Clemson students use semester break to help in Guatemala and Uganda

A Clemson student poses with Ugandan boys during a spring break mission trip in May 2009

A Clemson student poses with Ugandan boys during a spring break mission trip in May 2009CLEMSON—Ashley Colquhoun is excited about her upcoming mission trip to Uganda, not because it will be her first trip outside of the United States or her first ride on an airplane.

The Clemson University junior and several of her peers have found lasting reward and joy begins when they reach their final destinations.

“It’s going to be very exciting,” the Taylors resident said during a recent campus ministry meeting at St. Andrew Church in Clemson.

In May, after the spring semester ends, Colquhoun and about 20 others will board a plane for either Uganda or Guatemala to resume work aimed at improving the lives of people in those countries.

In Guatemala, students will build houses for four needy families in the mountains outside of Antigua. Another group will complete work on a dormitory building at an orphanage for disabled children in the village of Budaka in east-central Africa.

Fred Mercandante, associate director of campus ministry at St. Andrew, said this will be the third visit to Guatemala for the campus ministry students.

The Guatemala work is coordinated through Houses to Homes, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization founded in September 2004 to build homes and improve the lives of the rural poor in Guatemala.

Mercandante said adequate housing is lacking in that country, where many live in homes made from corn husks and bamboo. Since 2005, the organization has built nearly 300 houses, according to its Web site.

The Uganda ministry grew out of a homily offered in the fall of 2008 at St. Andrew by a visiting priest from the Archdiocese of Tororo in Uganda. The same Clemson students who were working in Guatemala at the time were inspired to expand their ministry into Africa.

A small group of students made their first trip to Uganda last year, accompanied by Father Emmanuel Andinam, parochial vicar and campus minister at St. Andrew. The priest is a native of Nigeria. He will return to Uganda again this year with a larger group of students.

Clemson student Kelly Bickle will make her first trip to Africa.

A resident of Beaufort, Bickle said the students hope to finish the dormitory during the next trip. She wrote in an e-mail that the building has been virtually untouched since the students left nearly a year ago.

Emily Herr of Greenville is one of the students who helped raise funds to go to Uganda.

A junior majoring in nutrition, she worked there last year and was amazed at the level of joy coming from the children, many of whom were physically disabled.

“Every single one of them would shake our hands when we would come back, even if we were only gone for an hour,” she said.

The experience has given her a clearer understanding of her place in the world, she added.

“We were half-way across the world, but it didn’t feel like we were that far away because there’s this common thread of humanity,” she said. “My perspective has changed.”