Utah County Students Serve & Learn in Mexico
Utah County Students Serve and Learn in Mexico
Twenty students from Utah county schools engaged in service-learning in Mexico last week. Directed by Kendon Eakett of Family to Family Humanitarian Expeditions (FFHE), students and adults from American Heritage School (American Fork) and Aspen Academy (Payson) traveled to Mexico City and Querétaro to teach English, repaint a public shelter, deliver school kits, upgrade a community soccer park in Mexico, and participate in LDS missionary work.
Preparations for the event began six months in advance. Leaders planned opportunities for participants to serve together, with the aim of developing a desire for life-long service.
The service-learning began on the campus of Centro Escolar de Benemérito de Las Americas, also known as “Benemérito” – an LDS church-owned and operated school in Mexico City founded in 1964 that now enrolls over 2,000 students. Benemérito students and FFHE participants were paired together so that each Utah student had a Benemérito “companion” to eat with, serve with, and stay with in the school’s residence halls. In all, 40 LDS youth from Utah and Mexico directly participated with dozens of adults.
AHS Student Adam Bushman (AHS) and Jorge Rincón Chávez (Benemérito) became fast friends.
The event began with a devotional on leader of Benemérito invited the service-learning participants to engage in a daily routine of studying the Book of Mormon. This would invite the a spirit of love for each other and for serving others, he said.
Providing Benemérito students with English-language conversation practice was a significant service-learning goal at Benemérito. Students presented on various topics in approximately 100 English classes and answered interview questions with almost 2,000 Benemérito students. About the classes, Olivia Sutton, a ninth grade student at American Heritage School (AHS) said, “The teacher let me help teach. I answered students’ questions and they enjoyed it.” Classmate Kelsey Crawford added, “It was a good experience talking with all the different students.”
Students of Centro Escolar de Benemérito de Las Americas (also known as “Benemérito”) perform a traditional dance from Jalisco during an evening of sharing culture and talent.
A cultural and talent exchange Tuesday night resulted in students learning together. Benemérito students performed Mariachi (traditional Mexican serenade) and “Ballet Folklorico” dances from Aztec culture, Chiapas, and Jalisco. Utah students in exchange performed vocal, piano, dance, and orchestral numbers.
The youth group also served in the Mexico City Temple, performing hundreds of LDS ordinances. About the temple, 16 year old Lilia Michelle Valenzuela Parra of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico said, “The Church is the same everywhere, and even though we have different cultures, different language, different colors, we have the same feeling and the same faith and I just think this is great. I think this is how it going to be when we live with God again.” Her companion, Lexie Butler of Payson Utah added, “I like to see how every temple is different. The Mexico City Temple is so pretty.”
Following the temple visit, students changed into work clothes and traveled to a Mexico government-sponsored care center for elderly men. The youth group cleaned and re-painted three cafeterias to enhance the atmosphere of that common area. AHS students also visited the elderly residents, singing hymns to them, talking with them, and sharing candy with them. Students shared their tender thoughts about these men and their desires to do more service in a group meeting later that evening. AHS student Amy Bailey said, “One of the highlights was realizing that you could feel love for these men even though they were from a different background.”
Students also enjoyed time for visiting Teotihuacan (pre-Columbian ruins), playing sports, and teaching social dances to each other.
Sharing gospel testimonies and appreciation for each other concluded the Benemérito portion of the trip during a devotional Friday morning. Then AHS and Aspen students loaded into a bus and headed to Querétaro for more service.
Upon arriving in Querétaro students delivered school kits to 100 students in need at a local elementary school. The students receiving the gifts returned their own act of service by sharing a traditional dance number and writing thank you notes.
Students donned work gloves, hats, and work masks Saturday morning and worked in nearby Menchaca, a suburb of Querétaro in need of community recreation space. AHS and Aspen youth combined with approximately a hundred youth from two Querétaro LDS stakes, about 40 LDS adults and a dozen architecture students from Monterrey Institute of Technology to build bleachers and renovate a soccer field. Touched by the large project, several local residents pitched in. Today, Menchaca has new bleachers and an improved soccer field, thanks to the service.
AHS Student David Pack (Grade 12) played a pivotal role in making the project a success. He organized an Eagle Scout project that included raising $4,000 to fund the day’s portion of the project.
As part of his Eagle Scout project, AHS Student David Pack raised $4,000 to support the building of bleachers for a community soccer field in Menchaca, Querétaro, Mexico.
Alejandra Martinez Trujillo, a Monterrey Tech student said, “I am very pleased with the project because the people of Menchaca are interested in it and it gives them a place to spend time together as families and a community.”
Antonio Garduño, the supervising professor from the Monterrey Institute of Technology, said, “I am proud of what is being accomplished because we are serving the community of Menchaca, my students are doing good work, and we have so many volunteers here helping.”
Youth participants and adult leaders said they enjoyed working together and felt the satisfaction of creating an important community recreation space for the families of Menchaca.
After a long day of work, the youth enjoyed time in Querétaro’s historic downtown district including a walking tour of the city.
The group attended and participated in Sunday LDS church meetings in two Querétaro LDS stakes. That afternoon they also accompanied local LDS missionaries, visiting many homes. Adam Bushman of American Heritage School, said missionaries asked him during one visit to extend a baptismal invitation to a woman they met that afternoon. Bushman said, “I couldn’t believe they wanted me to extend the invitation, but I did, and she accepted. I am grateful for the experience. I can’t wait to be a missionary.”
After a Sunday night fireside about missionary work, AHS, Aspen, and Querétaro youth parted with hugs. Tour participants met early Monday morning to ride a bus to the airport and fly home. Student Lexie Butler (Aspen) called the trip the “best eight days of my life.”
Leaders from American Heritage School, Aspen, and FFHE felt the trip was a success. Eakett said, “This expedition has been special among those I have directed in the last ten years.” AHS High School Principal Leland Anderson added, “The goal to foster meaningful service and spiritual experiences for our students was accomplished and brought our young men and women friendships and memories they will cherish. I look forward to similar trips in the future.”