Carmel's Clement, Zeller help Peru

By Bill Stone

SGS co-publisher

Two Carmel varsity gymnasts, senior Dani Clement and junior Jen Zeller, were among a group from St. Patrick’s Church in Wadsworth that made a mission trip to Peru this past July 2-11.
A fourth-year varsity gymnast for the Corsairs, Clement recently answered some e-mailed questions about her experiences.

How did you find out about this trip?:

“I heard about this trip through my parish (St. Patrick’s in Wadsworth) and my teammate Jen Zeller.  I went with a group from St. Patrick’s Church. The group mainly consisted of adults. There were
three girls from Carmel (Jen Zeller, Kate Elfering, and myself) and one girl from Warren Township High School (Madi Beckley).”

What was the goal of the trip? How do you feel you were able to contribute?:

“The goal of the trip was to help the people of Peru in any way possible and to get to know the Peruvians. Our group worked with the poor by building houses, delivering food, delivering clothing and
volunteering at a clinic. I contributed to this goal by building houses. On the work sites, I did what I could for the building process -- digging holes, cutting wire, carrying bamboo poles, and securing bamboo mats (walls). Then I would visit with the kids playing by the work sites.”

What were your impressions of Peru and its people?:

“This was my first time in Peru, but I have been to Brazil. The two countries were similar due to the fact that poverty is an issue. In both countries the poor would live in shacks, or ‘shanty towns,’ alongside the roads or sidewalks. Peru is definitely struggling with its poverty, but the people were incredibly welcoming. The kids in Peru are completely open with you and willing to share everything they have. Despite the poverty, the people of Peru are happy and proud.”

What were some memorable events or moments that occurred during your trip?:

“One of the most memorable moments of the trip was when Jen and I were taking a break from building.  We saw a girl trying to jump rope and she was struggling. Jen and I showed the girl what to do, and before we knew it, at least 10 kids had joined us. Jen and I then showed the kids how to play with multiple people, and soon everyone was playing together. After a few minutes, some of the mothers came and joined us. It was so much fun to play jump rope with all those kids, and the moms were really grateful for our taking time to teach their kids a new game.”

What was it like celebrating the Fourth of July in Peru?:

“Another memorable moment on the trip was the Fourth of July. In the morning, our group visited a parish where the children sang American songs, and in the evening the volunteers from the parish we stayed at put together a Fourth of July party. They made us hamburgers, hot dogs and chocolate cake.  They even hired dancers to come and perform for us.  Even though it wasn’t a traditional Fourth of July celebration, I had a great time and I really appreciated all the hard work the Peruvians did for us that night.”

How did this trip affect or change you as a person?:

“The whole experience was humbling. In America, we have so many gifts and opportunities that I forget what is truly important in life.This trip was a reminder of how blessed I am to have a loving family, great
friends, and all of my opportunities such as education and gymnastics. I think the trip changed how I attempt to carry myself. I never want to seem ungrateful, and I wish to be patient and understanding with

Was there anything that surprised you about Peru or its people?:

“The people’s attitudes surprised me the most. They are living in very poor conditions and they have very little.  Despite what they do not have, the people of Peru are happy, willing to share, friendly, and proud. Their positivity was inspiring and has encouraged me to be proud of the gifts I have been given.”

Did gymnastics ever play a role in your trip?

“I believe gymnastics played a big role on my trip. Gymnastics has given me strength and a work ethic that pushes me to work as hard as I can for as long as I can. This mentality gymnastics has given me
helped me to build houses every day and maintain a positive attitude despite the heat and hard work.”

What effect did this experience have on the relationship with you and Jen Zeller?:

“I feel this experience brought Jen and I much closer.  Jen was shy her freshman year, so I knew her more as a gymnast than as a friend. I was began to know Jen more as a friend her sophomore year, but this trip Jen and I really bonded and became closer friends.  I also feel that because of this experience, Jen and I have helped to strengthen the friendships on our team.”

What momentos do you have from the trip?:

“Most of the momentos I have from the trip are gifts.  Girls I met through the parish we stayed at and at the work sites gave me homemade jewelry.  I was given a necklace, bracelet, rings and earrings. From
the market places, I brought home some more jewelry and a purse. Other than the gifts, photographs of the experience are my only momentos.”

Do you plan on a similar trip or similar work to this in the future?:

"I am doing this trip again this summer.  Having this experience has also made me consider going on other mission trips, or even working with the Peace Corp after college.  I would definitely recommend trips like this to others. In fact, my friend is coming with me this summer.”