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What's The Buzz: Eye-Opening Summer Abroad for Senior

September 2012 | by Tim McNicholas

The AmbroseZine regularly will feature an article previously published in our student newspaper, The Buzz.

See pictures of Maggie McGonigle's mission trip to Africa. 

Last July, a St. Ambrose student found a beaten African woman chained to the wall of a motel. The woman was allegedly possessed and living with about 20 other Africans and a witch doctor that called himself a priest. Maggie McGonigle, who was with a group of 21 American missionaries in Africa, remembers her friend's plea to the woman.

"You don't have to live like this."

"No," the chained woman said, "He's doing such a great thing for me."

The building's occupants believed the witch doctor was curing their ailments. In Africa, poverty is so prevalent that sick residents take drastic, affordable measures to get well. But according to McGonigle, the witch doctor made matters worse. The senior from Palos Park, Ill. saw a child whose pupils were so dilated, the whites of his eyes weren't visible. She also witnessed a man crawling in such an abnormal position that it frightened her.

"A human's body doesn't move the way I saw him crawling," McGonigle said.

McGonigle's team, Adventures in Missions, went to the site hoping to help the residents. Instead, they found a group unwilling to abandon a man that housed them in horrendous conditions and advocated fasting to malnourished Africans. The town in which the motel was located voted in favor of its creation. McGonigle and her group had found a problem with no solution.

"It really disturbed me that there was nothing we could do," McGonigle said. "If we called the police, they wouldn't do anything."

Throughout her trip, she found similar problems. McGonigle spent her summer in Swaziland, one of Africa's most diminished countries. Swaziland has the highest prevalence of AIDs in the world and a ninety percent unemployment rate. Emily Toles, who led Adventures in Missions in Swaziland, emphasized the country's poverty.

"A lot of people say that in the year 2050, that nation won't even exist," Toles said.

Adventures in Missions worked extensively at a Swaziland care point providing resources for famished children. The group helped prepare meals and entertain about 50 children.

Some of the children were without parents, including a two-year-old who walked by herself to the care station each morning.

"It was really heartbreaking," McGonigle said. "A lot of people don't realize how lucky we are and how many opportunities we have."

But McGonigle found a silver lining in her journey. Her goal in Swaziland was to help the kids any way she could. As she accomplished her goal, she developed a strong bond with the children.

"When they see you, it's just pure joy," she said. "They will just run up to you and jump in your arms."

Most of the children had never seen a playground until Adventures in Missions built one late last summer. McGonigle recalled putting the enthralled children on the slides and watching them play. The group also helped build one other playground and worked with several schools. These are some of McGonigle's proudest moments.

"Who would have ever thought I would be helping a little kid in Africa? One that really needed the help," she said.

Before her trip, the farthest McGonigle had ever traveled was to Canada at the age of 10. She decided to spend her summer in Africa on a whim, but it was one of the best decisions she ever made.

Mexico was in her previous plans until her father struck the idea down because of the country's crime. McGonigle, who has never been allowed on a spring break trip, wasn't surprised when her father disliked her plan to travel to Kenya. But when she mentioned Swaziland, her father couldn't let her down.

"I didn't want to see her go," her father said. "But in my heart, I knew it was a good cause."

Toles said McGonigle showed the skill of someone with experience.

"She did an absolutely amazing job," Toles said. "You would have never guessed it was her first trip."

Toles was impressed by the pace McGonigle developed friendships with the natives and other missionaries. It was no easy summer, but the missionaries enjoyed themselves in Swaziland. Toles once woke them at 5 a.m. by blasting the "Lion King," theme before taking them on a surprise safari.

Nonetheless, McGonigle was happy to be home at the summer's end. The missionaries lived in a hut and showered only with buckets. The trip made her more grateful for what she has.

"It really just gave me a whole different outlook on everything," she said.

McGonigle has no immediate plans to return to Africa, but she's enthusiastic about the idea. She encourages other students to consider missionary trips.

"You'll have your eyes opened to whole different world," she said.


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