February 27, 2012
Senior history major Heidi Klise (top), shown here with three girls from an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, will lead a group of volunteers from Trinity United Church of Christ and The College of Wooster on a joint service project to that city over spring break in March.
WOOSTER, Ohio – Like thousands of college students across the country, Heidi Klise will be heading south for spring break, but unlike most, she will not be basking in the glow of sun-drenched beaches in Florida and elsewhere. Instead, she will be heading farther south to help build houses for the people of Tijuana, Mexico.
A senior history major at The College of Wooster and a graduate of Wooster High School, Klise is helping to organize the project, which is a joint venture between the College and Trinity United Church of Christ in Downtown Wooster.
Working through Esperanza International, a spinoff of Habitat for Humanity, the group of volunteers will be building homes in neighborhoods where ramshackle huts made of cardboard, tin, and scraps of wood have served as shelter for many residents.
“It’s pretty shocking when you first arrive,” says Klise, who’s making her fourth trip. “It’s hard to describe (the extent of the poverty), but the people are so warm and welcoming. I’ve been struck by how happy they are and how they appreciate their families and communities, despite not having much (in the way of possessions) or many opportunities. Esperanza translates to 'hope,’ and it is so rewarding to give these families hope and to see their big smiles after we finish our small amount of work."
Klise first learned about the organization from her high school friend, Jill Henshaw, who had gone to Tijuana the year before. Then she met Rena Starr, a graduate of Triway High School and The College of Wooster, who helped to organize one of the trips.
Now it is Klise who is in charge. She recruited 11 students from the College through the Wooster Volunteer Network to join 13 members of the church — many of which have made the trip multiple times — for a week over spring break (March 10-17).
The Wooster crew will stay at Esperanza’s gated community center and work on various projects between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day. In the evenings, the group will visit other sites in and around the city. These nightly jaunts provide engaging educational and cultural opportunities. For example, in the past, they have visited an orphanage for young girls and a shelter for migrant workers who have been deported and dumped at the U.S. border. “It’s very interesting to see the human face of migration,” she says.
The trips have also helped Klise to sharpen her Spanish-speaking skills, but what excites her most is the impact of the trip on her fellow students. “It’s really awesome to see how they are touched by the experience,” she says. “It opens your eyes to what is really important in life.”
Klise describes the trip as purposeful and powerful. “I feel like I am doing something productive,” she says, “and it provides a perspective on daily life. It’s easy to get caught up in materialism, but the residents of Tijuana value relationships more than anything else. As a result, I’ve come to appreciate my family even more. It has also opened my eyes to different cultures and different ways of life. In the end, you realize we’re all alike.”
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