Cait Hurley, '10, '12 DPT, recently traveled with the Hugs group to Jamaica. She and Dr. Bill Hanlon, associate professor of physical therapy, started a new clinic there. Hurley began volunteering for these service trips while she was a student at Saint Francis. Even though she is graduated, she continues to travel with the group because she loves the people, the climate, and helping others. She has made three excursions to Honduras, three trips to the Dominican Republic, and went to Jamaica this year (a total of seven service trips!) Below is a reflection she recently wrote about her service work.
Christian missionary Jim Elliot eloquently stated "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." For many members of the Saint Francis community, this idea resonates every Spring Break with students who choose to participate in the university’s mission work abroad. One of the most life changing and inspiring organizations (on campus is) to become a part of is the group, Hugs United, formerly known as Hugs for Honduras. This mission-based group has traveled over Spring Break for the past seven years with students and faculty to different third world countries to serve in a variety of ways. The trip has grown from a mere handful of students in its first year, to become one of the largest study abroad trips on campus. The experiences of getting tackled under a pile of happy children that cannot speak your language, but somehow communicate the fundamentals of joy when they have so little, is one of the many examples that convinces many of the volunteers to keep coming back.
Currently, Hugs United partners with an organization in the Dominican Republic called Outreach 360 that provides medical and educational outreach. The group provides care through medical community clinics, Physical and Occupational Therapy, as well as serving in the public school system, by teaching English and providing health education. Students from any major are invited to share their skills, time, and compassion in a multitude of ways to serve the people of these international communities. Many students have been asked why they must travel so far to provide care and service to others. One volunteer once shared that we have been called to “love thy neighbor”. The ways in which one internalizes the action of this rule just depends on the definition and expanse of one’s neighborhood.
There are a variety of reactions from students and faculty upon first arriving in these third world countries. For some it is their first time out of the country, whereas, others have had the blessing to travel on the SFU mission trips for multiple years. Everyone was moved in different ways and by different experiences, whether in the clinics, schools, orphanages, or communities. We learned to respect the uniqueness of each individual we encountered, despite our cultural diversity. An undeniable passion is stirred in everyone that goes on the trip. One of the most interesting ways that the group has seen the efforts of our work come full circle is the opportunity of one of the Dominicans, Liry, to come to Saint Francis. Liry grew up in the Monti Cristi orphanage that the SFU group has been working with for the past three years. She is now attending physical therapy school in Santo Domingo on scholarship. During her academic breaks, she volunteers at the orphanage and local physical therapy clinic. Hugs United was able to sponsor her to come to Saint Francis University on her first trip to the United States. She learned more about physical therapy and the American culture. Her time spent in the SFU community allowed many students to grow in friendship and cultural empathy towards this amazing young woman and her Dominican heritage.
Here is what Cait had to say about her experience....
"Since my freshman year as a physical therapy student, I have been involved with the group and have traveled to Honduras three times and the Dominican Republic three times, and now to Jamaica. My trips have involved labor intensive work, teaching health care in Spanish within the local schools, spending time with the children of the orphanages, providing physical therapy in clinics, and translating. Each year offered new and exciting experiences that have changed me personally in many ways. I went on the trip thinking that my biggest impact would be treating someone in the physical therapy clinic.However, I found myself humbled by coloring with a child that was hungry for attention and teaching children to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star at bedtime. These experiences now carry over into my professional life, showing me the need to be flexible and allowing myself to be humbled and used in ways I did not plan. It inspired in us a commitment to share our gifts and skills humbly and generously with those in need. These mission trips exemplify the teachings of the university’s patron, Saint Francis of Assisi."
"It was such a rewarding and unique experience to work alongside peers and faculty in such poverty stricken areas. We were required to be creative when equipment and resources were not available. It was a positive environment to be able to collaborate with others and combine everyone’s ideas for the most effective service to the people in those countries. The gratitude and sincere thanks we received from each of the individuals we encountered made the trip a very moving experience. Not only did I learn more as a health care provider, but I also grew stronger in my faith from my experiences and interactions with the people of the Dominican Republic and Honduras. I think that every participant on these trips would agree we provided a great service while in these countries. While serving, each one of us was blessed in return."