Assistant Professor of Spanish Sonja Bontrager will again guide a group of Newman University students through Guatemala this summer to study the local culture and serve disenfranchised members of the communities. This year, students will also visit El Salvador for the first time and witness the beatification of a local hero.
Bontrager initiated the "Guatemala Study and Serve" and has directed the study abroad program in Guatemala for several years. The students, who have all taken Spanish courses at Newman University, will perform various roles to help support the work of two sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, Dani Brought, ASC and Kris Schrader, ASC. The sisters live and work in La Labor, an underserved community on the outskirts of Guatemala City, where they have created schools, medical and dental clinics, and community health and environmental protection programs for local people.
“We begin with a couple days around the capital,” Bontrager said. “[The students] see museums, and get oriented to local daily life. Then, the first week is an intensive service week in conjunction with the sisters of the Adorers in La Labor.”
Bontrager added that the volunteer work the students do introduces them to the greater, ongoing efforts of the Sangre de Cristo Health Care Project and the Instituto María de Mattias to support well-being and education throughout the region. By working with the Health Care Project staff, students gain a better understanding of the collaborative, cooperative culture of the staff and community members of La Labor and the region, and gain insight on how they work to improve services and conditions for everyone in the area.
“We also enjoy tremendous hospitality from the host families and from Sister Dani Brought and Sister Kris Schrader,” Bontrager said.
This year, Bontrager decided to add a short foray into El Salvador. She later learned that the days she selected coincide with the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero was assassinated during the El Salvadorian civil war soon after calling on the Salvadorian military to refuse orders from officials if the orders did not follow the teachings of God and the Catholic Church. Romero made the remarks during the homily of one of his weekly radio broadcasts. Bontrager said she is excited that this year's trip offers the Newman students the opportunity to view the beatification and public veneration.
While the students are tasked with improving their language skills as they communicate with native Spanish speakers, Bontrager is most excited about how the trip helps students grow as individuals.
“When I’m wearing my ‘professor hat,’ I’m pleased with the language skills they gain and their ability to communicate. As a member of the Newman community, what I value the most is the transformation that happens in their hearts … growing to love their neighbors, and coming home transformed by that love and those relationships,” said Bontrager.
Most of the students leave Wichita on May 20, and are scheduled to return on July 16.
To learn more about Archbishop Oscar Romero view this video:
To hear more about the students' trip in Guatemala view this video:
This article has been revised to reflect the following update: May 6, 2015 This article contains more details about the trip than the version previously published.