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Seeing the fruits of their labor

Becky Hogan | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

For the first time in Bengal Bouts’ history, five Notre Dame boxers set their gloves aside to witness first-hand what it is that they are really fighting for in poverty-stricken Bangladesh last summer.

The boxers’ trip to Bangladesh provided the opportunity to experience how the money raised from the competition benefits people in the impoverished country, said senior and Bengal Bouts president Mark Weber.

“In our 79 years of service to Bangladesh, not a single boxer had ever actually set foot in the country,” he said. “There were many reasons I felt this needed to change – as a student, I saw the potential to provide a tremendous educational experience for our boxers; as the president of Bengal Bouts, I saw the opportunity to transform our connection with Bangladesh from a mere check into a real relationship.”

Senior captain Leo Rubinkowski, senior Tomas Castillo, senior Patrick Martin and alumnus Patrick Ryan accompanied Weber on the trip.

Castillo said the trip was a chance to understand what he had been fighting while boxing at Notre Dame.

“I’ve been part of the Boxing Club for four years. It meant a lot to be able to box for a good cause, and I was interested in knowing what we really do and what goes on in Bangladesh,” Castillo said.

Additionally, Castillo said the trip paves the way for future boxers to visit Bangladesh and take an interest in Bengal Bouts’ overall goals.

“It’s important for the other guys to know what it is that we do. We’re not just beating each other up; we actually have tangible results,” he said. “It’s really important to know that [Bengal Bouts] is part of something bigger.”

A trip to Bangladesh had been in the works for a long time, but serious plans to organize a trip began last spring, Weber said.

“As a junior captain in 2007, I had become more familiar with the program and started seeing ways we could increase our impact,” he said. “In the fall semester [of 2007], I began meeting with Holy Cross priests at the Missions Center in South Bend to discuss the possibility of making a trip to Bangladesh to shoot a mini-documentary story.”

But over the next several months, Weber said the project expanded to include a production crew to shoot the documentary and a larger mission to establish relationships within the country.

According to Weber, the expenses for the trip and documentary were made possible through generous contributions from Bengal Bouts alumni; however, the four boxers who traveled with him “made the personal decision to go on their own dime.”

The five Bouts boxers traveled throughout Bangladesh for two weeks, he said.

“We traveled almost constantly, visiting dozens of Holy Cross schools and parishes, both urban and rural, around the country. Moving from the city of Dhaka to the tribal villages was like going to a completely different country,” he said.

Today, Bengal Bouts is the largest single benefactor to the Holy Cross Mission in Bangladesh, Weber said. The money raised by the Bouts funds educational initiatives in rural Bangladesh. The region accounts for the poorest in the country.

Weber also said the Holy Cross Mission has dozens of parishes and schools spread out in areas of need around the country to support the poor.

For Castillo, one of the highlights of the trip was having the chance to network in Bangladesh and meet the people whose lives have been improved through the Bouts, he said.

“We visited different villages far from the city [of Dhaka]. We talked to communities that actually receive the money [from Bengal Bouts],” Castillo said. “We also stayed with some of the Holy Cross brothers within the city of Dhaka and went to different sites that the Bouts support. We were making connections the with people there.”

Weber said the trip also shed new light on the people of Bangladesh.

“On television, all you see is starvation, suffering and despair. You see weak people reaching out to you for help. But the people I saw were not despairing but hopeful, not weak but strong,” he said. “It’s not just about what we can do for them, it’s about what we can do together with them.”

But Weber’s dream to experience Bengal Bouts’ impact in Bangladesh does not end as a journey across the world with a few of his boxing buddies.

Upon returning from the trip, Weber partnered with Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns to create a new International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP). The six-week ISSLP will be offered this summer to four boxers who will provide educational assistance in tribal villages with the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

The ISSLP will accomplish two objectives that Weber believes are part of the Bengal Bouts mission: allowing Notre Dame students to experience the Bangladesh missions, and donating human resources and monetary resources “to improve the quality of life in Bangladesh through education.”

According to the Center for Social Concerns website, the program is only available to Notre Dame Boxing Club members and will begin in May 2009.

“Having witnessed the missions in Bangladesh, that once mysterious ideal is now manifested in real people, places and personalities. With new knowledge comes a new responsibility,” Weber said.