My summer mission trip to New Orleans

This article is part of our Summer Sojourns 2016 series highlighting the summer adventures of FIU students. Earlier this summer, students in Beta Beta Beta (part of the National Biological Honors Society) and student volunteers from the Miami Medical Team (a non-profit organization that aides third-world countries’ health and sanitation) went on a mission trip to New Orleans to help senior citizens, children and the homeless. 

Below, Xristian Carvajal, co-president of Beta Beta Beta, shares his experience and what he found most rewarding about it.

By Xristian Carvajal

Xristian summer sojourn pictureAfter attending a service trip to Port-au-Prince in Haiti and a second trip to New Orleans last year, it was about that time to embark on another journey to help people.

As a senior studying biology with the aspiration of one day becoming a doctor, it is only natural to have the desire to help communities both near and far. This year, after the spring semester ended, I drove a team of qualified FIU students, comprised of both Beta Beta Beta and Miami Medical Team members, nearly 1,900 miles to New Orleans and back to help community members.

The trip was quite exhausting. We departed from FIU at 3:30 a.m. with the expected time of arrival being 13 hours away. With only 3 stops for gasoline, snacks, and to use the restroom occasionally, we were well on schedule.

I would have to say that this trip was one of the most memorable of the mission trips I have attended thus far. Our team was constantly traveling from one venue to the next to assist groups located all over New Orleans.

Some of the communities that we were able to assist were the Salvation Army, Junior Achievement, Second Harvest Food Bank, New Orleans Mission and the senior citizens at Terraces on Tulane.

At the Salvation Army and Terraces on Tulane, we taught three CPR/ First Aid classes, geared to show the homeless and the seniors how they can save a life. The groups were so pleased that they asked us to come back to help them in the soup kitchen and to host a nice match of Bingo. Coming from a person who had never played Bingo before, I would have to say that I was quite amazed by the competitive nature of these seniors. I instructed them that the first match would be vertically down the board and the next diagonally, but as one senior prematurely yelled “Bingo,” the other seniors would jokingly scold them asking if they had taken their meds that day.

Besides working with the Salvation Army and Terraces on Tulane, I believe that working with Second Harvest Food Bank and Junior Achievement provided the best opportunity for us to grow as a team. Junior achievement gave me the ability to improve my communication skills and to develop patience when teaching. I can tell you for sure that teaching second grade students the concept of government and taxation is not easy, and I applaud all the teachers out there who are able to do so.

Second Harvest, on the other hand, really brought out the importance of teamwork, as we assembled children’s school meals. In doing so, we formed an assembly line, where without the help of the previous individual, the assembly line would come to a halt, so communication was key. It also gave us the opportunity to bond with each other and to become connected with students who we may have not communicated with before.

If I was ever asked if the trip was worth it, I would recommend participating in a service trip in less than a heartbeat.

The journey provided a new perspective as to the struggles that other people go through on a daily basis; reinforces the importance of staying on track; and reminds us why we spend countless hours in the library. It is for the sole purpose of helping others and one day pay it forward.

After this summer, I recommend that students take advantage of the vast opportunities the FIU community offers and venture out of your comfort zone to help others that most desperately need it.