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Building connections

Submitted photos Volunteers and Peruvians gather in front of a building in Chimbote, Peru, that they cooperated together to build during a recent mission trip.1 / 4
Volunteer Jacie Mundahl, right, takes a picture of students being tutored in Chimbote, and shows them the image afterward.2 / 4
Below, the Rev. Sean Mulligan, a volunteer, leaps during another part of the trip.3 / 4
A woman and child stand in a building in Peru, with the sun shining through the roof. The inset photo at right shows a close-up of building material used for walls.4 / 4

A group of volunteers from St. James Basilica returned recently from a mission trip to Chimbote, Peru, where they rebuilt homes, delivered beds and stoves and helped a variety of people living in poverty.

“The spirit of the people is just amazing,” said Paulette Webb, one of those who went on the trip. “They have little, but are rich in so many other things.”

“The people of Peru have true love for each other, and anyone that comes to Peru … you feel it in your soul,” said Jeannette Grabinger, another volunteer.

While in Peru, the group worked with the Friends of Chimbote group, a faith-based mission dedicated to improving and transforming the lives of impoverished people in Chimbote.

Formed in 1998, the organization does have a focus on education and sustainability, employing local labor for building projects, to assist volunteers and serve as translators for them. In addition, Friends of Chimbote teaches a variety of classes on cooking, hairdressing, sewing and other occupational skills.

“Peru had the fastest growing economy in South America, but also the highest poverty rate,” said Mary Golik, one of the volunteers.

Friends of Chimbote also has a continuing relationship with St. James Basilica, which previously sent a group of volunteers to Peru in July 2013.

The volunteers found very different living conditions than they were used to in the Peruvian slums.

“Their houses, basically, were built out of a wicker basket material,” said the Rev. Sean Mulligan, part of the most recent volunteer group.

Typically, the “bathroom” — a bucket — and the food preparation area were right next to each other, and people had to be careful about conserving their running water, which was only on for two hours a day.

One woman had a few rubber mats made from old tires on her dirt floor; other families weren’t that lucky. In one house, three or four children had to sleep on the floor, and in homes that had beds, many people slept in them at once.

“I guess until you’re there, you really don’t know how bad it is,” Webb said.

“They were so grateful for all the things that they were given,” said Jacie Mundahl, a volunteer. “… I kind of feel like I’m in culture shock coming back to this country.”

“You feel loved there,” Grabinger said. “Here, we walk past everybody and don’t know them.”

All the volunteers encouraged other people to go.

“Anyone can go on it. The really neat thing for me is, it knocks the arrogance out of you,” said volunteer Don Schwehr, who has made the trip twice now.

Golik said she returned to the United States with a kind of “volunteering high.”

“It’s such a feeling of joy and excitement,” she added.

For more information on Friends of Chimbote, or to donate, visit friendsofchim

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at (701) 952-8453

or by email at