SILVER SPRING, MD – More than 220 university students across North and South America took a break during the summer, and traveled miles from home to ensure that underprivileged children earn a higher education.
For two weeks, students participated in the Adventist Development and Relief Agency’s (ADRA) new volunteer program called, “ADRA Connections,” to assist in the construction of the Adventist Technical School of Massauari (ETAM) in Brazil. The school has an enrollment of 45 students, ages 5 to 14, who previously received no education years before.
Joel Barajas, a recent graduate from Walla Walla University in Washington, heard about ADRA Connections hosting a volunteer trip in the Amazon, and knew he had to sign up.
“When I heard about a trip to the Amazon, at the time I was drifting spiritually, and needed something to rejuvenate my faith,” says Barajas. “Hearing about young people building a community was something I wanted to experience, and though I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the trip, I told everyone I was going.”
More Than a Mission Trip
Launched in July, ADRA Connections, operated by the faith-based humanitarian agency ADRA International, is comprised of hands-on projects that currently cater to and engage university students willing to help communities most in need.
“Though ADRA Connections sponsors the trip and projects, student volunteers fundraise themselves to cover traveling costs, this in turn helps make the ADRA Connections program accessible and sustainable,” says Adam Wamack, ADRA Connections manager.
ADRA Connections Extreme trips like this one involve larger scale construction and community development projects, encourage student volunteers to learn about different cultures while connecting with local dwellers, and serves as an avenue where students develop new friendships.
ADRA Connections collaborated with six Adventist universities to register students, including those from Pacific Union College, Kettering College, La Sierra University, Loma Linda University, Oakwood University, and Walla Walla University. Students from the Adventist University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, or UNASP, the Universidad Adventista del Plata in Argentina, Universidad Peruana Union in Peru, and the University of Hawaii, also joined the large group of young volunteers to help.
With so many student volunteers from numerous universities coming together for this monumental event, each had one thing in common—students came to serve.
“I wanted to come on a volunteer trip and never had the opportunity,” says Raiane Porto, a music education major at UNASP in Brazil. “This year God said it was time, and since February, I planned and saved so I can go to the Amazon.”
“I am from New York and I am not used to getting my hands dirty, but I wanted to come and help others,” says Mark Walton, a pharmacy student at Loma Linda University in California.
Experiencing the Jungle
When students arrived in the city of Manaus, Brazil, they quickly became immersed in the rainforest territory. From the airport to the school, students piled into seven boats to ride from Manaus down the Amazon River, which lasted 30 hours. The only way to get to ETAM was by boat.
Once at the school, students had no Wi-Fi or phone connection, relied heavily on bottled water, faced intense heat, and slept in hammocks.
“It took me by surprise how the indigenous people lived. Their houses have no insulation, and they use water from the river to drink and bathe,” says Deborah Kim, a human biology pre-med major at Kettering College in Ohio. Kim wants to be a medical missionary and saw ADRA Connections as a way to get that first-hand experience.
Students worked tirelessly from dawn till dusk assisting with construction, pu