Global Service

Photos by Byron Maldonado
By Robin Shear

Photos by Byron Maldonado

Global Service

By Robin Shear
UM students help build a house in Guatemala during the summer break.

Ten University of Miami students spent part of their summer vacation, from June 23 to July 1, helping advance construction of a sturdy house for a woman and her eight children in the village of San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. To get to the remote site, the students crossed a narrow footbridge suspended about three stories above a river. Their daily physical labor included laying floors and building rebar towers for scaffolding.

“The house was about a third of the way finished when we left,” said Sophia Raia, chair of the UM student group Miami International Outreach, which organized the trip with the aid of faculty advisors and UM's William R. Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development.

The group’s community partner in Guatemala, Friends of San Lucas, supplied the building materials and supports the San Lucas Mission’s many other efforts related to housing, health care, nutrition, education, and reforestation.

It was Raia’s third summer doing outreach in San Lucas Toliman. “By this year, I had learned to speak Spanish proficiently enough that I could have real conversations with the men and women that we met every day," she said. "It was a wonderful feeling to be able to form real relationships and connections with the families we were building for.”

Raia made sure her group had time to explore the area she’s become familiar with. They hiked, traveled by boat to other small towns surrounding Lake Atitlan, and played soccer and freeze tag with some of the local kids.

“It was awesome because the language barrier for a lot of our students melted away with simple games,” said Raia, a rising senior in UM’s premed/biology program.

Raia’s agenda included time for reflection as well. Each evening she led an exercise she referred to as “the rose of the day,” based on the idea of stopping to smell the flowers and experience the moment.

“I would ask each participant to describe a moment during the day during which something happened that really made them stop and think,” she explained. “This trip was meant to broaden our students’ horizons and also force them to ponder things like poverty and different cultures that they wouldn’t normally think about in their day-to-day lives.”

Launched by Marissa Orenstein, B.S. ’10, M.D. ’14, Miami International Outreach has spent five summers providing services to those in need while immersing UM students in new cultures and environments and introducing them to social issues affecting humanity.

The group's advisors are Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, associate professor of religious studies; photographer and UM employee Byron Maldonado, who hails from San Lucas Toliman; and Andrew D. Wiemer, director of the Butler Center.