South students embark on international service trips

Twenty-Four Carrots:   Working with a fellow trip participant, sophomore Emma Noffke hands off a bag of carrots to feed the animals she cares for on her trip.  This summer she traveled to Guatemala through the organization The Road Less Traveled.  Photo courtesy of Emma Noffke

Twenty-Four Carrots: Working with a fellow trip participant, sophomore Emma Noffke hands off a bag of carrots to feed the animals she cares for on her trip. This summer she traveled to Guatemala through the organization The Road Less Traveled. Photo courtesy of Emma Noffke

Maddy Ruos

Spending a summer break putting in time at the beach, sipping lemonade and tanning may be some South students’ idea of a great vacation, but a number of South students have used their time off school to give back to the global community by pursuing various international service trips. According to these students, their experiences have varied and all have walked away with a sense of patience and a broader understanding of the world around them.

For junior Sarah Briggs, her two trips to Guatemala have instilled in her a passion for service work that she hopes to maintain after college. Briggs went on a mission trip during the summers of 2015 and 2016 with an organization called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH) Guatemala to mentor childen in an orphanage there.

“My first year I noticed that these kids were so welcoming [to us],” Briggs said. “You walk into their homes, and they’re just open-armed even though they know that these people are coming from such a [wealthy] area.”

Briggs explained that on her trip she was exposed to deep generosity within the orphanage, and the kids understand that sharing is an important value inside NPH Guatemala.

“All the visitors bring so many snacks and things, and we are kind of stingy about sharing there what we brought for ourselves, but you give [the kids] one little granola bar and they share it with twenty people,” Briggs said.

Like Briggs, sophomore Emma Noffke also went on a service trip to Guatemala last summer, but hers had a different purpose: to rehabilitate animals so they can be released back into the wild. Her trip was organized through a program called The Road Less Traveled.

“We fed [the animals], cleaned them, helped them learn how to do things so when they get released, they will survive,” Noffke said.

Both Briggs and Noffke cited the importance of living in a completely different environment to the one they were used to as a factor that made their trip so life-changing. According to Briggs, she was shocked to see how thankful the children were for what they had, even if it was something Americans might consider to be insignificant.

“On Sunday mornings, [the kids’] treat is to get cereal, and that’s what they love, [even though] here it’s just normal for us, […] and I remember seeing this girl eating her cereal with water, thinking it’s the most enjoyable thing,” Briggs said. “So they really try to make the best out of everything.”

Similar to Briggs, sophomore Songhee Back witnessed kindness among the people she encountered on her mission trip to Haiti this past August.  According to Back, she went into the trip with a disdain for children, but came out with a changed  perspective.

“I walked into this trip not liking kids […] because I don’t really enjoy the company of kids, but [in Haiti] they’re generally so, so sweet, […] and I felt that I needed to give back to them,” Back explained.

Junior Katherine Chu spent her 2015 summer break teaching English to children in Taiwan with her church for a week. She credits her service trip with teaching her patience amongst the students and knowledge about Taiwan.

“I actually taught a full class of second graders English, so I think I changed perspective of just appreciating a different culture,” Chu said.

Like Chu, Back also learned patience on her mission trip to Haiti she took with a program organized by South alum Stephen Kim. While in Haiti, Back volunteered in slums, spending time with the kids there doing a wide variety of activities like singing, crafting, coloring and playing with them.

“When I was [in Haiti], it was really soothing to me,” Back said. “All the problems that I had in the U.S. became so insignificant to the problems that the kids were facing every day.”

According to Back, other teenagers that want to get involved with service don’t have to look beyond their own borders. Back acknowledges that service of any kind is beneficial for everyone involved, even the volunteer.

“You don’t have to go outside the U.S.; there are plenty of [poorer] areas within our country that we can visit,” Back said. “I think it’s a really good idea to just go around and try to help people, to spend a day dedicating your life to someone else.”

Briggs also echoes Back’s opinion on the value of all service work and takes time to reflect on the incredible lessons she learned on her own trips to Guatemala. According to Briggs, while on her trip, she became close with a 5-year-old boy in the orphanage named Mateo* and as the two were playing one day, they had an encounter with Mateo’s biological mother.

“The lady [that they saw] turns out to be Mateo and [some of his brothers’] mom,” Briggs said. “They see her twice a year for 30 minutes. And so I had to hand Mateo over from my arms, and this lady is almost like a stranger to him because she’s the one who abandoned them […], and that really stuck with me because this kid I had grown so close with was visiting his mom for 30 minutes […] I came back and I was telling my mom, and I just broke down into tears. It was so powerful to experience.”

*Names have been changed