Senior Project Highlights

34,400 hours served

239 seniors

66 service sites

5 countries

1 mission in service of God's Greater Glory

Following are photos and student blog entries from some of our international project destinations.

Guatemala

Five Jr. Bills are working with students at Boys Hope Girls Hope in Guatemala City and immersing themselves in the culture of Central America.

John Nikolai (January 14, 2019)

Greetings. I am writing this as a recount of some of the events that I have experienced during my Senior Project in Guatemala. So far, I have been staying a week at Esperanza Juvenil School, assisting the students in their English studies, helping around their residences, and all around being a pleasant presence in the lives of the kids, as they begin their new school year. This blog is meant to be a recap of some of my experiences.

To start off our series of blogs, I will recall a soccer game. We left the school and walked for about 20 minutes to the house where the freshmen boys reside, and we knocked on the door to let them know that it was game time. The kids were glowing with joy to see us, even before we told them we were going to play soccer. After we waited for them to put on their soccer clothes, we grouped up with some of the older boys, and left to find a good spot to play.

We chose a street a couple blocks away from the freshman house, with the goals being marked by rocks. Their goal was in the middle of the street in front of a police department, nested between two rusted trucks, and our goal was in front of a statue of the Lady of Guadalupe.

Needless to say, we got whipped in soccer. I learned that I was far better in goal than trying to score as an attacking player, but I still use the term "better" in a relative manner. We played for about two hours, and after about 50 minutes, the other four SLUH students and I were getting exhausted, but the boys kept moving with lightning speed. The game was a fantastic opportunity to connect with the EJ boys outside of a school environment.

Despite all the obstacles that many of these students face, their resilience and positivity to overcome struggle and pursue success astounds me. I admire Esperanza Juvenil's mission and how they forge such kind-hearted children. The EJ students are such well-behaved, compassionate, and friendly to the point where it is almost impossible to relate them to the struggles they face.

I almost feel as if when I am down here, while all the responsible kids are doing so much work by themselves, I am not doing enough to help them in Guatemala; but it is when I see their faces as I arrive that shows what my presence means to them. All the kids are beaming, excited to greet me, pulling me in every direction to play something with them. My just being there is enough to better all of these kids lives, and I cannot wait to spend more time with them, as our weeks go on.

With humility from Guatemala,
Jack Nikolai

Nikolas Rodriguez '19 (January 21, 2019)

Another week has gone by at Esperanza Juvenil, and another week's worth of interactions have been had. Throughout our service, teaching English and eating dinner with the kids, conversation and communication have been central parts of the process. I have had wonderful interactions with the kids, of course, but also with the adults of the program.

First, the kids. The kids are amazing. I really love all of them so much. They are so happy, so fun to be around, so full of love and joy and kindness that I want to always be around them. And one of the amazing things is that we love each other across a language barrier. Yes, I speak some Spanish, and most of them speak some English, but there's still a lot that we have trouble communicating through words. We get it across though, and we have a lot of fun and share a lot of laughs. It's this weird Spanglish that's also mixed with charades, and I love it so much. It's amazing what people can get across when they really want to, even with a block like two different languages.

The adults who work at Esperanza Juvenil have been amazing too. This weekend, we went to Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala, with the director of the school, Francisco. We hadn't talked to Francisco much before that, so we learned a lot about him during the trip, especially our meal times. He's truly an amazing man, and someone I really look up to. He cares for a lot of people, especially the kids in his school, and he truly wants the best for everybody. He lived in the United States during two separate periods of time and used to work at top schools in Guatemala, for five or six years the only Guatemalan English teacher at one of them, as they have a policy of only Americans and Canadians being English teachers. He left these jobs to work for Esperanza Juvenil, an organization that gives poor kids in Guatemala, in the city and in the rural areas, access to education, something that so many Guatemalans don't have access to. He knows the statistics, and he wants nothing more than to make people's lives better. Talking to him was probably the highlight of my trip to Antigua.

So, yeah. Guatemala is great. I love all of the people I've met over here. They're all so generous and loving, even the kids who would have every right not to be. I am extremely inspired by what I've seen here, and I hope to bring that back home with me, I hope that my goals remain the same as Francisco's. Most of all, though, I hope that everyone I've met is happy, healthy, and loved for the rest of their lives.

Russia

Three seniors are serving St. John the Baptist Parish in St. Petersburg, Russia.

"Our first major project was spending time with Venezuelan refugee children at a Catholic Mission in Pushkin, a city located on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Being in Pushkin was a big change in scenery because it is a smaller town with less hustle and bustle than St. Petersburg. At first it was very tiring and difficult working with little kids who seem to have an endless amount of energy - giving piggyback rides and playing duck-duck goose. However, the second day we were with them was so rewarding just seeing them arrive and their eyes lighting up when they saw us."
- Charlie Kwentus '19

January 25, 2019

Dear SLUH community,

Hello from St. Petersburg, Russia! As my time winds down on a wonderful trip filled with a new language, new friends, new food, new books, a new culture, and new experiences in working with immigrant children and children with disabilities, I would like to extend my greetings from across the globe.

When I mentioned to my host family the brief spell of snow in St. Louis, they laughed heartily, and admittedly, I laughed as well. It snows just about every day over here, and on top of the snow situation, every night the snow freezes over; we walk quite a bit, and I’ve never been so attentive to my walking, as my host student and I make our way to and from school over a sheet of ice every day. While most days of this trip have been quite mild in temperature, the last few have been extremely cold, climaxing at a windchill of -28 Celsius (-18 Fahrenheit).

I currently am helping teach English at Gymnasium 209, a school in the downtown area of St. Petersburg, and boy are they a joy to work with. Ranging from grades 4-11, the students took a great interest in my background and my stay here. An American roaming around their school is a rare appearance, so they have made my work and stay extremely worthwhile and exhilarating. Teaching English has been more fun than I could imagine, sharing my life with students who have wondered what life is like on the other side of the globe.

I look forward to returning home to share my stories with the SLUH community soon, but until then, don’t worry about the snow. I’m sure it’s not too bad.

Justin Koesterer ‘19

Taiwan

Two students are working at sites in Taipei, Taiwan in collaboration with Jesuit partner St. Aloysius Technical School.

"After battling jet lag for three days and sightseeing a little here and there, I started my senior project at Hsinchu Social Service Center located in the heart Hsinchu city, Taiwan. The center is a Jesuit affiliated organization that provides a variety of services to the surrounding community. I am volunteering in the elderly daycare sector of the organization where elders with Dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and several other issues come to spend the day rather than staying at home alone. Everyday there are activities lined up for them so they can exercise and maintain their health. They often start the day by doing Taichi exercises and eventually moving up to the rooftop garden to enjoy the warm weather. Through out the day they have different activities planned for them. On Tuesday we played golf together in the common room. Everyone played, even those that couldn’t stand with out someone else’s help. Later that day we played Mahjong, a new experience for me. Some other activities we’ve had are singing, dancing, and making music. One of the residents has made this experience especially eye opening for me. She is wheelchair-bound most of the day and only talks when you say something and she repeats it back to you. Over the past couple days I have spoon-fed her lunch since she has a hard time doing it herself. I also walk her around the garden with her, keeping her steady since she can not do so alone. Everyday I make a connection with her, but by the next day she forgets who I am. This makes me feel sad since we can’t do anything about it. She’s trapped in this forever loop of forgetting things and she can’t talk about how she feels. Before she leaves at the end of day she likes to hold my hand while staring at me. When she does this I can see her eyes saying she’s happy to be here. With this said, I’m excited to start serving again on Monday!"
- Matt LaFaver '19

January 12, 2019

Year-end appreciation dinner and concert for kids with disabilities and their families, kung fu lessons, and some activities with host families.

Collin Funck '19 (January 25, 2019)

Over the past few weeks I have served my senior project at Zhuo Zhuo Jia Yuan, a residential community for mentally challenged adults in Zhudong, Taiwan. Because of the physical and mental challenges these young adults face, they have the mindsets of three to four year olds -- yet their hearts are filled with so much love and joy. Most of the residents permanently live in the community; others are picked up everyday before dinner; and still others rarely see their families over long periods of time (one resident said she has not returned to her home in China in over 10 years).

Despite the obstacles that these men and women have in engaging with the larger community, they have created a close-knit family of their own. When I walk up to the entrance everyday, their shining faces and wide smiles never fail to brighten my morning. Whether I am just holding their hands on a walk, talking to them during morning and afternoon exercise, or just watching a cartoon with them, I am reminded that sometimes the mere presence of having someone wanting to be your friend is an incredible feeling. When I told them that I would be leaving this weekend, my heart melted as so many of them asked if I would remember and miss them. Even some of the residents who were shy began talking to me and expressing their gratitude for me simply being there. However, what was the most touching was that one of the residents, one that I had never talked to before, approached me and said I was a part of his family now, and for that I am eternally grateful.

France


My experience at L'Arche has been the best month of my life. L'Arche is an organization created in 1964 by Jean Vanier for adults with disabilities. I have been living in a house for the past three-and-a-half weeks with seven adults with disabilities and four assistants (volunteer and workers). It has been an amazing experience to live with them in their day-to-day life. From waking up and helping them make breakfast and taking them out to buy groceries. Every week I spend most or all days going to the headquarter for daily activities such as sports, gardening, painting, and dancing with the community. During the weekend and for the rest of the days I spent them at the community house with the adults cleaning the house, running errands, playing cards and participating in community discussions. This experience has been very eye-opening to the reality of the world, to the pain and suffering of others but also to the joy that lives in a community where everyone is equal. A quote from one of the women there that I will never forget is "My heart is not handicapped." The Love that I felt from her and the community is a feeling I will never forget and is an experience I will strive to share with the world.

Thank you so much for making this possible.

Justin Lombard '19