Students who will be working with Habitat for Humanity in Argentina: Back row, left to right: Sarah Rall, Shannon Sullivan, Milagros Bernabo, Kimberly Carey, Madeleine Carson. Front row, left to right: Michaela OíBrien, Meghan Hart, Danielle Riccio, Kaitlin Wagner. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Taking a Challenge to Heart
Inspired by Convocation speech, BC undergrads head off on service trip to Argentina
By Greg Frost
Paul Farmer laid down a challenge when he spoke to hundreds of Boston College students at their 2004 convocation, and now nine of those who heard him speak are taking him up on it.
Milagros Bernabo '08 and eight friends who met last year as first-year students in Keyes South residence hall are headed this month to Lujan, a small city about an hour from Buenos Aires, where they will work a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity to build homes for needy families.
Bernabo and her fellow volunteers say they were inspired by what they heard from Farmer, a world-renowned medical anthropologist who has devoted his life to treating the needy in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
Specifically, Bernabo says she was motivated by Farmer's admonition to "resist the temptation to not know the world, and resist the temptation to amnesia and forgetting, and resist the temptation to close off those who are less fortunate than we are."
Bernabo, who was born in Argentina and moved New York as a young child, says she has wanted to help her native country since a 2001 economic collapse that left around half the population living below the poverty line.
Last summer she organized a benefit dinner in New York that she hoped would raise money for an organization doing work in Argentina. But her objectives shifted and she soon found herself organizing a service trip to the Latin American nation.
Joining Bernabo in Lujan will be sophomores Kimberly Carey, Madeleine Carson, Meghan Hart, Michaela O'Brien, Sarah Rall, Danielle Riccio, Shannon Sullivan and Kaitlin Wagner. Three other non-BC students will also accompany the group on the nearly two-week service trip.
"We obviously take for granted a lot of the things we have here, the fact that we have a home which is such a basic need that so many families don't have," says Wagner. "Even though we are 19- and 20-year-olds we have a lot of power to reach out to those who don't have their basic needs met."
Bernabo says that while she is looking forward to the physical labor, her biggest hope is that the trip will raise awareness.
"These 12 people will come back...and tell three or four friends, and they'll tell others. That's the way real change is made - by spreading the word that there is a great need for service and for trips like this," Bernabo says.
Bernabo and her fellow volunteers say their trip would not be possible without the assistance of friends and families who have helped them raise $13,000 to cover all costs of travel to and from Argentina, room and board, and medical insurance.
The group raised the bulk of the money through a letter-writing campaign last Christmas. Among the biggest sponsors was the Hilton Foundation, which donated $2,500.
Bernabo says she hopes the experience goes well and that the trip becomes an annual event open to the entire University community.
"BC students are eager to help. There wouldn't be a lack of interest - the environment here is unbelievable in terms of service," she says.