Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

An Alternative New Year’s

An Alternative New Year’s

By Emily Nash Hoya Staff Writer

In contrast to many of their contemporaries, the millennium celebration of 12 Georgetown students was one of humble proportions. As part of an “alternative” holiday break sponsored by the Office of Campus Ministry involving community service and spiritual outreach, the group rang in the new year while visiting the small fishing village of Chelem, Mexico, on the Gulf Coast.

“So much of the rest of the world was celebrating with fireworks and big displays,” said Rev. Brendan Hurley, S.J., a university chaplain and the leader of the group, “but we were in a remote part of the world, celebrating as the people there do.”

David Antonelli (MSB ’02) said some members of the group were apprehensive about spending New Year’s Eve in Chelem, but in the end he was glad to witness the traditional Mexican celebration.

After old clothes filled with newspapers were lit on fire to symbolize the passing of the old year, the group danced into the early hours of the morning with the villagers and stayed awake to watch the sunrise.

“This is the only way I wanted to spend my millennium,” said Jennifer Genuardi (COL ’00), student coordinator for the trip and a participant last year as well.

Now in its second year, the project is a collaborative effort between Georgetown students and members of a religious youth group in Chelem called the Jovenes. Together the group of students repaired 19 homes in the area while Hurley attended to the pastoral needs of the community.

According to Hurley, the Jovenes showed the Georgetown students how to do the necessary construction and worked with the students to repair the homes, most of which have a wooden frame and are covered with tar paper on the sides and roof. Inclement weather over the past year has hurt the coastal village, leaving residents unable to buy materials to repair the damage.

Private donations and money contributed by the students helped defray the cost of travel and materials to repair the homes. The group also raised $2,000 to $3,000 with the help of Marriott, the campus food supplier that donated $2 for each Friday meal given up by a Georgetown student.

For Genuardi, personal interaction proved to be the most fulfilling aspect of both her trips. After going to Chelem last year she was unsure whether the people there would remember her. Upon her return she realized they did.

“Everyone in the village came out to greet me,” she said. “You see what a difference you can make in people’s lives without even knowing it.”

The interactive element of the project is one Hurley said separates it from other existing service opportunities.

“The people didn’t see it as a free handout,” he said. “They were impressed and moved that the students all worked on the project together.”

The interaction between the two groups at work also carried into the evening activities, which included skits depicting biblical stories and parables performed by the students.

The spiritual aspect of the trip also consisted of daily reflections delivered by individual students on their experience in the impoverished village.

“It was shocking to see poverty that struck on all levels,” Genuardi said, adding that she found it difficult to adjust when she returned to Georgetown on Tuesday. “The poverty is so overwhelming that it’s hard to explain to people here.”

Unfortunately, future Georgetown students may not have the opportunity to see such poverty firsthand. This is Hurley’s last year at Georgetown, and the program depends largely on personal relationships he has developed in the area.

He hopes a program will be set up in Campus Ministry to continue the work he has started and is currently looking for locations both in and outside of Mexico. However, no program has been established as of yet.

“Georgetown places so much emphasis on the international,” Hurley said. “More than any other place, we should direct our international focus toward service.”

In the meantime Genuardi continues to write to her friends in exico, ever hopeful that she will someday return.

“The marks you leave are really indelible,” she said. “It’s like coming home.”

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