An Eye-Opening Experience

Mya VanderHagen

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This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

It’s so easy to take things for granted.

We live our lives, go through the motions, and sometimes forget how truly convenient it is for some of us.

We often don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, if the water we drink is going to make us sick, or if we have a roof over our head at night.

My mission trip to Peru was a wakeup call.

I saw how others lived, experienced their struggles firsthand, and was able to do my part to help make a difference.

And just as important as going on the trip, I’ve made it my mission to share my story and experiences with as many people as possible.

It’s no use to go on a trip like this and not spread the lessons and messages to those back at home.

Getting the opportunity

When I was in high school, I was determined to find a university with strong academics, a good swim team, and is a place that allowed me to grow in my faith.

That’s what made SMU the perfect fit for me.

I had been Catholic my whole life and always had a great foundation in my faith, but during my first couple years at SMU, I started to fall out of it a bit.

I was so focused on school and swimming, and just life in general, that I let my faith take a backseat.

But as time passed, I started to get more and more involved with SMU’s Catholic Campus Ministry, and it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

It was a perfect reminder of what I believe in and how I want to live my life.

And with that, I found a calling to do more, to give back, and to serve others.

I had wanted to go on a mission trip for a while, but with swimming and school, I was never able to make it happen.

When I heard about the mission trip to Peru, and how it was after the swim season, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

A group of about 20 people from SMU and a few other universities would be spending eight days in Peru.

We wouldn’t have any cell phones, no plumbing, and we wouldn’t be able to drink the water.

I knew it would be a lot of sacrifice, but I also knew the people in Peru needed us, and that’s what made the decision so easy.

My mission trip to Peru was a wakeup call. I saw how others lived, experienced their struggles firsthand, and was able to do my part to help make a difference. And just as important as going on the trip, I’ve made it my mission to share my story and experiences with as many people as possible. It’s no use to go on a trip like this and not spread the lessons and messages to those back at home.

Life-changing

The conditions in Peru were tough.

The area was considered uninhabitable by the government due to the elevation and lack of resources.

But the people who lived there didn’t have a choice.

That was their home.

They didn’t have a sewage system, so they would have to use latrines and couldn’t drink the water, either.

The main purpose of our trip was to build a staircase and walls to make the terrain less difficult for the people in the community to get up and down the mountain.

The more we were able to build, the better chance the government would deem it habitable and provide them with clean water and other resources.

And while it was a lot of hard work, we were also able to spend time with the locals and share our faith with them, too.

We were able to deliver mass and the Eucharist, which was such a powerful experience.

They didn’t have a church within a walking distance, so we were able to bring the church to them — it was really special.

Since I was able to speak Spanish quite decently, I was also able to help translate and communicate with the locals.

We talked to them about their struggles, what resources they felt they needed, and how we could help them.

It was very rewarding to be able to connect with them and experience their struggles firsthand.

The impact of manual labor can be so overlooked.

We do so much charity work, which is great, of course, but when you get to work with your hands and experience firsthand the struggles of others, it’s a completely different experience.

And it’s so important to be able to connect with others and put yourself in their shoes, even if only for a short time.

And that’s exactly what we did.

We even lived in very similar conditions to the locals.

We were staying in a convent dorm-style, but the working conditions were very difficult.

It was really hot, so we had to be very conscious about that.

And with no plumbing, we had to be very careful about what we ate and drank, and where we went to the bathroom.

But that was nothing compared to what the locals have to go through every single day.

Being able to experience poverty so closely was a life-changing experience, and one I’ll never forget.

Spreading the message

I truly believe that a mission trip is only successful if you walk away and do something about it.

I certainly did.

I now feel a strong dedication to service and want to simplify my life. I don’t want my life to be about possessions or accomplishments. I want it to be about what I can do for others.

I want to live my everyday life as a dedication to others and see what ways I can practice that sacrifice.

As a member of SMU’s Catholic Campus Ministry, our doors are always open, and we do everything we can to spread the message of faith and service to as many people as possible.

That’s why I wanted to share my story.

Not to bring recognition to myself, but to show others how the mission trip changed me.

I want to encourage others to live a life of sacrifice as a layperson, and to let my life be a witness to others.

And if I can do that, I’ll consider my mission trip to Peru an even bigger success.