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Students spend summer serving

Nicole Toczauer | Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Notre Dame students broke out of South Bend this summer to work at internships and service projects around the globe, ranging from semi-rural African townships to urban New York City.

Junior Sean Hendricks traveled to South Africa through the Kellogg Institute to work at the Open Arms Home for Children orphanage for nine weeks.

Hendricks started an internship program for the older residents at the orphanage, which is home to 40 children, allowing them to explore careers with local businesses.

“They could see the various jobs they could have one day, whether in a dairy farm, factory or market,” he said. “They had no parents to teach them about the industries that exist there and how to enter them.”

Hendricks said seeing the vast socio-economic differences between the townships of native Xhosa people and the large British homesteads, held by 10 percent of the country, was difficult.

“You see very wealthy Western elements and then tribal African people,” he said. “South Africa is very unique in that disparity.”

Like Hendricks, junior Connor Wathen spent the majority of his summer in Africa. Wathen, a Sorin College resident, said each summer the dorm sends one student to stay with Holy Cross priests in Uganda through Notre Dame’s International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP).  

During his eight weeks in Uganda, Wathen taught math, science and physical education at St. Jude’s Primary School. He also worked at St. Benedict’s Center, a nearby clinic.

“We woke up at 6:30 a.m., had toast for breakfast, would walk 20 minutes to school and begin teaching at 8:30 a.m.,” he said. “We’d walk home for lunch and then take a bus to work at the clinic until it closed.”

The area Wathen stayed in, while semi-urban, was still rural.

“People grow their own food, and our dinners — chicken and goats — were running around the yard,” he said. “It was really green since we were at the source of the Nile and the corner of Lake Victoria.”

Adjusting to the region was easier because of the hospitality of its people, Wathen said. The native’s attitude taught him the most during his stay.

“You don’t need a lot of things to be happy. They were appreciative for what they had and were extremely happy we were there,” Wathen said. “It put a lot of things into perspective.”

Senior David Ulery traveled to Kolkata, India, as part of an eight-week ISSLP. Ulery volunteered with the Missionaries of Charity religious order, founded by Mother Teresa.

He taught orphans like a 10-year-old boy named Binoy, who was able to recognize English words and read sentences by the end of Ulery’s time there.

“We would teach for maybe two hours a day. The other four or five hours we’d interact with the other boys who had different mental and physical abilities,” Ulery said. “We would play games, do physical therapy or dance. We had some fun dance parties.”

While the progress made with Binoy was rewarding, Ulery struggled with the poverty he saw on the streets.

“Poverty is very real — suffering, starvation and death happens. They need help because people leave them alone in the world,” he said. “In India, a lot of them are abandoned.”

Junior Ellen Carroll dealt with a different form of suffering during her internship at the Yonkers Branch of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office in New York City. The most challenging part of the job, rather than the actual work, was handling the subject matter of domestic violence and abuse, she said.

“I hadn’t realized many of the victims were repeat cases. A woman would be with a man 10 years, press him for charges and take it back,” she said. “The case would be dropped and would often just happen again.”

However, successfully ending victims’ abuse under the law made this work worthwhile, she said. Carroll said her observations, both good and bad, have helped direct her future plans.

“I learned I wasn’t qualified yet to save all of these victims of crime, but I felt like I got a better idea of what I want to do,” she said. “I might want to work for a judge next summer, so slightly more fast-paced, or intern with the FBI or CIA.”

All agreed their experiences have helped them decide what paths they might pursue in the future.

For Hendricks, this might mean returning to South Africa to experience more of the Xhosa culture. Wathen and Ulery said they found passion in providing medical aid to countries with a severe shortage of doctors.

Ulery said attitude and open-mindedness are paramount to effectively serving, as well as gaining the most out of the experience.

“You have to be excited about what you’re doing and fill your service with enthusiasm. The energy you put in equals what you get back from it,” he said.