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Class lives Sisters’ mission on trip to Guatemala

July 2, 2012

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guatemala groupKansas City, MO –An eight-day student trip to Guatemala in May for the class Violence: Guatemala was about students observing and learning about a foreign culture, as well as performing service along the lines of the mission of the university and its founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

For Professor Nicole Esquibel, it was about even more.

“I looked at everything through the eyes of a documentary filmmaker,” said Esquibel, an assistant professor in Avila’s School of Visual and Communications Arts, a documentarian, and one of the leaders of the 10-student contingent along with colleague Ken Parsons, Ph. D. “From my standpoint as a documentarian, it was about getting testimony. That’s how the Guatemalan people repair their lives, by telling their stories.”

Throughout the eight days, which took place May 18-26, Esquibel, Parsons and the students saw evidence of – and listened to stories about - the ravages of a civil war in the small, Central American country that lasted from 1960-96 and left thousands dead or displaced from their homes.

Esquibel said the Avila contingent flew into Guatemala City, the nation’s capital and most populous city with more than 14 million inhabitants. They spent three nights in a local seminary and were thoroughly debriefed about what was ahead of them before traveling out to more remote areas.

guatemalaTheir first destination was Santiago Atitlan, where they met with an organization called ANADESA, a women’s collective working for fair trade for women in the community. They then spent two days in Panabaj, performed service for the people there and talked with people about the effects of the war and the more recent ravages from Hurricane Stan, which hit in October, 2005.

“We talked to women whose husbands were killed or lost in the war,” Esquibel said. “But, we learned that violence there is not only cultural, but also by nature.”

It was in San Felipe where the students performed most of their service learning work. They trekked up mountainsides with supplies and built chicken coops as well as provided materials for candle and soap making.

As Esquibel said, living conditions were sparse at best.

“Students often slept on floors in the same one-room home of our families, and many days our meals consisted of beans and tortillas,” she said. “But the host families were gracious and welcoming, and strong bonds were formed between the students and the Guatemalan people.”

A few days later, the group returned to Guatemala City and flew home, exhausted but exhilarated by the work accomplished and the knowledge gained.

Esquibel said there undoubtedly would be future service learning excursions to Guatemala.

“I think it changed these students’ lives,” she said. “It’s not an easy trip.

“But, this trip is completely in line with the mission of the university.”

View some videos a few students put together about their experiences in Guatemala.



Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.