Denise Fliore and Andrew Butler take a break from working on a construction project in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to visit with local children. The students were on a mission trip organized by the Brotherhood of Hope, a religious order that performs campus ministry at Boston University and New Jersey’s Rutgers University. Pilot photo/courtesy Brotherhood of Hope
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BOSTON — In the beginning of June — while other students were beginning summer classes, working or enjoying the break — six students at Boston University gave two weeks of their time to serve others on a mission trip to Tanzania, Africa. They fed the poor, helped build homes and ministered to orphans who are HIV positive.
This was the 8th annual service trip to Tanzania organized by the Brotherhood of Hope, a community of Catholic brothers who run campus ministry at BU as well as other secular colleges. A friend of Brother Ken Apuzzo, BH became Catholic in 1998 and the following year, in thanksgiving for his newfound faith, began sponsoring a mission trip to Tanzania.
Many of the students say that the trip enriched their faith lives as much as it helped those they served.
“The whole trip is really significant to me in how it challenged my faith. It was definitely not something I could have gotten through if I didn’t trust in God and wake up every morning and pray,” said Samantha Smith, who is studying broadcast journalism and will be a junior in the fall.
Smith said that the trip has given her a different perspective on her life in the United States. People in Tanzania are very friendly and frequently greet strangers, something she finds uncommon in Boston. On the other hand, Tanzania has no trash collection service, she said.
“I know I don’t wake up every Tuesday morning and thank God that I have a garbage man who comes to pick up my trash,” she said.
Smith said she has learned that there are many things in her daily life, like getting a cavity filled, that she would never have considered a privilege before this trip.
Members of the Brotherhood of Hope always bring students they minister to on the Tanzania trip. BU students joined them for the first time in 2002, and this year there were six students from BU and six from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Each day of the trip began with a 6 a.m. wake-up to attend Mass at 7 a.m. Throughout the two weeks the group ministered to orphans, the elderly and the disabled at a home run by the Missionaries of Charity. They served at St. Gaspare School, run by Italian missionary priests who are members of the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood. They also visited the Village of Hope, where over 100 HIV-positive children live in homes run by the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood.
With the help of others, Father Vincent Boselli, an Italian priest and member of the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood, started the Village of Hope as a home for the dying, but found that with treatment and a family setting the children were surviving longer than expected. They live in groups of 10 children per home with foster parents, adults who usually volunteer after raising their own families, Brother Patrick said.
Mike Zales, a student in the pre-med program at BU, said the Village of Hope was the highlight of his trip to Africa. He was glad to show the children that there are many people who love and care about them by teaching them music, playing soccer with them and participating in arts and crafts, he said.
“It was hard for us to take in seeing all these kids so happy and so full of life yet you knew that half of them couldn’t even make it to their 18th birthday,” he said.
The kids were so happy in the community’s loving environment that it was easy to forget how sick they were until a child fell down while playing soccer, said Zales. All of the other children surrounded him to make sure that he was not bleeding before letting the visiting students come close.
“For awhile you think that these kids don’t know how sick they are,” he said. “They know they’re sick, but they are still able to carry on their lives.”
Zales also fed a girl with a severe bone disease that caused her arms and legs to bow. Zales said the experience was difficult, but “unbelievably moving” because he could feel God giving him the strength to serve.
Zales added that he was impressed by the witness of the Catholics of Tanzania.
“You realize for some of these people who don’t have material wealth, all they have is their faith and all they have is their spiritual side,” he said. “There’s confidence with these peoples that you don’t see with CEOs throughout America, and it’s all tied into where their hearts are.”
Brother Patrick Reilly, BH said that he wants students to encounter Christ and gain a better understanding of the Catholic Church while serving others in Tanzania. This will hopefully lead them to serve God with more zeal at home, he added.
“The Church in Tanzania and east sub-Sahara Africa is so alive. We want to give students a very positive, vibrant picture of the Church,” he said. “They have a deep encounter with Christ. It’s amazing when you’re 5,000 miles away and out of the western culture box, God seems to be able to do something pretty powerful.” Lara Wild, who will be a sophomore at BU next year, said that she is not fully aware of the ways the trip has affected her.
“When I describe the trip to people, my friends and family, they’re really grateful that I had the opportunity and they say that when I talk about it I have such different energy and perspective,” she said.
Wild added that she found the trip both enjoyable and rewarding.
“I would recommend to everyone to apply for this trip.” she said. “It really was the most incredible two weeks of my life!”