By: Gabe Taylor '12
Lexi Williamson sat on the roof of San Estaban Church in Lima, Peru and gazed out over the entire San Juan de Miraflores District. But instead of feeling at peace, concern crept up on her. All her eyes could observe were the countless homes without electricity and running water.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing because I had only seen living conditions like this on TV, and I didn't want to believe that what I saw on TV was real life," said Williamson, who was selected as one of 30 participants to travel for the Peru and New Orleans immersion trips out of 115 applicants.
Alongside 17 other fellow Santa Clara students, Williamson ventured to Lima, Peru over winter break in an immersion trip.
"Immersion experiences are often transformative for students," said Valerie Sarma, Associate Director of the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education. "Immersion experiences invite students to reflect on questions like: How do I desire to do something different? How do I desire to think differently? How do I desire to be different?"
On the Peru immersion trip, they spent the majority of their time in impoverished area of the San Esteban Parish, residing with the Rios family.
"Lexi brought to this experience a passion for business, culture and athletics," said Sarma. "She brought a strong spirit, great work ethic, patience, and creativity to the experience."
Much of the work consisted of re-painting the sport court. While tackling this project, the Santa Clara students were also able to engage in sports with the children.
"There was a language barrier between us, but this seemed to disappear once we started playing volleyball," said Williamson. Williamson is a rising senior on the Bronco volleyball team as well.
These relationships were a common theme of the trip. The students quickly grew attached to the Rios family. Every time Williamson returned to the home, hugs awaited her. The same was true for every student. Soon enough, the students attended the youngest daughter's, Pili Rios', Christmas choir concert.
No matter the living conditions, Williamson eyes continued to meet smiles. When they visited a Parish in the San Juan de Miraflores District, Williamson was taken back by the optimism. Despite litter strewn throughout the dirt streets, the natives saw hope.
She stood in the midst of what she saw on the rooftop the opening night.
"It looked like it was straight out of a National Geographic magazine," said Williamson.
But she was quick to discover that those residing in the Parish thought otherwise. To them, it was a sign of hope.
"Sister Claire [an American who lived in the Parish for upwards of 20 years] said that if we could have seen this particular area 20 years ago, we would be in awe of the progress that these residents have made," said Williamson. "'Houses' used to consist of four sticks and a tarp, and now they have walls and a roof."
These improvements kept their hope alive.
Williamson soaked in this perception, recognizing her life back home.
"I left Peru having more appreciation for the people and opportunities I have been blessed with," said Williamson. "I left with a gained appreciation for my family, close friends, Bronco coaches and teammates."
Williamson's summer plans included going on the Food and Agribusiness Institute's Ghana immersion trip, but scheduling conflicts arose.
"I hope that my stories inspire others to go on immersion trips and see the world for themselves," said Williamson. "You learn a lot about other cultures and ideas, but you also learn a lot about yourself, which is a rewarding experience."
Next Christmas, Williamson hopes she will be back on an immersion trip helping to give people in need the hope they deserve.