Spring Break With a Purpose

Spring Break With a Purpose
Debbie Higgins

Nine seniors spent their 2019 spring break continuing one of De Smet Jesuit’s longest-running traditions – service learning in Belize. The students, accompanied by faculty members Kevin Berns ’87 and John Hawkey ’96, traveled to Punta Gorda to work with the teachers and students at St. Benedict RC School. Spartans first began visiting St. Benedict in 2009 and regularly contribute funds raised from Mission Week toward repairs and supplies.

For many of the students, the trip represented their first time traveling to a different country. In just one week, they immersed themselves in Belizean culture and found surprises and life lessons along the way.

Their experiences included:

Repairing the roof of the school to improve cleanliness and health.

Teaching St. Benedict students how to tell time, and how to make paper airplanes.

Leading games at recess.

Making Fry Jacks for breakfast.

Snorkeling off Snake Cayes in the Caribbean Sea.

Touring the Mayan ruins at Lubaantun.

Through these experiences, students were touched by the generosity and joyful outlook of the Belizean people. 

“Our presence at St. Benedict gave the kids a positive energy that kept them engaged in their work – that brought joy to all of us,” shared Daniel Hennessey. Blake Hilker added, “I learned that sometimes I just need to take a step back and enjoy the here and now like the Belizeans did.”

“I was surprised by how happy the kids were,” said Jay Dolan. “Despite living in one or two-room homes and not always knowing where their next meal was coming from, they were so genuinely happy.” 

In their free time, our students explored Punta Gorda. They visited shops and restaurants, and even attended a party with local teenagers who taught them dance moves.  Their guide for many of these activities was Miss Olive, retired principal of St. Benedict, who has cared for many Spartans making the journey to Belize over the years.

The positive energy and generous spirit of the local people left a lasting impact. Spartans told stories of St. Benedict’s students offering them spare change to buy snacks at recess, and of adults sharing food without asking anything in return. “These people have such a strong faith and are constantly willing to give even though they are struggling themselves in life,” said Daniel. “This was eye-opening for me. It made me realize even more how grateful I should be for everything that I have.”

“We know we won’t change anyone’s life after one week of service,” said John Hawkey, who has made 12 trips to Belize. “But we do change our students’ view of the world. They return home with a new perspective and a profound sense of gratitude.”

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