Service-learning opportunities are an important part of the Benedictine values Saint Vincent College encompasses. The service trip to Guatemala and Francisco Coll Elementary School through International Samaritan is just one of these opportunities. For senior Theology major and Spanish minor, Olivia Sharkey, her first trip there as a freshman was an extremely “radical and transformative experience. ”
However, Associate Professor of Theology Dr. Christopher McMahon, describes service trips abroad as a “fraud,” explaining, “The big problem with these short-term service learning programs is that poverty becomes romanticized, making the experience violent and alienating with groups coming in for a week during spring break, playing some games, and then quickly going home.”
Returning from a semester of service at the school last year, Sharkey wanted to change that. She shared, “The principal had mentioned that the students, who live in the dump community that sustains itself off of trash, needed a more steady nutritional program.”
With the help of McMahon, the Theology Department, and Kelly King in the service-learning department, “The Banana Project” was conceived and began this fall. The goal of the project involves establishing more nutritional support for Francisco Coll Elementary School through the purchasing of bananas. “The project is heavily inline with the Benedictine value of community and love of Christ of neighbor and we’re seeing things through a lens of solidarity, seeing how we can come together in the SVC community and serve another community,” reflected Sharkey.
The school, which serves 350 students first through sixth grade, was only able to provide one banana per week to students, their only source of appropriate nutrition. The organization’s original goal was to provide one more banana to each student each week, at a cost of $1,800. Through donations from the Theology and Humanities departments, as well as various SVC clubs donating their service project funds mandated by SGA to the organization, the original $1,800 goal was quickly surpassed, reaching $4,000.
The organization hopes to meet the new goal of $5,400 before the semester’s end, which would equate to one more banana per week for three academic years. “Instead of providing five bananas for a week for a year,” Sharkey explained, “We wanted to have a more long-term kind of relationship to continue that relational component.”
Even with Sharkey soon graduating, the project will continue its effort in reaching these goals. “This is not my project whatsoever, this is what SVC has brought through its support,” she said. “We want to keep this going to show that our communities are all linked through Christ.” Students, including Sharkey, will travel again to Guatemala from May 19 to 25, where she will discuss the project with underclassmen who will take over.
“As much as Olivia is out front with her work and vision, she knows enough that you’ve got to be connected to a system that can oversee and sustain this kind of work,” said McMahon. “Olivia has cultivated that imagination and without that kind of imagination, things don’t get done; it’s all apart of the Catholic and Benedictine education.”
The organization is currently reaching out to further departments in an effort to continue the success forged thus far. “I don’t want your money,” Sharkey says, “I just want your time to listen. I want you to think on this, tell people about it, talk about it and if you feel so compelled to give money, that’s great, but right now, we need prayers and people to become more aware of this issue because through that, you build a sustainable relationship.”