During the February school vacation, 16 students from Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington traveled to Lima, Peru, with chaperones and parents to volunteer at a home for abandoned and at-risk boys and at a home for children who need medical attention.

“I learned how rewarding giving back to others can truly be,” said sophomore Hannah Cawley.

They did manual labor and spent time with the children.

“This trip helped me put into practice the Catholic values I’ve been taught at Rice because we prayed and went to Mass nearly every day,” said Gavin Roberge, a sophomore. “I think this trip really changed perspective for me. I’m more grateful for the things I have in my life after seeing the things that the children we worked with in Peru experience and how they keep a positive attitude on life and everything around them. It is truly inspirational. This trip has made me want to reach out and help more people like this.

Elisabetta Anelli, director of campus ministry at Rice, was one of the chaperones. “The purpose of the trip was part pilgrimage — we saw the homes/tombs of St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres and had Mass and Adoration — part cultural immersion — interacting and getting to know local youth, experiencing the food, language and faith — and part service,” she explained.

Rice parent Pamela King grew up in Peru and suggested the service trip there. “With Pamela’s connections and familiarity with Lima, it seemed like a good place to start,” Anelli said.

The Rice group connected with the children’s homes, and King — one of the chaperones — also connected the group with a local Catholic youth group who spent a day with the Rice contingent teaching them songs, playing games, performing dances and sharing their faith.

At the boys home the Vermonters did household chores, gardened, cleared brush and tilled soil. At the other home, they had “baby hour,” time to hold and play with the babies for a few hours, took the older children to the park and did a variety of household chores and cleaning. A few of the students painted a mural of The Little Mermaid in the courtyard.

“We did not go to Peru to help people because they need our help but to meet others who became our friends and our family,” Anelli said. “Sure, our life circumstances may be different, but really there is nothing that makes any of us different from any of them. Because of our shared faith, in a very real way, we are not only the same, but we are family.”

Said Cawley: “It was amazing to see youth just as excited about the faith as we were. We were so humbled as a group to learn that these teens were so excited to let us learn about their culture and faith.”

Sophomore Finnian Rugg said, “The world is a lot bigger than we think, [but] no matter where you go you can always connect with someone.”

“I learned that there is so many things that are not as important as we think they are and that we can perfectly live without them. And you don’t need [much] stuff to be happy,” said sophomore Blanca Viadero Diez.

Anelli was proud of the students throughout the course of this trip. “They were open to the whole experience — from the food (a lot of chicken and rice), the heat, the new language and the work,” she said. “A sister at the boys home told us that she was impressed with our group because it was clear that they came not just to do the fun stuff, but to work and to be equals with our hosts.”