Lima, Peru— Making six or seven dollars a day, a woman in Peru might buy enough rice and beans for a single meal at lunch, but what about her two children? And what about dinner?
When Watertown resident Sean Donohue embarked on Catholic Memorial School’s Blessed Edmund Rice Service Initiative (BERSI) to Lima, Peru last month, he and seven other CM classmates encountered a kind of poverty rarely seen in America for the first time in their lives.
“In Peru, it’s completely different from anything I’ve ever seen,” said Sean, a junior at CM who runs varsity cross country and serves as a school peer minister.
“You either have a home, or you’re dead. There’s no in between.”
For seven days, Sean, his classmates, and two CM faculty members built homes for the urban poor at a Christian Brothers Mission site on the outskirts of Lima. Operated by former CM faculty member Brother Stephen Casey, the site houses a school and community center for the urban poor. Another site called Villa El Salvador gave the students a chance to work at a health clinic and daycare.
At each site, Sean and his classmates met men, women, and children who considered themselves blessed to receive a meal at the end of the day.
One woman, named Tonya, weaved at least 50 bracelets each day to pay for meals according to Sean. At the end of her day, Tonya sold her bracelets for less than what it cost to buy the materials.
This vicious cycle kept Tonya poor. But it also kept her and her children off the streets.
“In America, people who live in poverty have the opportunity to participate in government programs such as subsidized housing or food stamps,” said Sean.
“In Peru, there’s nothing like that. You can starve in the streets and nobody would notice."
Sean believes the trip to Peru heightened his awareness of poverty outside of the United States. Sean’s first true encounter with poverty occurred last year when he worked in soup kitchens and homeless shelters while on CM’s BERSI trip to Philadelphia. From both experiences in Peru and Philadelphia, Sean learned not to take for granted the subsidized amenities provided by the American government,
The CM BERSI program, run through Campus Ministry, aims to cultivate a reflective, faith-sharing community among students. Each trip incorporates elements of education and advocacy for peace, social justice, global awareness, and stewardship.
Most students who travel on a BERSI trip return with a deeper understanding of their role and responsibilities within their community, according to CM Director of Campus Ministry Mr. Kevin Durazo. In many cases, the student finds an inspiration for their Capstone Service Project at CM. The project, a 60-hour immersive experience, requires each senior to serve a marginalized community in the Greater Boston community.
In Sean’s case, his latest trip to Peru motivated him to analyze the systems in place that prevent the same poverty in Peru here in America. That way, Sean understands the most efficient course of action for a Senior Service Project to fight hunger and homelessness beyond the Greater Boston community.
“One day I want to go back to Peru, but, right now in America, I want to do my own part in fighting homelessness and hunger,” explained Sean.
“Right now, I’m planning on attending a trip to the Greater Boston Food Bank. I want an opportunity to understand the process of distributing resources to those in need.”
During his senior year, whatever Sean decides to choose as his senior service site, he’ll be sure to remember Tonya and those living in Lima’s desert communities. Not just for his project, but for years to come.