Stephanie Della Smirra will never forget the intimate, revealing and life-altering conversation she had with some of the poorest women in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador.
“I explained to them in broken Spanish why I was in Ecuador and about my life in Canada,” said Della Smirra. “They shared with me their stores and some of the struggles they have gone through. I was overwhelmed by the joy and passion for life that these people had despite the obstacles they faced.”
The Health Sciences student, about to enter her fourth year, is a veteran participant in Solidarity Experiences Abroad (SEA), a program that offers opportunities to explore social justice, culture and spirituality in developing countries. The Faith and Life Centre (formerly Campus Ministries) offers the non-denominational program. More than Brock 1,000 students have participated since the trips were formed in 2004.
Faculty, staff, alumni and students from Brock’s Med Plus program and Nursing program also may participate.
In her Welland high school, Della Smirra was convinced that she wanted to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals. After trips to Peru and Ecuador with SEA, her focus shifted to global health, with a goal to specialize in tropical and infectious diseases. Ideally she would like to work for a non-government organization in developing countries.
Sarah Brill-Morgan is the program assistant for SEA. She has completed four years of her Health Sciences program and is taking a few more courses this year to prepare for a career in naturopathy with a focus in counselling.
Like Della Smirra, Brill-Morgan has been on three SEA excursions. Both women returned from their volunteer trips with a new global view and the awareness of the trivial nature of many “first world” problems.
“I really appreciate what I have, and I don’t take it for granted,” said Della Smirra. “It’s clear that we don’t need material things to be truly happy.”
SEA participants are involved in a variety of work placements, including daycares and schools, health-care facilities, community health campaigns such as dental instruction, and construction/ecologic projects. Many start with construction and then move to other areas.
Brill-Morgan worked with a gynecologist, performed several ultrasounds and witnessed appointments.
Although the day starts with a Christian prayer, participation is optional. Religion permeates cultural activities because many of the countries are deeply Roman Catholic.
Volunteers return to their retreat at the end of the work day. In their private times, they often play soccer or write in their journals. There’s usually a cultural experience in the evening, such as a visit to the market or local musical entertainment.
Language courses are offered during the two weeks, and participants have the opportunity to see a different part of the country on a three- to four-day trip.
The two-week programs to Peru, Ecuador and Brazil cost about $2,800. The four-week program costs about $4,900. There’s also a trip to South Africa offered. Prices are all inclusive, covering airfare, accommodation, meals, transportation, and insurance.
Fundraising opportunities are available.
Information sessions for 2012 trips will take place at the end of September or early October.