Aug 17, 2011
I.S.'s Most Traveled Volunteer Reflects on his Feelings About the Garbage Dump Community of Ocotillo, Honduras
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.