As hordes of students flock to Mexico for spring break, a group of 14 students will make the journey for reasons other than sand and string bikinis. From April 30 to May 8, students will journey to Mexico to administer Operation Amigo.
This year's program will provide assistance to a Christian orphanage with medical, dental and educational needs. Led by University of Calgary Chaplain Kelly Johnson, the group is composed of both and Mount Royal College students.
According to Johnson, this year's Operation Amigo is distinct from last year's house building project because there is a wider range of areas that students can participate in, from literacy programs to assisting in medical and dental care.
"There are so many different ways of helping people in this one base," said Johnson. "We are trying to place students in their different areas of interest, which will provide good exposure to different ways of doing things, as well as the cultural experience that comes along with it."
Second-year General Studies student James White also views this as an opportunity to broaden his horizons.
"I hope to eventually get into Pediatrics or Trauma Nursing," said White. "The medical clinic there presents an ideal opportunity to work in a different setting, especially in a foreign country."
The orphanage where students will work is in an area where many migrant workers from southern Mexico come north to find work. Typically, these workers don't have adequate incomes to support large families, resulting in extremely high numbers of abandoned children.
Johnson hopes that through the experience students will come to a greater understanding of the Mexican community's needs, realizing that solutions to these problems aren't easy.
"One of the big benefits of Operation Amigo will be for the students to realize how complex their needs are," said Johnson. "We don't just want to go down there so we will feel good about what we're doing. We want to know what benefit it will bring to the community."
This year, Mexican community members will be involved with Operation Amigo's projects.
"The group that we're working with is largely composed of Mexican Nationals," said Johnson. "They're the ones that are initiating a lot of the projects and so it's by the people and for the people."
While the cost of the trip is paid by the students, they would like to raise additional money to provide toys and candy for the children of the orphanage.
"We aren't being charged for room or board, they're inviting us in," said White. "We would like to leave something there on behalf of ourselves and on behalf of the U of C. We're going there as goodwill ambassadors for the U of C."
Students hope to fundraise by setting up booths around campus, and by soliciting hospitals and corporations for donations.
"Operation Amigo isn't just done by 14 people," said nursing student Paulo Avelino. "It's also done by everybody that helps out. The only difference is that it's only us who will see the results. Though I am hoping that we can at least bring back feedback."
The selection process for this year's Operation Amigo didn't have a formal set of criteria for eligibility, but according to Johnson, students must demonstrate a willingness to help and a desire for international experience.
"It's a positive combination for both the students and the university and great for me," he said. "My mandate here is to help students grow and think outside their own little world."
For more information on the next Operation Amigo, contact Johnson at 220-5451.