Living the SLU Mission: Business Professor Gains New Insight from Service Trip
It’s not uncommon for Saint Louis University students, faculty and staff to spend spring break living out the Jesuit mission of serving others across the country or around the world by volunteering their time and talents to be put to use for service projects, but for marketing professor Brett Boyle of SLU’s John Cook School of Business, his week in El Salvador left a deep and lasting impression.
While visiting a church with a friend Boyle learned about Living Water International, a Christian group working to bring water and improved hygiene practices to villages where dirty water and a lack of knowledge about germs increases the spread of diseases and sometimes early deaths.
Boyle, who had spent a fair amount of summer break time teaching business and marketing classes to students in a variety of overseas locations, sensed that this was the time to take part in a different kind of break experience.
He signed up to partake in a service project abroad. Withthe organization, Dr. Boyle joined a team service project that would drill for water and set up a system to make that clean, pure water accessible to families living in a village in southwestern El Salvador. Part of the team’s service would be to educate women in the village about the importance of clean water and good hygiene practices to avoid illnesses.
Entering Another World
Arriving in the village with the team, Boyle was struck by the struggles the people had just to have any water – let alone clean water.
“Children often walk five miles each way to carry water,” Boyle said. “Women clean dishes in a river that is 50 yards downstream from a hog farm where the runoff brings animal waste and bacteria into the water. The villagers have no concept of germs or how to treat the diarrhea that affects so many, and especially children, who get dehydrated and die.”
The team worked side-by-side with the villagers and local members of Living Water to bring the water to the surface. The process involves a hydraulic drill and a series of pipes that reach into the earth. It also includes pushing out debris in the pipes before moving on and, like many of the service experiences, there can be glitches like a broken part, a stuck pipe or overheated equipment that leaves you with nothing to do but sit in the shade of the bamboo and palm trees and wait. However, patience and perseverance do have their rewards.
“At about 100 feet down, we struck water and it began to seep out of the ground,” Boyle said. “It was an incredible moment.”
Along with the drilling, the people of the village made a profound impression on Boyle.
“Although they live in poverty, there is a great sense of community as children play and families interact. They live their lives with joy and a sense of contentment in spite of the daily struggles they face.” Boyle added. “They shared overwhelming gratitude that we were there to help them.”
Boyle said groups like Living Water and the importance of everyday people getting involved in making a difference is something that stays with him.
“I’m not a mechanical person. A lawn mower was the most sophisticated piece of machinery I’d ever worked with,” Boyle said. “But working together allowed us to reach that water.”
He added that the clean water has the power to break the cycle of disease and poverty in ways as simple as a child being able to go to school instead of having to spend the day carrying water.”
The experience of serving others abroad also provided Boyle with a new perspective about getting frustrated over the things he sometimes thinks are so important and it’s an experience he plans to continue.
“From the first day I was thinking I wanted to do it again.”