Bennion Center sends 20 to Mexico

By Sarah Cutler, Staff Writer

With the belief that community support reaches across neighborhoods, towns, states or countries, the Bennion Community Service Center is sending 20 students to Mexico after Finals Week to do humanitarian work.

The goal in providing international service is to empower people to help themselves, said Jordan Menzel, student outreach coordinator for the U’s Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Inter-Cultural Exchange, a nationwide service group dedicated to building sustainable villages in poor regions. CHOICE gives humanitarian service in a way that establishes a sense of self-esteem, leadership and accountability, he said.

“It’s a holistic approach to an academic experience,” Menzel said. “It’s the ultimate complement to an education.”

The humanitarian group teamed up with the Bennion Center this year as part of the center’s first international service projects. A small group traveled to Bolivia in August to kick off a partnership between the two service centers, and 20 students and volunteers are traveling to Mexico in May.

“We’ll be doing sustainable rural community development,” Menzel said. The group will be working with village members to help complete a potable water project.

“We are coming to support the village in their own project,” Menzel said.

Each project will be organized by an in-country director who works as a rural development specialist. The specialist meets with villages to discuss and decide what projects they want to accomplish to become a higher functioning and more sustainable community. The group is going to Morones, a village in the state of Zacatecas that is home to 25 families.

Weston Edwards, a senior in mechanical engineering and one of the students participating in the project, said students can learn more through service than through curriculum.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to experience something they normally wouldn’t,” Edwards said. “I’m doing engineering so I don’t get exposed to a lot of the social issues that are going on, so service is a good way to see what’s going on first hand and to make a difference.”

Edwards and other students are fundraising through March and April to raise money for the expedition. The group is working with businesses such as Wasatch Touring, Rumbi Island Grill, Fiji Water, Café Rio and others to help raise funds.

The main fundraiser is a student-organized bike tour on April 25 called “Bike to Mexico.” The riders can take a 36-mile round trip, ride one way for 18 miles or run a 5K.

The fundraising efforts are worth it because the trip teaches self-esteem, leadership and accountability to the students, Menzel said. The partnership of local businesses also helps students to make great things happen.

“Students feel empowered to learn, contribute, support and partner,” Menzel said.

He said the textbook approach of learning can reach surface level, but teaching deeper requires hands-on experience. By helping others grow stronger, students gain a life-lasting education, he said.

“Service can provide a great means to learn about new cultures,” Edwards said. “I like what CHOICE is doing to help communities. Instead of sending out relief, they go in and help people help themselves with the leadership coming from the village instead of coming from a country far away.”

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