My name is Aaron Banas, 2002 Marquette graduate of the College of Business Administration. I am writing to you today with several motives in mind. First and foremost, I greatly enjoy reading Marquette Magazine and I wanted to express my gratitude to the staff for doing a wonderful job putting together the contents every season. It is one of the few pieces of mail that my family consistently repackages and sends to my home abroad. Secondly, after reading time and time again the articles about alumni achievement and the paths that alumni have taken, I realized that I, too, had developed a story of my own that I could share with others. I would like to present my journey and adventure to the alumni community with the hope that it can give others encouragement and a vision of service just as many of the articles I have read have given me.
My story is about how my Marquette education has unraveled into the real world. I never understood how a Marquette education could entail more than what one would learn and study in the classroom. We were told that Marquette University prides itself on service and faith as well. As I mature as a person and take a step back at what I have accomplished since my graduation, I can now understand what that part of the education really means. I now appreciate what I learned more than ever. Here’s my story.
July 20th, 2002. I am fresh out of the College of Business Administration and suddenly on a plane to Tegucigalpa. Where’s that??? Good question — I really didn’t know much about it either. It’s the capital of Honduras, and I was about to enter the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the Family Hillside Farming program.
After a three-month crash course training on everything from how to greet an elder to how to build an irrigation system, we were each given a site assignment. My site was the tremendous town of El Ocotal: 130 inhabitants, two cars and lots of farm land. I remember walking aimlessly down a dusty winding trail with 200 pounds worth of stuff in my giant backpack. I was nervous, wondering where I was going and who I would run into. Two years is a long time in a strange place. I was greeted with stares of confusion, fear and astonishment. Who was this white person entering into our lives???
Three years later, I am anxiously awaiting my second return visit to El Ocotal since I completed my two-year assignment. Nowadays, when I walk down that same dusty path, I know exactly where I am going and exactly who will be waiting for my arrival. I’m not nervous, but flooded with joy and anxiety, knowing that soon I will relive my friendships that were built with great sacrifice.
Two years we spent together. At first awkward silences and miscommunication were a norm. Later we started to put cultural differences aside and focus on the chemistry that we shared. Over time we worked together, digging up self esteem, knowledge and confidence that was never uncovered before. In two years we transformed a small “pueblito” into an organized town with a vision of the future that the community desired and confidence to reach their goals. We built relationships that resemble those of families, a true desire to be there for one another. Because of that I know that as I enter El Ocotal for the 300th time, they will be waiting for me once again with open arms.
November 15, 2004. Two fellow Peace Corps volunteers and I, now fully cultured on the struggles and lack of opportunity that exist for so many Central Americans, bounce around the idea of creating a scholarship fund for these individuals. The idea took off later that year. The three of us, each with a deep compassion for our Honduran counterparts, sacrificed time and effort to create a scholarship foundation. The CHE FUND (Central Honduran Education Fund; www.chefund.org) gives those less fortunate high school students who otherwise would not have the economic capacity to continue their studies, the opportunity to educate themselves at the university level. Today our first student is entering her second year and two new students are preparing to enter the university. In addition, the fund is awaiting nonprofit status from the state, which would allow it to offer even more scholarships to needy students of Central America.
February 6th, 2006. Another flight, another unknown destination. Once again I was journeying to an unknown world, and this time my destination was farther from home. I was headed to Quito, Ecuador, where I would embark on my second Peace Corps service. I lived a short stint in Chicago after finishing my first service working at a nonprofit Latino community center. I began to miss the adventure of being in a new place, the simplicity of a remote village, and the will and desire to help those around us. Over time, I was burning up inside. I needed to return to the work that I had learned to do very well — working with those who had less than me. I was realizing day to day that I was a gifted person. I had a wonderful family, I was educated and I was blessed with good health. I felt a need to give back again…to continue a life of service.
August 19, 2006. The Amazon Jungle. I was placed in an indigenous site in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. Pros: breathtaking views and landscapes, fresh air and tremendous rivers. Challenges: a deep-rooted indigenous culture that is fighting to save its land and history from foreign oil and lumber companies, learning the language of the people (Kichwa), and getting used to the food and diet of the locals. I am now six months into my second service. I have been faced with a whole slew of challenges that I never dreamed of facing in my first service. Every day I am challenged by the language and cultural barriers, and almost daily the locals themselves question my reasons for being in their town. No, I am not part of the FBI, nor am I a missionary, nor am I going to steal plants from your jungle. I am a Peace Corps volunteer from the USA. I continue to take small steps: learning Kichwa, eating wild animals and turning my back to verbal discrimination. Often times I struggle to maintain my vision and motivation, but in those moments I try to remind myself of what I learned way back when at Marquette University. Service means sacrifice. As blessed individuals, it is our duty to reach out to those who have little, even if it means that we must struggle as well. In my site, not everyone awaits me with open arms, nor do they treat me as if I were family. Still, I push forward knowing that my faith will guide me on this path of service.
So as I said at the start, this is my Marquette education unraveled in the real world. When I did Hunger Cleanup on Sixteenth Street, I never once thought it would be the beginning of a much bigger service project that awaited me — my life.