BY JULIE IRWIN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Fourteen Xavier University students will begin their summer vacation in a faraway, sunny locale Monday -- but with no beaches or nightclubs on their itinerary.
Instead, the students are spending their 12 days in El Salvador meeting with labor leaders, economists, peace workers and human-rights representatives. They plan to volunteer with a ministry to ex-gang members and perhaps work on a Habitat for Humanity house, all the while broadening their knowledge of international peace and justice work.
"I'm very excited to be going to a developing nation," said Kristen Barker, a sophomore theology major who helped organize the trip. "I think living in the United States, I have culturally influenced beliefs that I'm not even aware of, and I look forward to being able to examine that and see a reality I don't really know."
Ms. Barker got the idea to go to El Salvador from her uncle, Ren Austing, a Wyoming man who sits on the board of the peace group CRISPAZ and had visited El Salvador many times. She held a meeting at Xavier to find other students interested in going, and sophomore Jon Weller persuaded her to add Guatemala.
Safety concerns led them to drop the Guatemala idea, but they have spent the past year planning the trip to El Salvador and raising $19,000 to offset the costs. Fund-raising came through traditional means -- bake sales, letters to friends -- as well as the non-traditional -- a memorial dinner for the six Jesuit priests and two women killed in El Salvador in 1989. The students hope to make the trip an annual event.
Theology professor Paul Knitter is accompanying the group. Some of the students will gain credits by studying with him along the way and writing a paper when they return.
"We want to get a balanced picture of the social and economic as well as ecological reality of El Salvador," Mr. Knitter said, "to understand why it is that, even though the peace accords took effect in January of 1993 and it is relatively peaceful, still poverty is as bad if not worse than ever and street violence has increased."