Aumni Guest Post: Matt Harper ’11

This semester we kick off the Alumni Guest Post series with a story by Matt Harper ’11, who is living and working in Belize as part of the International Jesuit Volunteer Corps!

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Matt Harper '11 (second from left) at graduation

I have been in Belize City, Belize (in Central America) for about four months as part of the international branch of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.  I work in the youth facility of the Belize Central Prison. My job description says, “Teach literacy and math.” It should probably say, “Be present, teach if you can.” Each day is an adventure and I am constantly learning.

How did I end up here?

It wasn’t until my senior year began that I realized I had much to learn and to experience about the world.  I neglected some very significant opportunities made available to me while I was at Holy Cross; I think my ego kept me from committing myself to the greater service of Worcester. I fooled myself into thinking I had figured something out which thus no longer required me to have direct personal experience with other people’s struggles, poverty and pain.

This was the kindling for my decision to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Now, allow me to give a quick summary of the other factors that influenced my decision-making process:

I wanted to get involved with service work because I knew I needed to humble myself, needed to realize that I can’t always do or “fix” things.

I wanted to spend time abroad not because the US can’t provide what I’ve found in Belize but because I believed I would ultimately return home to address the many problems in our own country. I still believe I will return home in two years, but who knows where the whispers of God within me might call me.

I wanted something that focused on spirituality not because I’ve “figured” anything spiritual out, quite the contrary actually. We are spiritual beings and I wanted to finally take that part of me seriously.

I wanted something grounded in community because I often cannot see further than myself, and that hurts everyone. I believed there would be great value in the intentional challenge and support that real community could provide. (I was right!)

Finally, I wanted to improve my ability to see and work for justice in our world. I saw that justice is more about how a person views the world and the actions that come from this foundation more than it is about a person’s words – and I often have a lot of words! I knew I had to simply be with others and shut my yapper for a while.

Truth: I’m still working on all of this.

In addition to my work in the prison, I live in a community with six other people. We share our money, make decisions together, take responsibility for ourselves, each other and our house. We challenge and support each other (aiming to do so through love) in the hope that we can grow together as well as in our own specific ways.

In applying for IJVC, I wanted a challenge that would make it possible for me to positively “confront” all the many aspects of myself that I had previously neglected while simultaneously building relationships with those I am “serving.” Those two things are more interconnected than I could have imagined.

Leaving Holy Cross has made what it gave me all the more tangible.  I was supported and challenged by faculty, staff and students who constantly encouraged me to look a little deeper; I was given countless opportunities to take a stand for something;  I had unimaginable resources; I was asked to search for myself and to consider how I will serve the greater glory of God…the list goes on, and no words can capture fully what Holy Cross gifted to me. Each experience has been so important in getting me to this point as will each well into the future.

I have no doubt—and I feel peace knowing—that Holy Cross will be with me and I with it forever.

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Did this story resonate with you?

Learn more about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Check out other volunteer opportunities with Career Planning.