(August 9, 2012) -- There’s nothing like a little water to bring people together, especially on a hot summer day.
Manila Tanafranca saw relationships blossom with each friendly splash of water at a pool party she helped organize for children living in poverty in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
After volunteering at a mom-and-tots breakfast program and helping with home repairs at La Estación, a squatter’s village located in a destitute section of Cuernavaca, the pool party was a welcome break.
“We did crafts and taught them Canadian games like hopscotch,” Manila said. “They didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Spanish, but it didn’t matter. We just played.”
With financial support from Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s University College, Manila travelled to Mexico in May 2012 on a Global Connections trip organized by Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry and the Canadian Catholic Students’ Association.
She said the trip opened her eyes, broadened her mind and helped her visualize a career working with children.
As she heads into her fourth year as a psychology major at St. Mary’s, Manila says her goals have changed.
“I was always set on being a teacher ever since I was a little kid,” Manila said. “But after this trip, I’m seeing so many other opportunities. I know I love working with children, but there is a lot of work in the area of social justice that I would like to look into.”
Manila credits Campus Ministry for setting her on this path. Several years ago, she volunteered and later worked for Calgary’s Hull Services as a result of a Campus Ministry initiative.
“I once told Campus Ministry Director Nancy Quan that I would jump at the chance for a trip like this, because I’ve always felt that a cultural experience is more important than sitting at a resort or beach somewhere,” she said.
Manila and Laura Stefan will co-chair the Students 4 Social Justice club during the 2012-2013 academic year. The students will also sit on St. Mary’s Social Justice Committee, which brings students, faculty and staff together to guide campus social justice initiatives.
The committee will continue to promote “Water” as the social justice theme this year. Manila said she would like to spearhead a fundraising project to help bring clean drinking water to some of the people she met in La Estación.
“The people are drinking water from wells and ravines that are completely polluted,” she said. “And they don’t have the money to buy clean drinking water. It was emotionally tolling to me to see the way the people live and how they are trapped in that situation.”
Manila stayed at the Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development (CCIDD), a Christian retreat centre founded in 1977 to offer Canadian and American students the opportunity to experience the struggle for justice in Latin America. The CCIDD strives to “serve” the local Mexican population, rather than to “help” them, because service can only be performed in a relationship between equals, while help is based on a relationship of inequality assuming one side of the relationship is stronger than the other.
In 2011, St. Mary’s University College was Alberta’s first post-secondary institution to establish a plastic water bottle-free campus. Students, faculty, staff and visitors are encouraged to use water refilling stations because bottled water is not sold on campus. "Our school is leading the way in Alberta universities in reducing the commoditization of water and reducing waste in the landfills,” said Campus Ministry Director Nancy Quan. Read more