Rising Interest Prompts New Program

Ignacio Volunteers heading for Belize

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Encouraged by the growing student interest in service work abroad, the Boston College Ignacio Volunteers are launching a new program in Belize over the semester break.

During the Belize Winter Experience, which runs from Dec. 28 to Jan. 12, 13 sophomores will work on educational and sports activities with schoolchildren in two Belize villages. The program is tailored to students interested in having an international experience earlier in their college years, said Ignacio Volunteers Director Theodore Dziak, SJ.

"Many international volunteer programs tend to focus on upperclassmen," Fr. Dziak explained. "But having an opportunity like this as a sophomore can really influence students' outlooks on life and have an impact on the rest of their college and career plans."

The most immediate reason for creating the new program, however, is the high number of students looking for international volunteer work, Fr. Dziak said. The Ignacio Volunteers summer camp program for children in Dangriga, Belize is a prime example, he noted, with applications nearly doubling over the past few years.

The 13 students selected for the Belize Winter Experience were drawn from a pool of 78 applicants, Fr. Dziak said. They have gathered several times for orientations, discussions of Belize's history, culture and ecology, and fundraising planning.

Once in Belize, their primary task will be overseeing a three-day workshop for local schoolchildren in villages near Dangriga, which will include supervising arts and crafts or science projects and leading sports activities. They also will assist in community service projects and visit ecological and historical sites.

"It seems like such a brief, small-scale project, but the impact is tremendous," Fr. Dziak said. "It makes such a difference to the children to have someone spend even just a couple of days teaching them how to build something or helping them play games. Our students learn a lot about others' lives, but also about themselves. We set aside time before, during and after the trip so they can reflect on, and share, what they learn.

"The younger students seem to bring a whole other kind of energy level to these volunteer experiences," he added. "At this point in college, they are very eager to seek out people with similar interests and form friendships. This creates a very good foundation for working together in an unfamiliar environment."

The enthusiasm for overseas volunteerism at Boston College is not only apparent in the number of students signing up for programs, Fr. Dziak said, but also in those who contribute to the fund-raising drives which make such initiatives possible.

"The support we receive from the student body as a whole is excellent," he said. "Few colleges or universities provide opportunities like this for their undergraduates and it is obvious the students here grasp the importance of them."

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