Birmingham — It was 67 steps up the stairs from the staging area to the construction site.
Macallan Kizy knows, because he counted each one, carrying large, pre-constructed wooden structures that make up the framing of a new house in Peru.
As he was carrying the structures, he was immersed in a sensory experience that made this mission trip stand out from the typical.
Kizy and nine other juniors-turned-seniors at Brother Rice High School in Birmingham traveled to Peru to work at a fellow Christian Brothers school in Lima and assist in the construction of a new, more stable home for a poor family in the Peruvian capital.
“Since my freshman year, I’ve heard about this project, seeing the pictures and hearing others’ experiences, and I’ve always wanted to do a mission trip,” Kizy said. “A simple lesson I took away was not to take what you have for granted.”
Kizy and his Brother Rice classmates were in Peru from June 11-21 as part of a summer mission trip. The trip focused on building a wooden, three-bedroom home for a family that was previously living in a one-bedroom shack made of cardboard and was roughly half the size of a typical classroom.
“The houses are so small,” Kizy noted. “The one we worked on had six people living in a house the quarter size of this room. We met a man, Jorge, a carpenter for the Brothers, he built these wooden house frames and we carried them up these steep stairs and built them a new house.”
Brother Rice has been participating in mission trips to Lima since 2010, as part of the Christian Brothers’ presence in Peru. During the trip, students have the chance to live with the Christian Brothers.
“In addition to building a home, we got to spend some time at the Christian Brothers school in Lima, the students got a chance to spend some time with the kids and tour the school,” said Brother Rice Spanish teacher Andrew Ciesielski, one of two teachers who accompanied the students to Peru. It’s amazing to see the big improvements at the school. They’ve done a great job greening up the school.”
Brother Rice is one of eight different Christian Brothers schools in North America that go to Peru to assist Fe Y Alegria No. 26 school in the Canto Grande section of Lima, offering a chance to see what life is like in the South American country.
“The boys stay in Hendricken House, named after Bishop Thomas Hendricken in Rhode Island,” Ciesielski said. “They have bunk beds set up, and the Christian Brothers provide meals and transportation around Lima. At the end of every night, the boys get time to do a reflection with a Brother. You see a softening of the heart. The boys find a level of compassion they haven’t tapped into in their lifetimes.”
The Brother Rice students had the chance to walk the streets of Lima, as well as Cuzco and the mountain trails of Machu Picchu, an opportunity to break out of the comfortable “Birmingham bubble.”
“I went on this trip because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone,” said Brother Rice student Bryce Everly. “Where I live, everyone kind of lives the same, so I wanted to see how the other 90 percent of the world lives.”
Everly and the other students know there are plenty of opportunities to help closer to home — they said the trip has inspired them to do more for their local communities — but going to South America opened their eyes to a magnitude of poverty not typically seen in the United States.
“You see poverty in places like Detroit, but it’s different down there,” Everly said. “They have so little, but are so content with what they have. They needed help, but were just happy with what they have.”
Kizy echoed Everly’s assessment that the trip made him appreciate much of what the Brother Rice student body usually takes for granted. One thing especially stuck out in Kizy’s mind: the easy access to water people in Michigan usually enjoy, contrasted with other parts of the world where it’s a daily struggle.
“You don’t realize how important it is to have clean drinking water,” Kizy said. “We couldn’t use the water there, so we had to buy bottles of water to drink from. It’s given me a deeper appreciation of the water fountain, getting water from the fridge.”
The trip to Peru lasted 10 days, but the Christian Brothers’ presence in Peru continues — a Christian Brothers school from California arrived hours after their Michigan counterparts left. A sign above the Christian Brothers school in Lima reads in Spanish, “Live Jesus in our hearts. Forever.” The same motto hangs at the door of Brother Rice High School in Birmingham.
“The Christian Brothers work under the Seven Guiding Elements, and our program is the third element: to stand in solidarity with those marginalized by poverty and injustice,” Ciesielski said. “What makes this program special is that you have the strengths of the class working together before they start their senior year. To be part of that greater Christian Brothers mission, the boys learn what it means to walk with others, to be present in the world, what it means to be a Brother Rice student.”