The first day we stopped…and changed a life

Over 20 years ago, Father Don Vettese was leading a group of students on a service trip to Guatemala when their van came upon a car accident and was detoured. Traffic brought them to a halt at the 750-acre Guatemala City dump.

The scene was nightmarish. Hundreds of people – families, the infirm, and even small children – searching through Guatemala City garbage for food to eat and recyclables to sell. Dwellings made of nothing more than cardboard and tin.

The students could not comprehend what they were seeing and asked Fr. Vettese if there was anything that could be done. Later that year, 1995, International Samaritan was founded. While it has grown since 1995, its mission has remained the same: to alleviate poverty in garbage dump communities across the globe and raise consciousness in the United States about the living conditions of the poor in the developing world.

“There were pigs and vultures competing with the people for rotting food,” said Jesuit Father Don Vettese. “It was hot, humid, and smelly. This was not part of our game plan.”

“The Holy Spirit calls all of us to leadership as servants of the poor. Sometimes that call is a gentle whisper we can barely hear, and other times the Spirit seems to simply holler at us. You can throw up your hands and say it’s impossible to do anything about these situations. But if you look at that one person whose hope is sustained by knowing her child is safe at one of our nurseries, or by owning a home, attending school, or simply getting proper healthcare, then you have contributed to something lasting. It is that simple, uncomplicated, and profound.” Fr. Don Vettese, SJ

Today, International Samaritan works to alleviate poverty in garbage dump communities through education programs, scholarships, schools, nurseries, medical mission trips, building homes, food programs, and service immersion experiences. We have programs in countries all around the world including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Paraguay, and Ethiopia.