Local youth and adults had an experience they will never forget during spring break in late March.
Eighteen students in Grades 11 and 12, and 10 adult chaperones – including parents and staff – went on a mission trip to Peru through the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division's Christian Ethics program. Eleven of the students, and multiple adults, were from the Estevan Comprehensive School (ECS).
They spent much of their time building a concrete staircase that will enhance the lives of people in Pamplona – a village near the Peruvian capital of Lima.
During the first day in Pamplona, the mission team met people from the community, and participated in a celebration and an opening ceremony. Then the work began.
"We ended up building a flight of 241 concrete stairs to allow the community – instead of going up and down a very dangerous slope – to use the steps to get their groceries, to get water, to get to school and to visit their neighbours," said trip coordinator Lynn Colquhoun.
"Even after the first day, when we had the first 25 to 30 steps built, we had to get out of the way, because the locals were already using our steps. It was wonderful."
Most of the students on the trip didn't have much previous experience hauling concrete, so it was a physically demanding week, Colquhoun said.
She praised the students' efforts throughout the trip.
"They took care of us as much as we, the adults, took care of them," said Colquhoun. "They communicated so well."
And the villagers are very thankful that the stairs are finished.
"Even in the beginning days, there were people moving quicker up and down from their home to the market, or up and down from their home to the water," said Colquhoun.
The Holy Family team stayed at dorm adjacent to a boys' school; it had a kitchen and a meeting area for the students. Colquhoun said it was in a safe community, and it created a nice, at-home atmosphere for the missionaries.
Team members also had opportunities for cultural and tourist activities during the trip, she said. They journeyed into Lima and visited a Bohemian district that Colquhoun said has some of the most beautiful old buildings in the world. They enjoyed true Peruvian foods such as cow hearts and pumpkin donuts. There was a visit to a water park; some people tried surfing.
There were also trips to the presidential palace and the oldest cathedral in South America.
Two students from the Christian Ethics program at ECS, Nick Skjonsby and Whitney Gervais, said that their experience was "amazing."
Skjonsby was astounded at how happy the villagers really were, and the way in which the people were willing to work together, even though they have little money.
"I had expectations (going in), but when I got there, everything was way above my expectations," he said. "It was a little scary at first, but once you got used to it, you wanted to help these people."
He never imagined some of the things he would see in the community – stray dogs running around, garbage piled up and children and families living through poverty.
Gervais said she went on the trip expecting she would help the people in Peru, but once the trip was over, she realized the experience had been so much more.
The trips to Lima had a profound impact on her.
"When you drive through Lima, you'll be in a rich part, and then the next block will be poor," said Gervais. "There's no real in between for the communities."
She was also amazed at how happy the people are, and how they don't need material things.
Gervais noted that in addition to their time spent building stairs, the missionaries provided dental hygiene tips to Pamplona's youth.
"We taught them how to brush their teeth, and we brought toothbrushes and dental floss and toothpaste to give to them," said Gervais.
Both Skjonsby and Gervais said they would encourage anyone to go on a mission trip.
Colquhoun said there will be another mission trip through the Christian Ethics program in two years. It might not be to the same location, but it will give the students a chance to spend a week living in a community, while interacting with residents and soaking up a new culture.