Ignacio Volunteers Launch Two New Programs

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

In response to increasing student demand for overseas volunteer opportunities, the University Chaplaincy's Ignacio Volunteers Program recently added service trips to the Dominican Republic and Belize.

These new initiatives, along with the program's three previously established service trips, offer students the chance to work with children and assist in community service projects while living in extremely rural conditions.

In the first Dominican Republic Experience, held just after the 1996 Commencement, Chaplain Theodore Dziak, SJ, director of the Ignacio Volunteers Program, accompanied 10 undergraduates and two graduate students to Banica, a village in the mountains bordering Haiti. Students lived with families and helped build and paint a community center, working alongside the local residents.

"This was the most basic in terms of accommodations of all the trips we offer, with no running water and only a few homes with electricity," said Fr. Dziak. "We had to wash up in a nearby river, which separated the two countries."

The people had almost no previous contact with Americans, but were "extremely welcoming," he said. Student reflections, he noted, focused on how much is taken for granted in America.

From Dec. 28 through Jan. 11, Fr. Dziak and 14 students will assist residents of Dangriga, Belize and two nearby villages. The students will supervise educational workshops, hands-on arts and crafts, science experiments, games and sports for schoolchildren, and help paint a school or community center in Dangriga. The participants, chosen last spring out of 73 applications, will meet once a week this semester to prepare for the trip.

In another Ignacio Volunteers effort, the Belize Summer Camp, students spend three weeks at a camp for children of poor families in Dangriga. The program is so popular in Belize, according to Fr. Dziak, that the governor general of the Central American nation formally opened the camp this year with a ceremony on national television.

As has been the practice in years past, the Ignacio Volunteers Program also will sponsor trips to Jamaica and Mexico during the semester break.

"We've had a tremendous response from both students and from the towns we help," said Fr. Dziak. "Our programs are really becoming well-known as enabling Boston College students to serve people in need, which is gratifying. My only frustration is that we can't accommodate more students."

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