A trip that changed lives

Published 6:20 am Wednesday, January 10, 2007

By By MICHAEL C. GUILMETTE JR. / Niles Daily Star
NILES – What a difference a trip south of the equator can make.
The 19 Brandywine students who visited Ecuador left the area for the South American country just prior to Thanksgiving 2006, and they returned 12 days later changed people.
"I think about it nearly every day," Travis Vakeman, a Brandywine junior, said Tuesday.
The students are all part of Ron Bishop's economics class at Brandywine Middle/High School. Bishop, a former missionary, has been leading tours to other countries during his 12 years teaching, mainly to Haiti and Ecaudor.
During their trip, the students visited Quito, Ecuador's capital, the Galapagos Islands and the equator. They also toured a university, a Coca-Cola factory, a Nestle factory and a rose farm.
However, a day spent working at a soup kitchen in Quito impacted the students the most.
"Their favorite part was working with the children," Bishop said, speaking about the soup kitchen. He said the kitchen feeds poor children of all ages, some who walk down two hours out of the mountains for their only meal of the day.
"There was a change in the group that was miraculous," Bishop said. "All of a sudden, they stopped thinking about themselves and they started thinking about these kids."
Bishop had said previously the purpose of the trips was to expose students accustomed to the American lifestyles to how people outside the country live, particularly in poor countries. His efforts were not in vain.
"It makes you appreciate what you have in the U.S.," Lance Taliaferro said. The Brandywine junior and his fellow students worked only one day at the kitchen, but they all wanted to return and help the children again.
"We were told that if you leave the kitchen with less than five hugs, you had a bad day," senior Vanessa Zehrung said.
The students spent the day not only feeding the children but also playing games with them. Despite the living conditions, the students described the children as happy.
"Even though they didn't have much, they're so grateful for what they have," Vakeman said. "They didn't want to accept anything from us."
Senior Erin Fuson said the same thing.
"It didn't seem like it occurred to them they didn't have much," Fuson said. "They seemed happy, very happy, all the time."
The class also spent five days on the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago made famous by anthropologist Charles Darwin for his observations of the unique animal species found on the islands. The group had originally planned to spend only two days there, but flight cancellations on the way to Ecuador forced them to change their schedule.
Although they didn't get to do everything they had planned, Bishop said the trip was a success.
"The dynamics of the group took a 180-degree turn," he said.
The effect of the trip is lasting, according to the students, many of who want to return. Some of them are finding ways to do so.
Taliaferro said he is working to get involved with Happy Feet International, a non-profit Christian Missions organization that provides shoes to children in poor countries as part of their evangelical work.