Annual Honduras and Kino trips return after three year hiatus marked by courage, activism

Two Spring break trips returned this year: the traditional trip to the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) in Nogales, Ariz. at the U.S./Mexico border, and a long-standing immersion trip to Yoro, Honduras.

Six sophomores and two juniors set off on the trip to KBI, chaperoned by English teacher Jamie Cordia and a close friend of hers, Elizabeth Reid, a social worker from Kansas City.

“In the Midwest, we don't get to see immigration firsthand. So I didn't know much about it before the trip and I wanted to go and just see what's really happening and widen my perspective,” said junior Matthew Musial.

Sending students to KBI has been a staple of SLUH immersion for a decade. However, the trip did not occur the past three years because of Covid. Last year, Kino reopened for student immersion trips—however, it was quickly booked and SLUH couldn’t get a spot. Instead, ten Jr. Bills traveled to Brownsville, Texas, another border town near the Rio Grande, last year for a week of service hosted by Fr. Brian Strassburger, SJ and Fr. Louie Hotop, SJ (a 2009 SLUH graduate) at the Humanitarian Respite Center (HRC).

“Our spring break was just packed, so they didn't have room for us,” explained campus minister Stephen Deves. “So we couldn't go, so we produced the Brownsville trip as a result of that.”

This year’s trip followed the usual format of the KBI trips. Although service remains a significant part of the trip, students also had the opportunity to hear stories and presentations to learn from full-time volunteers, migrants, local ranchers, and border patrol in order to truly understand all perspectives of the border crisis.

“It was definitely information-filled, (with) a lot of different perspectives,” said sophomore Miles Deck, who attended last year’s border trip as well. “It definitely broadened my perspective a lot more than I thought it was going to. And that was really helpful.”

“Anyone who proposes a cut and dry solution (to the U.S. immigration crisis) doesn't know what they're talking about, because it's so complicated,” said Musial. “There's so many different moving parts with the whole border and migration situation … (and) the people who live at the border understand all the different problems, how complex it is, and how much reform and change is actually needed to make our immigration system as good as it can be.”

At the moment, migrants are most strongly affected by Title 42, a Covid-era policy which allows the U.S. government to turn away asylum seekers. Although there are exceptions to this rule, this leads many deported or turned away migrants to end up on the Mexico side of Nogales, where KBI is located. KBI supports deported, turned away, and arriving migrants with food, clothes, temporary shelter, and support for them to find their own housing.

While SLUH students stayed in a house on the U.S. side of the border in Nogales, the group walked over to KBI daily and had the opportunity to serve food to the migrants, organize supplies, and clean dishes. However, even more time was designated for the students to just play with the kids and talk to migrants.

“I learned that it's not only about service, but it's also about presence: being able to listen to people who are often not heard,” explained Deck. “That's what it’s all about.”

The trip was an overwhelming success for the students, who courageously joined into conversations with migrants, volunteered to ask questions and take on leadership roles, and grew very close throughout the week.

“It was just a really special group of students that I accompanied on this trip,” said Cordia. “I was really impressed from start to finish with how they handled themselves on this trip. Even when it might have felt uncomfortable to be the one to begin a conversation, even if they were the only student that was talking with either an adult or a child, I was just always really wowed by the fact that the students did it and they did it with a smile.”

“It was really powerful,” said sophomore Joshua Schmidt. “And it was also a great bonding experience for us students.”

Students on the Kino trip walk along a new section of the U.S./Mexico border wall near Nogales, Arizona. photo | Nick Sanders

Two juniors and two seniors hopped on a flight last weekend to Yoro, Honduras with Asst. Principal for Mission Jim Linhares and his wife, Mary Linhares, as chaperones. Each of the two pairs of students stayed with a host family on the mountainous outskirts of the town, and hiked daily to the San Yves Nutrition Center. 

“Every day, the kids (in the town) have to climb 500 feet just to go to school,” explained junior Carter Thomas. “Everything's very uphill, downhill, but the environment is very beautiful. There are lots of trees with very vibrant colors and pretty flowers. There's lots of livestock just roaming there.”

At the San Yves Nutrition Center, a facility that provides nutritional food for dozens of children in the area, the students did rigorous physical service like digging and farming, and spent time playing with and taking care of the children— many of them infants.

The trip to this location has been a staple of SLUH immersion since the early 1990s, although the trip was paused in the last three years because of Covid. While it originally took place during January for Senior Project, it was moved in the last decade to spring break. This trip was also the first to have juniors take part.

“There were not enough seniors that applied, so we ended up taking a couple juniors,” said Deves. “We haven’t done it for three years, so people don’t know (much about the trip). There’s a lot of other trips that weren’t normally in the past, (like) a senior-only pilgrimage, so that pulled a couple seniors.”

The nutrition center is run 24-7 by a full time staff, mainly supported financially by a U.S. non-profit organization called Nutrifund International.

“It is a state-certified health care facility for malnourished children, but it is not super well supported by the state,” explained Linhares. “It's mostly supported by charitable dollars that come some from the Honduran community and some from Nutrifund International. It is a part of the health care system in Honduras.”

The director of Nutrifund International, dedicated to eradicating malnutrition in Central America, is Patrick Mulligan ’13. Mulligan was also the primary host and guide for the SLUH group during their stay.

“Patrick Mulligan was super active on this trip,” said Linhares. “He was the guy letting us know what the plan was for the day. He was the guy trying to educate us as much as we possibly could about Honduran history, politics and local cultural and economic stuff. He was fantastic.”

Beyond the level of the Kino trip, this trip to Honduras was exceptionally challenging. Because only one of the four students understood and spoke Spanish, communication inside the homes with the two women hosting them was extremely difficult. Additionally, the students were entirely immersed in the rural lifestyle and didn’t have access to luxuries like hot water.

“It’s a hard experience. It's hard to adjust to. It really challenges you, and it should challenge you— that's a good thing. In the way that it’s challenging, you'll see so many things that change your perspective… There's a certain beauty you can only find in a community like that and that culture that you'll never see on any other mission trip,” said Thomas.

Despite the challenges, the students and chaperones alike overcame them throughout the week, united in their growing understanding of the importance of fighting against malnutrition and in their personal connections with the kids at the center.

“There were children there that I knew (from my time there) in 2014,” said Linhares. “One of them was especially close—a boy who has a severe spinal disability, but he's a very clever, interesting, cool kid and he's still living there. So reconnecting with him was a big personal moment. You worry about his future and you worry about how that physical challenge will work itself out as he gets closer to adulthood.”

“We really became a more functioning unit throughout the week,” added Thomas. “A lot of what we did was working at the center doing a lot of manual labor, and we really started the week very lost: we couldn’t even figure out what we're meant to do or how we were meant to help, but at the end of the week, we would show up every day, we would immediately start our work, and we would start feeding kids, taking care of kids, digging up things that we need to dig.”

Inspired by the issues they learned about and the experiences they had, students from both trips plan to continue the fight for migrants at the border and malnutrition, respectively, through advocacy and support of the organizations.

“We’re very much encouraged to not only post about it, spread activism, and really bring awareness, but also to continue working with the project if we can. According to Patrick (Mulligan), about 50 percent of the kids who go on this trip stay involved with it one way or another, even just through social media interacting or donating,” explained Thomas. “It’s not really something you can just be one and done with. You can't knock out these kinds of issues in a week.”

“We did a ‘next steps’ presentation with one of the Kino volunteers,” said Deck. “We brainstormed ideas, like a donation drive for the Kino clothing department, a panel discussion with multiple different SLUH clubs to promote the idea of equal migration laws, and we also thought about doing a school book reading or something like that to really spread the idea.”

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