This is kind of a big year for International Samaritan. Thirty years ago this summer, we were born out of desperate compassion after a priest driving a car filled with high school students on an immersion trip came across Guatemala City’s garbage dump and stopped to ask how they could help.

We will celebrate our 30th anniversary throughout this upcoming summer, and I thought it might be helpful to start with a reflection on how our immersion trips have changed since that first experience 30 years ago. In the year before the pandemic, 25 school partners completed 30 trips, mostly in Guatemala. This year, only 6 schools, 2 churches, and 1 healthcare system will be traveling with us, and I think we are serving our partner communities abroad much more effectively as a result.

Our trips are better now because of a change in expectations. Before the pandemic, our service immersion trips focused on the service. Thousands of students from the U.S. helped to build or paint homes, classrooms, medical clinics, and soccer fields through the years. Our hope and expectation was that those students would go on to make positive changes in our nation throughout their lives in part because of what they experienced with us.

We came out of the pandemic with a much more direct expectation for trips: their life-changing impact should be felt equally among both our travelers from the U.S. and our Samaritan Scholars in the community that hosts them. We reduced the quantity of our partners so that we could enhance the quality of our partnerships over 52 weeks throughout the year, not just during a one-week trip.

Under this new framework, which we call Learn, Serve, Grow, we ask every partner traveling to one of our communities to become an advocate and fundraiser for that community, helping to sponsor at least 10 Samaritan scholars there each year (at an average cost of $30,000). That’s a huge ask, in addition to the $2,500 that it costs each person just to make the trip, but our partners are working hard to make it happen!

We are committed to increasing our church partnerships because they are better positioned to make this financial commitment, but our school partners remain vital to us because their students are the same age as our Samaritan scholars, and those friendships are life-changing too.

Two weeks ago, I joined a team of students from Loyola and U of D Jesuit high schools in Detroit for a week with our Samaritan scholars in Kingston, Jamaica, and I loved seeing how much stronger students from both nations became through working, eating, telling stories, laughing and praying together. This in itself is a great start, but what happens in the months to come matters more. You can read more about our partners, and please let me know if you think your church or school may be interested in joining us. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy seeing some memories below, from three trips over the last few weeks.

children with water in Kore, Ethiopia

(Left) Jamaican football superstar, Akon, flies past U of D’s Tre and Nick in some American football. (Right) Students from Loyola and U of D Jesuit high schools created a community garden during their immersion trip to Kingston, Jamaica.

“The Jamaica immersion trip was an experience that opened my eyes to the world around me,” said U of D student Domenico Dwyer. “While on the trip, I learned a new sense of humility to my own situation. The memories I’ve made and the new close friends I have found, on top of growing already established friendships, are things that I will cherish forever.”

Scholar and doctor - Ethiopia

Twelve women from Marian High School, located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, visited our scholars and the communities we serve in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

“The bonds I made with the people living in the community and the team of International Samaritan were so impactful and really made the entire experience,” said one of the students from Marian. “I thought being exposed to that level of poverty was so eye-opening and life-changing.”

doctors-Ethiopia

Fifteen Samaritan Scholars in Kenya visited elephants at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust with our Vice President, Andrew Pawuk, and one of our long-time supporters.

doctors-Ethiopia

My favorite part of our team’s trip was watching the new Bob Marley movie in Kingston, not far from his house.

Mike Tenbusch, President

Mike joined International Samaritan in 2018 after two decades of leading social change in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. He’s a University of Michigan Law grad and author of The Jonathan Effect: Helping Kids and Schools Win the Battle Against Poverty. He and his wife, Maritza, have three children who keep them young.

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