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Students in MPH Spanish class to join Mission of Miracles in El Salvador

About the trip:
What: Mission of Miracles, humanitarian trip to El Salvador.
Who is going: Five Manlius Pebble Hill seniors and one Jamesville Dewitt senior; also the MPH nurse and Spanish teacher.
They are: Maggie Elder, senior, Syracuse; Morgan Gelfand, senior, Baldwinsville; Anna Rupert, senior, Syracuse; Alex Verbeck, senior, Cazenovia; Liz Watts, senior, Syracuse; Max Bregande, senior, Jamesville Dewitt High School, Dewitt; Bonnie Adams, registered nurse; Kathleen Ryzewski, Spanish teacher.
What they’re doing: Medical Outreach program to promote health education and treatment of disease.
When: Jan. 28 to Feb. 5

A group of local teenagers will spend a week in a third world country soon, helping others on a health mission while using their language skills.

The six, who come from Syracuse and its northern and eastern suburbs, are seniors from Manlius Pebble Hill School and Jamesville Dewitt High School.

They will join Mission of Miracles, a 29-member medical outreach team traveling to El Salvador Jan. 28 to Feb. 5. It is organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York.

The trip is a family affair for 17-year-old Maggie Elder. The Syracuse native will be traveling with her mother, Beth Binkowski, a medical doctor.

“When she heard about the trip she immediately wanted to go with me, “ Elder said. “I am looking forward to helping people and being a positive part of the world. I have always wanted to change someone’s life.”

The program works directly with the health program of the Anglican Diocese of El Salvador. The focus of this partnership is health promotion and education, and treatment of disease in the geographical areas served by the Anglican Church in El Salvador.

The Central New York team is compromised of health professionals, lay assistants and translators.

The trip is designed to deliver health care to 200 to 300 patients per day.

“It is an honor for me that these students, and our student at JD, are joining us this year,” said Bonnie Adams, a registered nurse.

As the chairperson of the missions trip, she is the school nurse for Manlius Pebble Hill, and will be traveling with the teens. A yearly participant of the trips, Adams said her school always has been willing to help.

“During 2009 and 2010 school years, students at MPH raised money to help renovate a school in Jiquilisco , El Salvador,” she said. “Students from some of the Spanish classes wrote letters to the children at the school. During one of the trips I hand delivered the letters along with pencils and other gifts from MPH.”

The team will travel to different areas of the country each day, providing medical attention to men, women an children who now have extremely limited access to health care.

Spanish teacher Kathleen Ryzewski will be traveling with the teens. All of the students from MPH attend her class, Current Issues in Latin America, an elective for seniors.

“This is a chance for them to use the language they have been studying. This is an opportunity not only to provide community service, but to make a cultural connection with people in another country and to see firsthand the social issues they confront each day, “ she said.

Attendance in the class has increased one student’s desire to help.

“As soon as I heard about the floods and how badly people needed medical assistance, I said, ‘I just have to do it. I just have to help,” said Alex Verbec of Cazenovia. “This is a chance to really become immersed in another culture and help people who desperately need it.

The teens primary responsibilities will be conducting vision screenings to asses people for reading glasses, and health promotions in the form of skits. The skits are designed to provide health information such as proper hand washing, wound care and dental hygiene. The students also will assist in translating between the doctors and patients.

As director of communications for MPH, Susan Gullo is always looking for community service projects in which students can participate.

“MPH looks for making connections between the culture and service. We are always trying for something our students can do to be a part of the community while being aware of the they are studying. This type of service to help the community is part of what our students do, “she said. This is the first trip to a third world country for the students, who raised all the funds for the trip through a variety of fundraisers.

“ They did everything from gift wrapping over the holidays to babysitting, “ said Gullo.

Morgan Gelfand of Baldwinsville said the trip has been on her to-do list for a while.

“It really wasn’t a decision. I have wanted to do this for awhile,” Gelfand said. “I think it will really benefit me before college to have an experience like this; helping people who are in less fortunate circumstances than my own. “

As a dancer, Anna Rupert, 17, of Syracuse is no stranger to hard work. Preparation and patience are part of her daily life.

Like the other going on the trip, she has been a student of the Spanish language for sometime.

“I thought it would be interesting to visit El Salvador,” she said. “Although, I know this isn‘t a vacation, we are working to help others.

“It will give me perspective on other people,” she added. “We are teaching them the importance of good hygiene. We hear it on the news, but now, we will see it firsthand.”