USD Service Trip to La Morita, Mexico
According to the University of San Diego’s mission statement, one of its “core values” is service to the community, defined as fulfilling the Catholic mission “to serve with compassion, to foster peace and to work for justice.” To that end, the Oscar Romero Center for Faith in Action is realizing this vision, most recently this past Saturday, by sponsoring a daylong service trip to La Morita, Mexico, a community of almost 200,000 people located 30 minutes from the border in eastern Tijuana.
The first thing one notices about La Morita is the sheer overwhelming poverty; it permeates every aspect of life, from the stray dogs that wander the trash-strewn, mud streets, to the ever-present smell of garbage and sewage. The market for the community, where one can buy everything from fish and pizza to Atari and Nintendo games, consists of tents separated by a crowded, narrow, muddy walkway filled with intermittent patches of water. A far cry from the pristine campus of USD, La Morita is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Tijuana, consisting largely of immigrants from the southern states of Mexico who headed north in search of better paying factory jobs and in hopes of eventually crossing the border to the United States. Unfortunately, their dreams of opportunity and a better life have so far been dashed by harsh economic realities, causing many to stay in a community that lacks running water and electricity, frequently living in homes that lack insulation and are crafted out of little more than garage doors.
La Morita’s impoverished status has brought it to the attention of many community groups, including the Mission Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic religious order dedicated to realizing the “kingdom of God” through service; a group that founded the San Eugenio parish there and that run the community center, a solar-powered complex that consists of health and dental clinics, chapels, and a playground. It was here that 15 students from USD spent a Saturday afternoon and worked on removing the masses of trash and weeds that littered the complex. It wasn’t all hard work, however, as some students enjoyed soccer and other games with the local children who were at the community center for their catechism classes.
Lou Charest, an Assistant Minister at the Romero Center, cited the trip as a way that students could “witness Catholic social teaching in action.” In addition to helping maintain the community center, those who attended were given the opportunity to witness a world entirely different from their own and to see extreme poverty firsthand. In doing so, they also worked towards making USD’s mission statement less of a high-minded goal, and more of a reality.