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Students return from San Diego Mission Trip with new Perspectives

Trip members clear invasive species from the Tijuana Estuary. (Gretchen Burnette)

By Ying Tzarm

Twenty-three of Waldorf’s students, faculty and staff embarked on the spring break mission trip to San Diego from Feb. 8 to 17. The trip was organized by Campus Ministry in hopes of exploring the definition of “refugee” and implementing service projects with local organizations.

“It wasn’t a vacation, [but] it wasn’t just hard work.” said Madina Tuhbatullina, an English major who joined the mission trip. “It was learning through experience”

Survivors of Torture International was one of the local organizations the group met. Trip members learned about their work for asylum seekers who have been tortured physically and psychologically, as well as their counseling and legal services.

“In Iowa, you are very separated from anything that is happening at the border and so when you think of people crossing the border, you don’t think about who they actually are,” said Gretchen Burnette, peer minister of Campus Ministry, who was also in charge of the mission trip.

“When we were down there, we learned that people who are crossing the border illegally are running for their lives.”

From learning what the people have to go through and the situation on the border, Burnette said that it was definitely easy to take the politics out and just look at the humanitarianism.

The group also met with Border Angels, another local organization working to advocate for human rights, humane immigration reform and social justice along the US-Mexican border. With Border Angels, Waldorf students dropped water jugs in the desert along the route that migrants use to cross the border.

During border crossing, “dehydration is a huge problem,” said Burnette. “Each of us has two one-gallon jugs of water. We dropped off our jugs, and we prayed for whoever was going to get it.”  

Tuhbatullina said, “It was impactful to just see the place and imagine people walking at night so they won’t be caught, and this water could save someone’s life.”

Another part of the mission trip was volunteering at the Tijuana Estuary, where trip members cleared out invasive species. The estuary is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, as well as some endangered birds.

“The trip was amazing. There was a good balance between important things and having fun,” Burnette added.

Now that the group is back on campus, Campus Ministry is planning to hold an educational event to share what the trip members learned with the Waldorf community.

Burnette said, “A big thing is to teach people—especially on campus. Educating and sharing this [experience] as a humanitarian [effort], instead of a political issue.”