IMG_0611Olivia Gauthier ’21 has volunteered every year with her family and Saint Viator classmates at Feed My Starving Children, but now she has seen her experience packing nutritious meal packs for children, come full circle.

Olivia recently returned from spending 10 days in Swaziland, located in southern Africa. This developing country faces major economic and health issues, starting with having the highest HIV rate in the world, leading to an estimated 200,000 orphans.

She traveled with her mother, Feliza, who is a dentist, as well as other extended family members, including an uncle who is a doctor, and an aunt who is a scientist. However, theirs was not a medical mission. Instead, they traveled to volunteer.

“We really only made one homestead visit,” Olivia explains, adding that homesteads were thatched roof houses that sheltered entire, extended families. “Mostly we worked in teams at the orphanage, at Project Canaan.”

In preparation for her trip, Olivia read “It’s Not OK With Me,” and its sequel, “Is It OK With You?” Both were written by Janine Maxwell, who with her husband, Ian, started Heart for Africa, a faith-based organization focused on bringing hope to the people of Swaziland in the areas of hunger, orphans, poverty and education.

IMG_1123The organization’s biggest project is Project Canaan, a 2,500-acre large-scale land development. It features multiple approaches to sustainable farming, as well as an orphanage and school for orphans and vulnerable children.

“Right now there are 214 orphans there,” Olivia says, “and of those more than 100 are babies. All of them come from terrible conditions. Their scars from abuse are terrible.”

IMG_1521Yet, working with the children was her favorite part of the trip, Olivia says. She now hopes to earn a medical degree and one day go back to Swaziland to treat these children and better their lives.

“They were all so happy and friendly,” Olivia says. “They all would come running up to you and hug you.”

During her stay, Olivia worked with a team of volunteers, doing everything from helping with the care of the children to organizing curriculum packets for their classrooms. During their one homestead visit, she helped out with wellness visits and passed out MannaPacks like the ones she had filled at Feed My Starving Children.

“All the children recognized the packs, and were really excited to get one,” Olivia said. “It really hit home for me. I felt like I had come full circle.”

IMG_0959Now back in her classes at Saint Viator, Olivia says her hands-on mission in Swaziland was in part living out the Viatorian charism, of “reaching out to those accounted of little importance.”

“As a member of Student Council, I’m trying to work out some sort of service project we can do,” Olivia says. “I’m also hoping to work with Campus Ministry to make (Heart for America) a Loaves and Fishes collection recipient.”

The entire trip made her appreciate just how much she has in this country, she says, but she also knows that she has a responsibility to help these children.

This much she knows: “I definitely want to go back.”