U-Mary Nursing Students Build Houses in Guatemala

Front Row (left to right): Bridgette Steinle (Bismarck), Melissa Nehl (Watauga, SD), Second Row: Molly Hanwell (Hazen), Amy Storbakken (Kindred), Mara Sather (Valley City), Cara Jahner (Bismarck), Alex Buck (Bismarck), Mary Bruun (Braddock) Third Row: Liz Reinholt (Garrison), Chelsey Zimmerman (Denver, CO), Joyce Samson (Jamestown), Jessica Jacobs (Dickinson), Dawn Feist (Bismarck), Laci Murtha (St. Paul, MN), Joanna Oleksik (Williston), Jennifer Larson (Bismarck), Lindsey Thoreson (Valley City) and Sara Gebhardt (Devils Lake)
Antigua, Guatemala - Building five houses and touching hundreds of lives, a group of students from the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, continued a longtime partnership with The GOD'S CHILD Project in the slums surrounding Antigua.

Every year, students from U-Mary's nursing program visit The GOD'S CHILD Project, a nonprofit organization helping 5,000 people break the poverty cycle through education and formation. Beyond constructing houses, they volunteered in other GCP programs, like Casa Jackson Center for Malnutrition and Santa Madre Homeless Shelter. They also visited residents at two orphanages and a nursing home.

Although a few group members had visited The GOD'S CHILD Project before, most said they were unprepared for the level of poverty they witnessed first-hand.

"I was surprised to see how intermingled the really rich and the really poor were; they're right next to each other," Joanna Oleksik said.

Unlike previous volunteer experiences, the group's time at The GOD'S CHILD Project put them into direct contact with the poor. This opened Jessica Jacobs's eyes, causing her to notice the subtle ways poverty showed itself everywhere, she said.

"We were walking through the market today and this little boy was in clothes that were too big for him and had no shoes. I couldn't help but wonder if he was homeless," Jacobs said.

The construction of simple, one room houses was done by hand during three days. The work days were long and hard but made each house more significant, Amy Storbakken said.

"This job could easily be done in one day with power tools but it's the effort behind it that the family appreciates and then they'll take care of it better," Storbakken said.

The students learned many life lessons from their experience with The GOD'S CHILD Project. Materialism, a cultural influence Cara Jahner had not thought about before, became something she wanted to fight against upon returning home.

"Everyone thinks that bigger is better in the United States. You're never thankful for what you have," she said. "Coming down here, you're thankful for everything you have. I think that puts everything into perspective."

Although most Guatemalans do not have many material possessions, Jacobs said, they seem happy. Watching her host family interact with one another, she realized that Guatemalan culture emphasizes family, making up for a lot of what they lack materially.

"Not that we don't have the same loving connection but they are much more focused on family than we are. I want to incorporate that more," Jacobs said.

The GOD'S CHILD Project is a registered 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to "Breaking the chains of poverty through education and formation." Since its founding by Patrick Atkinson in 1991, The GOD'S CHILD Project has grown into 12 distinct programs dedicated to creating sustainable and permanent change in the lives of the world's poorest people. To volunteer with The GOD'S CHILD Project or to make a donation, call (701) 255-7956 or visit www.GodsChild.org.