagement in terms of faith, we are on-purpose bringing the Jesus. As a Catholic University, outreach mission to the poor is part of who we are called to be."
Josh Furer, DOVE work-study student and a freshman in the Stillman School of Business, is no stranger to outreach missions. He has been on eight service trips with Cranford High School in Cranford, NJ, but this trip with DOVE was his first time leaving the country to do so. Furer was assigned to the soup kitchen group, as he leads DOVE's local soup kitchen program in South Orange. His experience on this trip impacted him emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Fr. Colin inspired him to continue nightly reflections after the trip in order to connect with his faith. He has been going to the chapel every night since the trip ended in January.
Emotionally, Furer had what he called an "indescribable experience" with a patron at the soup kitchen. Furer, an experienced musician, brought his guitar with him almost everywhere he went in El Salvador. "I used my music as my language to help connect with people," he said. One day, while Furer was playing at the soup kitchen, he asked a patron, in his limited knowledge of Spanish, if he would like to try. "When Jose first picked up the guitar he was a little rusty. But once his fingers started remembering a little more he started smiling and then a tear fell down his face," said Furer. He couldn't imagine not being able to play the guitar on a daily basis and being able to give that back to someone, even for a brief moment, was something he will never forget.
By the end of the trip Furer and his peers did not want to leave.
DOVE will be returning to El Salvador in March to continue their service. They will be visiting the town of San Miguel where they will serve in a nursing home, an orphanage and a home for abused girls and teens. They will then travel to a retreat center in El Mozote to learn about the tragedies that happened during El Salvador's civil war.
To learn more about DOVE and how you can get involved, please contact Amanda Cavanagh at Amanda.Cavanagh@shu.edu
Categories: Faith and Service