PALM HARBOR — A student at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, spent her winter break on a mission trip to Ecuador. It was an eye-opening experience.
Abigail Harkins of Palm Harbor, a junior at Assumption College, went to Ecuador from Dec. 15-22. Harkins went with her school’s SEND Service Immersion Trips.
As part of the College’s Campus Ministry Office’s SEND Service Immersion Program, established in 1986, the students, accompanied by faculty, staff or alumni, directly impact communities through volunteer work, an Assumption College news release said.
SEND participants bond with fellow peers, faculty, staff, and alumni while working side-by-side to rebuild neighborhoods, gain new cultural perspective, and engage in prayer activities that reflect on ideals rooted in the Assumption tradition.
The program has collaborated with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Romero Center Ministries, Catholic Charities, and Rostro de Cristo Ministry. It’s handled through the school’s church.
Anyone can join the program at the school. The mission trips are based on faith and helping people. Some trips are international while others are in the United States.
Harkins likes that the program has people from different backgrounds that came together to serve and help others.
Harkins and other members went to Duran, Ecuador, to participate in Rostro de Cristo Retreat. Students were there to give their time and listen to people’s stories. They also went to the children’s after-school care and helped the kids with their homework. Ten members went on the trip.
This was Harkins first mission trip. This was a whole new experience for her.
“It’s one thing to hear about communities and situations like that, but it’s another thing to actually experience it and live in it for a week. It was an eye-opening experience,” Harkins said.
She really enjoyed spending time with the children in after-school care.
On the trip, Harkins and the other members would go to different people’s houses in the morning and meet with them. They would learn about their background and hear their stories. Everyone was really welcoming.
Being in Duran was different then it is here. In Rostro de Cristo they live simply. They try to live with people.
“We had electricity and a roof. There is no A/C. They just started having running water, but it’s so contaminated there that we had to buy our water,” Harkins said.
They used their water when they brushed their teeth and showered. They did military-style showers.
Groups went out to get breakfast, lunch and dinner then come back and cook it. Everything was made right away.
Harkins said that it was different compared to how we live here. Although it was a major change for her and the other students, they still had the nicest house to stay in and plenty of food while the people there were living off a meager amount of money.
During the mission trip besides providing after-school care and hearing people’s stories, the students also visited three sisters. One was Sister Annie from Brooklyn, New York, who came to Ecuador to teach and then learned how neglected they were there. Sister Annie told the students how she turned the place around after 30 years based on all the donations they received.
Another sister started a sewing company for women who needed to get out of an abusive environment or were left by their husbands. The other sister started an all-natural medicine clinic.
Harkins’ favorite part of the trip was meeting Sister Annie.
“She was the most inspirational and spiritual person I’ve ever met. While she was sharing her story, she was also giving us advice about how nothing is impossible with God and all you need is Him by your side,” Harkins said.
At that moment Harkins has never felt personally closer to God because she felt God through Sister Annie? That was a special moment for Harkins.
Harkins feels like she gained more from this trip then she could have given to any of the people. They helped her become closer to God and deepen her faith. She learned what it means to give back to people and give of her time.
Harkins said she was in awe from the very first day of what she was experiencing, but it was everything together that slowly made her realize the purpose. From meeting someone during a house visit to the children’s after-school care.
Harkins feels like there is still more out there she can do and give people more of her time.
This mission trip has deepened Harkin’s faith more. It taught her the true meaning of service and how important is to give back to people.