'' I.S.’s Most Traveled Volunteer Reflects on his Feelings About the Garbage Dump Community of Ocotillo, Honduras – International Samaritan

I.S.'s Most Traveled Volunteer Reflects on his Feelings About the Garbage Dump Community of Ocotillo, Honduras

Matt helped build the Richard Flasck Medical Center in 2009, along with other student volunteers from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School.

Last week, we said goodbye to Matt
Ippel who has interned with International Samaritan two summers in a
row. Matt was our 2010 Samaritan of the Year. He is also our most
traveled volunteer having been to Honduras four times and Haiti once.
Below, Matt reflects on his work with International Samaritan and the
people he bonded with in the garbage dump community of Ocotillo. In
his essay, he writes, “I have fallen in love with the community
of El Ocotillo: the community as a whole and the individuals that
have particularly touched my heart.”

Matt’s essay was written in July,
after his third trip to Honduras. We wish Matt the best as he starts
his junior year at Georgetown University. He will be spending the
fall semester in Jordan and the winter semester in El Salvador. Many
blessings, Matt!

By Matt Ippel

We visited the garbage dump in El
Ocotillo the first day of our service learning trip and were greeted
with flies buzzing in our faces, smells of rancid sewage, and the
incredible sight of men and woman, and even children, collecting
everything from aluminum cans to tires. This was my third time
witnessing the garbage dump on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula. I had
gone twice as a student volunteer and was leading a group of high
school students from my alma mater, U of D Jesuit.

I noted the impressions it left on the
students in our group. Inevitably, they had a difficult time
comprehending the fact that people actually worked in a garbage dump
and earned $1.25 to $1.50 per day. They also were amazed to see the
effort and hard work put in by the people, in spite of the terrible
circumstances. One student had an interesting observation. He said
that we have it easy in that we can leave when we want. The people of
El Ocotillo do not have that option. For many, the work they do in
the garbage dump is passed down from generation to generation.

One evening later that week, the rain
started to come down. With the rain came the wind. As I sat in the
overhang at the retreat center, I couldn’t help but think about El
Ocotillo. Goosebumps ran down my arms wondering what it was like in
the garbage dump. I wondered if the kids could sleep with how loud
the rain was hitting their tin roofs. I imagined the smell of the
wet, rancid waste in the dump slowly making its way to El Ocotillo.
The dirt floors of peoples’ shacks must have been filled with mud
puddles; their clothes soaked. I could easily run from the overhang
to my room. My feet might be soaked, shirt drenched, and hair wet,
but I could take a shower, change into a new pair of dry clothes and
everything would be ok. No one in El Ocotillo would just be ok, but
they would get by, like they usually did.

I’ve been struggling with a lot of
things recently, especially while here in Honduras serving the poor.
Why is there poverty? What is a definition of poverty? It’s more
than just being below a certain income level. It’s more than living
in a small house, and having a large family to care for. It’s more
than not receiving an adequate education. It’s someone’s life we
are talking about.

Poverty makes some cringe at sight. It
makes others want to put money in the offertory plate at Mass. It
makes others give large sums of their earnings to charities and
organizations who work with the poor of this world. It makes others
question society and institutions, and some think creatively as to
how they can effectively and efficiently serve the poor. For me,
seeing poverty and working with the poor allows me to know myself at
a deeper level and it makes me more human. Working with poorer
communities and families allows me to see God more clearly. It allows
me to follow Christ, and encourages me to follow God’s vocation for
me.

As I sat in that overhang, I began to
pray for those in El Ocotillo asking God to watch over them
throughout their lives, especially tonight with all of this rain. I
asked God to be with them, although I know he always is. I asked God
to be with me as I continue to discern for God’s calling and asked
to be more Christ-like, to learn to follow in the footsteps of
Christ. I felt God talking to me with the rain. Out of darkness there
is light. I saw that darkness that night with the rain, knowing its
terrible effects on the people of El Ocotillo. And I saw the light,
too. I know that God was there when the rain was coming down. He was
praying with the families, comforting the children, reassuring the
weak, downtrodden, hurt, and protecting all of them.

On each service trip International
Samaritan poses a challenge to its participants. The goal of the I.S.
trips is to provide an experience for individuals so that they can
have a “change of heart.” The challenge then is to do something
with that “change of heart.” Put plain and simple, the challenge
is to remember, not only in your thoughts and day to day activities,
but also in the way that you lead your life. How does this trip
affect you? How do you come to know the poor more deeply? It is the
hope that this experience — like the four I.S. trips that I have
been on — will affect the way you see the world, see the poor, work
for change, and most importantly how you lead your life.

I am reminded by a quote from Fr. Pedro
Arrupe, SJ: “Nothing is more
practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite
absolute final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your
imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you
out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you
spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your
heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay
in love, and it will decide everything.”

It has been over these past four years
that I have been falling in love. International Samaritan has
provided me with opportunities to serve in developing countries with
the poor of the poor in garbage dump communities. They have also gone
above and beyond and the reflection component of each of the trips
has taken my feelings, emotions, desires, questions, worries, etc. to
a deeper level. I have been falling in love with service.

What is my
deepest desire? To labor and not to ask for reward. I have fallen in
love with the community of El Ocotillo: the community as a whole and
the individuals that have particularly touched my heart. I have
stayed in love by coming here for a third time and deciding to
seriously consider finding a way to return next summer for,
hopefully, a significant time. And I’m waiting for it to decide
everything.

I know that it will have a lasting
impact on me. And I know it has made me who I am and will continue to
shape me. I know that my vocation in life will in some shape or form
come from these experiences in Honduras with the El Ocotillo
community.

As a student volunteer, Matt taught English and Spanish at the International Samaritan School in Ocotillo.

Matt is pictured with San Pedro Sula Mayor Dr. Juan Carlos Zuniga celebrating the August, 2011 dedication of the new seventh grade classrooms built at the I.S. School in Ocotillo.

Matt developed strong bonds with what he calls his “second family,” the Monje Coca’s. Wilfredo Monje Coca is the construction manager of I.S. projects in Ocotillo. Matt was invited to a meal at their home earlier this month, on his fourth trip to the garbage dump community of Ocotillo.

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