A MEMORY OF A TRIP THAT IS MORE THAN JUST A TRIP

Posted on April 16th, 2015 by

Learning To Serve – Petatlán, 2015

By: Carlos Mario Mejía Suárez and Bjorn Kjelstad

Between March 29th and April 4th the Center for Servant Leadership conducted the fifth Learning To11022626_460463967438554_5856514880381301118_o Serve program in the city of Petatlán, located in the coast of the state of Guerrero in Mexico. This program takes place every year during the spring break in order to promote citizen diplomacy between Saint Peter and Petatlán, communities that keep getting close to each other through a sister city relationship.

In this fifth trip, Jeffrey Rathlef, director for Community Based and Service Learning in the CSL, brought a group of eighteen people to develop different community-building projects and events. Under the coordination of senior Spanish student Nate Friedley, students, faculty, and staff from different fields in Gustavus Adolphus College joined two members of the Saint Peter community (Nancy and Isaac Altman) and David Hamilton (Spanish teacher in the Saint Peter school) in carrying out three different projects: Director of Health Services Heather Dale led participants in spending time at a local clinic and in helping spread information about health precautions among the general community; David Hamilton led participants to engage in a cultural exchange with local college students in Petatlán to write a children’s book about a little Minnesotan kid who visits and discovers Petatlán; and professor Carlos Mejía Suárez led participants to interact with local children and teenagers during English classes.

10455760_10155382095310635_1879697202413420320_nDuring this week participants received a warm welcome from host families who opened their doors in order to foster a sense of belonging and further construct the relationship between the sister cities. Through this exchange, we all were able to not only enjoy the wonderful beaches that are located at a close driving distance from the town, or the amazing pozole, semitas, and other Mexican delicacies from the state of Guerrero, but to truly create lasting memories and friendships with our host families.

Among some of the activities that the group enjoyed was a visit to a ecological site devoted to the11082612_10102927491011489_8339545842097591884_n protection of turtles, a guided tour through the anthropological site of Xihuacán in La Chole, and a memorable lunch and beach afternoon at Barra de Potosí. Also, this trip provided the occassion for Saint Peter and Gustavus to give a set of banners to the community of Petatlán. In 2012, the Learning to Serve group gathered information in Petatlán to produce a set of banners that explains the values that the Petatlán community shares with us. In response to this gift, we wanted to donate a similar set of banners about Saint Peter. Since the spring of 2014, professors Ana Adams, Mayra Taylor, and Carlos Mejía Suárez worked with their writing courses in producing this set of banners. Hoping to promote and further the sisterhood between Saint Peter and Petatlán, these banners focus on how Saint Peter values faith, education, local businesses, environmental preservation, time in community, its history, local traditions, and service. The banners were gifted at a ceremony on Friday April 3rd in the central square of Petatlán, along with the presence of the firetruck that was donated by Saint Peter to Petatlán fire department. The event was also attended by the fire department of Petatlán as well as the Office for Integral Development of the Family. Participants in the trip recorded several greetings from attendees to bring back to Saint Peter.11088394_10102929387600709_1350129796531871512_n

Everyday the group convened to reflect on the experience and had rich conversations about how citizen diplomacy helps creating healthy communities. This year one of our participants, Gustavus student Bjorn Kjelstad, took on the role of moderating these discussions. After the experience Bjorn offered the following final written reflection for this blog:

“What makes the Learning to Serve trip to Petatlán, Mexico so unique is the overarching purpose that traverses the experience: from task forces to daily projects, and homestays. Furthermore, it entails a kind of service that is maintained by citizen diplomacy; through ongoing reciprocity between two separate localities that together make up one community. The purpose of this trip is not to bring a medical or teaching service to the citizens of Petatlán, rather to foster community engagement and relationship building between two sister cities. The projects were used to drive the community engagement aspect of the trip while both the people of Petatlán, as well as ourselves, learned a considerable amount about each other’s culture. By talking with physicians and nurses at the hospitals, or helping teach english and learning some spanish along the way; we were able to build valuable and meaningful relationships that will have a considerable impact on the well-being of, not just two separate communities, but of the community that is blossoming between our towns. The final gifting of the St. Peter banners at the end of the week signified the connection we had established and the reciprocity that is growing within the community of St. Peter and Petatlán. Furthermore, by the end of the week we as a group had successfully learned how to serve. The service that both we as a group and petatlecos developed was one of relationship building between two distinct cultures. and a kind of service that will last a lifetime.”11018614_10206380709307759_6047861068911013703_o

The participants in this group were Bjorn Kjelstad, Bri Malecha, Kinzie Wiklander, Sage Macklay, Cole Tucker, Delaney Sweet, Jennifer Viveros, Jessie Dettling, Alexa Peterson, Andie Scott, and Alina Bachman. They all displayed a wonderful disposition to share with our sister city hosts and undertook every task with the most uplifting spirit. We were also joined by the director of Center for Servant Leadership, Barb Larson Taylor, who decided to join us after hosting one of the Petatlecas (Fernanda Ambario Aguirre) who visited Saint Peter in January. The sister city civil association of Petatlán (Miguel Ángel Adame, Miguel Riestra, Chaz Brown, Xitlali Maciel, Julio Galarza, and Marlene Barreto) did a wonderful job coordinating homestays and events of socialization with the community.

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