Students see Peru up close - Catholic Courier

Students see Peru up close

Michelle Bass cannot forget the poverty she saw in Peru.

During her first weekend in the county in July of 2005, she and University of Rochester classmates lived with middle-class families in the pueblos jovenes, the young towns and slums that ring the capital of Lima.

Bass recalled shanty-like homes made of mud, sticks and recycled materials. Children wore second-hand clothes and ill-fitting shoes. The homes didn’t have running water.

“It’s shocking thinking about people living like this, but they were incredibly hospitable,” said Bass of Columbia, Md. “The kids wanted to interact with us and have us play with them.”

Now Bass will return to the country for three weeks in July as a teaching assistant helping to lead a group of 14 students.

The trip to Peru is organized each year by Maryknoll Father Curt Cadorette, a University of Rochester professor of religion. He said the goal of the trip is not a version of altruistic tourism. Instead, it’s intended to shock Rochester students out of a convenient naivet√© “that the world doesn’t go much father than the Pittsford Plaza or Wegmans,” Father Cadorette explained.

Father Cadorette said he spent 15 years in Peru as a missionary, living in the Andes near Puno with indigenous people whose way of life has been threatened by globalization. While in Peru he learned about liberation theology, the sometimes-controversial Latin American movement that uses social change to improve the lives of indigenous people.

Now the author of several books on liberation theology, Father Cadorette said he tries to use his real-world experiences to broaden his students’ horizons. The Peru trip grew out of a desire to show students the issues rather than tell students about them, he said.

“When I came to the University of Rochester, I was very interesting in bringing students down to help them appreciate what it’s like to be in a developing country, and help them experience what it’s like in a developing church,” said Father Cadorette, the University of Rochester’s John Henry Newman associate professor of Catholic studies.

Students spend three weeks in various parts of Peru getting an overview of several diverse cultures and social-justice issues.

“The purpose is not so much to work but to learn,” Father Cadorette said.

Students begin their trip and studies with staff and associates of Bartolome de las Casas Center in Lima, a center for social activism founded by Gustavo Guti√©rrez Merino, who is credited with coining the phrase “liberation theology.” The classroom setting is based on a combined program with Catholic University and National University, and students receive an overview of Peruvian economics, politics, religion and other topics.

After spending a week in Lima, participants get to choose their next destination. They can travel to Christian communities in Chiclayo, where they study with a team of retired teachers active in social-justice issues, or the Amazon port city of Iquitos, where they see how ecological issues have affected indigenous people. During the third week, students learn about pre-Spanish culture as they travel to the Incan capital of Cuzco. There they tour ruins and the archaeological site Machu Picchu and relax by scenic Lake Titicaca.

Father Cadorette said though he does not advertise the trip, which he leads every year, the 15 spots fill up quickly.

“It’s a very selective process,” he said. “I tell them it’s not like going to Europe. It’s going to be demanding, and they will have to deal with it.”

The trip continues to challenge students long after they leave the country, Father Cadorette said. He recalled a medical student who after the trip began considering ways that her medical school could build closer bonds with similar schools in Latin America.

Bass said her experience in Peru in 2005 spurred her to want to tackle the roots of poverty in the U.S. as well. She has committed to working for a nonprofit organization that recruits young teachers to work in poor urban school districts in the U.S.

During her 2005 trip Bass said she studied the representations of Hispanic women through the lens of self and other for a University of Rochester program called Take Five. The program allows students to stay a fifth year tuition free to study an additional subject that interests them.

For Nathan Drahms, 22, this year’s Peru trip is preparation for next year’s FrancisCorps, a volunteer organization run by a Franciscan brother out of Syracuse. Participants will live simply in community and work on social-justice issues.

“I’m hoping this will be a good experience for me going into next year,” Drahms said. “It’s one thing to see poverty on TV and have someone say ‘For only 25 cents a day, you can feed this child.’ It’s another thing to look a person in the eyes.”

Drahms, who also studied the history and development of Catholicism during his Take Five year at the university, is a parishioner of St. Patrick Parish in Savannah and a mechanical-engineering student.

Bass said inevitably those visiting Peru for the first time will be shocked when they see the widespread poverty. They also will be impressed by the Peruvian spirit, she added.

“Through it all, you see how they are working so hard and instilling that in their children,” Bass said. “Even though it is some of the worst living conditions I’ve ever seen, the people don’t seem like (it is that bad). They have such hope and faith that things are going to get better.”

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