Boston College High School student Tai Thurber spent his April vacation in Belize, but he wasn’t lounging on the beach or checking out the local tourist attractions.
Instead, the Dedham, Massachusetts 17-year-old and 11 of his classmates toiled in the hot and humid Central American climate for three days to construct a new home for a 72-year-old woman who lost her husband and was left with nothing, Wicked Local reports.
The work, part of a joint program between the school and Hand In Hand Ministries, is designed to expose students to different cultures and the life-changing effect their hard work can have on folks in need, whether it’s through housing, healthcare or education.
“I’d never been to Belize and it was kind of a new experience,” Thurber told the news site. “I wanted to go because we wouldn’t be going to touristy places and we would get a feel for the real culture of the people.”
“It was 80-90 degrees with 100 percent humidity most of the time,” he said. “It was very different climate than we are used to here.”
The students hauled materials, hammered, panted the home, which was constructed on concrete slabs to keep it high and dry during flooding. As part of the Hand in Hand project, the 72-year-old widow agreed to help on two builds, and she worked alongside the students throughout the construction.
“She couldn’t really hammer, she helped paint a lot,” Thurber said. “It was cool to see that even though she couldn’t do the hammering she still wanted to contribute.”
Students also attended a house blessing on the fourth day of their trip, and bought a mattress and supplies for the new home owner, Wicked Local reports.
“When she moved in she only had a mat and some clothes,” Thurber said. “It didn’t seem like a big deal to us, but it was life changing for her.”
Catholic schools are particularly effective in promoting community service, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found. Political scientist David Campbell found “that private school students were more likely to engage in community service than their public school counterparts and that the Catholic schools primarily drove the effects” (The Content of Their Character, p. 122).
Students paid their own way for the trip, and raised funds to give out gifts to kids at a daycare for children with HIV. Thurber said the mission work, and his experiences with the local folks in Belize, offered lessons for students, as well.
“I was surprised by the happiness of the people there despite the fact that they had so little,” he said. “They seemed happier than we are.”
“They say you get more out of these trips than you give,” Thurber said. “It’s not a cliché. It actually happens.”
An Insight Series paper titled 'A Simple Act of Charity? The Characteristics and Complexities of Charitable Giving in the United Kingdom' from the UK's The Jubilee Centre is available here for teachers and principals who share the idea that charitable giving of one's time and effort helps develop students' moral and citizenship formation.