Honors students make memories on mission trip
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
It’s a word that is synonymous with the act of serving others, and it’s also the word that best captures the essence of the Honors College’s long-awaited return to annual mission trips.
Following the conclusion of Grand Canyon University’s 2021 traditional Spring Commencement ceremonies, members of the GCU Honors community didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to resume service work abroad after a yearlong hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eighteen students, accompanied by Honors College Program Manager Anya Cofrancesco, traveled to Baja, Mexico with Well Child International to assist local medical professionals with a variety of tasks.
“Amidst a world still recovering from the devastating impact of COVID-19, our Honors students and staff have been assertively seeking opportunities to serve both our local and global communities,” Honors College Associate Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli said. “We feel very blessed that we were able to safely and successfully launch this medical mission trip to Baja, Mexico, to serve in various public health and COVID relief efforts.
“In partnership with Well Child International, and with the courage and ambition of Anya and our team of Honors students, a big impact was made in a very short time. I am ecstatically looking forward to future opportunities for students and staff to serve alongside this organization and in the global community.”
From community visits to assisting in a male rehabilitation clinic, students received first-hand experience performing several different medical tasks. Students conducted surveys, recorded patient vitals, toured the local health department and hospital, and even contributed to COVID-19 vaccine-distribution efforts.
“The purpose of Well Child International for this trip was to bring the clinic to the people as opposed to people trying to reach the clinic that sometimes may be quite far from their community,” Cofrancesco said. “We were going door to door serving the community. Well Child International has the setup, the structure, but they don’t always have the manpower, so we supplied that manpower and assisted them with their goal and purpose.”
As a member of the Honors College leadership team, Cofrancesco saw the trip was another opportunity to witness the selflessness of the college’s students.
“The best part of this experience, as a staff member, was to see my students serve the community in such a compassionate, humble and loving manner,” she said. “Obviously, there were cultural differences and language barriers, but despite all of that, they were giving it their all and giving it their best. It was awesome to see them engage, serve and connect with each other as well.”
For pre-med sophomore Anya Ibasco, the trip allowed her to gain experience in her major but also provided an experience for her minor in Spanish.
“It was the perfect trip for me to go on,” she said.
In addition to the academic benefits, Ibasco felt the effects of her service in a way that has left a positive impact on her. As part of the group of students who served the local men’s rehab clinic, she got to build connections with patients on the road to recovery from addiction. Listening to their stories and seeing how far they had come is something Ibasco will never forget.
“My favorite part was seeing how, although we do bad things, it doesn’t mean that the person is bad,” she said. “Just seeing how they’ve taken their experiences in life, whether it be going to prison or being deported from the U.S., how they’ve taken those experiences and changed their lives for the better.”
One patient shared with students his story of finding God during his recovery after suffering from substance abuse and serving time in prison. The father of two’s message offered students an inspirational tale of redemption.
“Just seeing his hope and his positive outlook on life, despite all the bad things that happened to him, really gave me inspiration moving forward in my life,” Ibasco said.
During their down time, students relaxed on a beach and participated in a salsa class.
For recent pre-med graduates Cheyenne Archuleta and Tony Orlando Lazo, who both were scheduled to go on the trip last spring before it was postponed because of COVID, the trip was the perfect culmination of their time as GCU students.
“It was honestly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Archuleta said. “I really enjoyed getting to help people and really immerse myself into a new culture.
“It was a really great way to end my senior year.”
She also sees how it will benefit students who participate in future trips.
“With a medical mission trip, it’s going to be something that tests you, but it’ll help you grow and learn to better serve the community,” she said. “In order to grow you have to make yourself a little uncomfortable, and it’s OK not to know what’s going to happen. In the medical field, you never know what’s going to happen. You have to just be ready for the changes and just go with the flow.”
Orlando Lazo said he was hesitant about signing up for the trip, largely because he was one of only two seniors. But any worries he had about connecting with his peers dissipated once he got to meet and engage with the group.
“I think it was a pretty cool group,” he said. “Having the trip done through the Honors College and being guided by Anya (Cofrancesco), it was the best experience.”
His decision was further confirmed when he witnessed the impact he could have on the community’s ability to overcome the pandemic by assisting with vaccine distribution.
“At the end of the day when we were starting to head out, people started to clap and stand up for us,” he recalled. “To us, that was never expected. It just solidified the fact that we were making an impact and the things we did on that trip are appreciated.”
Although the trip was primarily focused as a medical mission trip, students from all areas of study were welcome to participate.
Behavioral Health Science senior Amara Murray-Bell was, aside from Cofrancesco, the only participant who was new to the medical field. Despite it not being in her realm of her degree, the opportunity immediately caught Murray-Bell’s eye.
“I think the biggest thing for me is being able to make an impact in the community,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience to see how different people live in these different places. Even though there was a language barrier, it was still super impactful to be able to talk to them and hear their stories.”
After a year dominated by the pandemic, the reintegration of Honors mission trips was a breath of fresh air for Murray-Bell.
“It was great to not only be able to travel but also be able to serve,” she said. “I have traveled with the Honors College before and that was a really impactful experience, but being able to travel, especially after COVID season, and also serve the community was super amazing and impactful.”
For Cofrancesco, the compassion that made the trip successful is a two-way street: the compassion of students looking to serve others was matched by the compassion the community showed them throughout the journey.
Each of which left a positive, memorable impact on one another.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
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