In just 10 days, nearly 100 students from Belen Jesuit Preparatory School and Our Lady of Lourdes Academy built a 115-foot bridge in the village of El Puerto in the Dominican Republic.
Belen Jesuit students work side by side with men from the village of El Puerto in the Dominican Republic to build a bridge that will be used by the villagers to transport agricultural products and allow students easy access to schools in the neighboring villages.
A total of 111 missionaries — 91 students along with Jesuit Father Frank Permuy, other Belen alumni, faculty, engineers, and a medical doctor — traveled June 26-July 5 to serve the people of this impoverished and remote village. The group traveled with medicines, vitamins and building tools used to construct the much-needed bridge.
“This trip really opened my eyes. You see commercials to donate money, and people don’t think anything of it, but for us to be able to go and build a bridge so they can just walk to school is a blessing,” said missionary Rebecca Garcia, who took part in the mission trip for a second time. “I was also able to visit the village we went to last year in Hoyo de Perez and see the bridge we built there. It was amazing to see the difference it has made for that community.”
For Rebecca, this summer’s mission trip was even more exciting than the last one because her brother, a Belen junior, joined her.
“We live in a world where we always think we don’t have enough and this opened the missionaries’ minds and showed them that we don’t need everything we have,” Rebecca said. “We have enough. We have clean clothes, water, and houses to live in that these families don’t — it’s life changing.”
In addition to building the bridge, the students got to know the families of the community they were serving. There are approximately 150 families in El Puerto whose livelihood comes from agriculture, mainly cacao. They will rely on the bridge to transport goods and attend school in the nearby city of Imbert.
“Before the trip I was curious as to how students from a prestigious Catholic high school would react to different living conditions than they were accustomed to,”
said Jesuit Brother Sean Hagerty, chaperone/supervisor for the group. “I was pleasantly surprised by how well they adapted and how they came to love and adapt to the community in such a short amount of time.”
The Belen Youth Missions have been traveling to the Dominican Republic for 34 years. Belen students eagerly await their junior year to sign up for the trip. Volunteers from nearby Catholic schools such as Our Lady of Lourdes and Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart are also accepted.
“The reason I came on this mission trip was because I heard from alumni and relatives that if you attend Belen Jesuit, this is a must-do trip,” said Lucho Rodriguez, a junior who also saw the trip as an opportunity to bond with his Belen brothers. “The bond we built was hard to see at the beginning, but once the trip progressed we felt connected with one another and with the people of the town.”
Daily Mass, meals as a community, and playing games with the locals helped the missionaries establish bonds with one another.
“This trip is the perfect example of Belen Jesuit’s motto, ‘forming men for others’. Building this bridge was not only a physical experience, but also a spiritual one. You go there thinking you will change their lives, but they end up changing yours,” Lucho said.
That’s very much in keeping with the advice given at Belen to those considering a mission trip: Be open-minded and prepare to be challenged, uncomfortable, and surprised by what you encounter — but most of all be ready to leave with a smile.