Univeristy of St. Francis student Stephanie Castillo has the right ‘gene’
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org February 12, 2013 10:26AM
University of St. Francis student Stephanie Castillo (right) went on a mission trip to the Philippines in December. She is with a girl she refers to as Chin-Chin, a 7-year old girl she befriended on her trip, and the girl on the left is Mhevelyn. | Sup
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:01AM
If you ask Dr. A. Scott Washington, the chairman of the University of St. Francis criminal and social justice department, there’s a certain kind of gene that people are born with. He calls it the “helping gene,” and it’s something that makes people want to be of service to others and give more of themselves.
Stephanie Castillo has that gene.
The 21-year-old Joliet native returned this month from a mission trip to the Philippines, organized by the Diocese of Joliet and the Gawad Dalinga organization based in the Philippines.
Among some of the projects Castillo’s group accomplished were building a house out of rocks and concrete in the village of Banago, and teaching children in the village about personal hygiene like tooth brushing.
Doing mission work is nothing new for Castillo. The political science and criminal/social justice major also made a global affairs trip to Israel in March 2012.
While there, Castillo nourished her “helping gene.” She met the impoverished — who mainly congregated in the tourist and Palestinian-occupied areas — and saw Palestinian children try to sell handmade bric-a-brac in the streets.
“When you enter the Gaza Strip you immediately see the disparity between Palestinians and Israelis,” Castillo said. “But the most impacting and profound moment I encountered in Israel was with a man who was deaf and blind selling tourist cards.”
Seeing the poverty that plagued the Palestinian territories sparked Castillo’s interest on going overseas again — this time to the Philippines where the disparity between the Southeast Asian country and the Middle East is even greater.
“I knew what I was getting into,” Castillo said.
What she was getting into was an area that needed such basic things as sanitation, clean drinking water and basic housing.
But the Filipino people were not poor of spirit. Castillo said that was one of the biggest impacts she had on the trip: No matter how bad the environment, the Filipino people, especially strangers, always gave Castillo and her group a smile and a nod of the head.
While there, Castillo befriended a 7-year-old girl named Chin-Chin, who was suffering from malnutrition. Castillo’s voice began to break when remembering her time with the child.
“When I was leaving, it was a roller coaster of emotions,” Castillo said. “She kept kissing me and saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ She never even asked for food while we were there. I do miss her a lot.
“It’s a monumental experience and I want to still try and help the girl as much as possible. To have experienced Chin-Chin was overwhelming.”
And although Castillo was halfway around the world, her mind never veered far from home.
“I appreciated the structure of my community and the waste collection system in the United States,” Castillo said. “I immediately thought of my 9-year-old cousin Kelly, who loves to play outside. I tried to imagine her in the village and it still brings tears to my eyes, because I noticed how strong you have to be to live in those conditions.”
Those conditions included contaminated soil and water. Many children in the villages Castillo went to had cuts and scabs from animal and insect bites that went untreated.
What lies ahead
The experience only heightened Castillo’s dream of helping people. She already is a civil rights and fair housing intern at John Marshall Law School, and she plans to go to law school to study international law after this her final semester at St. Francis. Castillo has also volunteered at the Warren Sharpe Community Center.
Washington is Castillo’s mentor and was instrumental in figuring out her course of study and career path. Although he hasn’t spoken with her at length about her mission trip, Washington said that in the brief conversation they had, it is obvious that the trip impacted Castillo’s outlook on life.
“She mentioned how impactful the trip was and how much it strengthened her,” Washington said. “In our country, we have our issues, but seeing (poverty) and the issues that go on in the Philippines and places like Haiti strengthen her ability to work with those that struggle. And it helps with her ultimate vision.”
It may not seem like the ideal way for a college student to spend Christmas vacation or spring break, but Castillo wants to do mission work again. And Washington thinks it will only solidify what Castillo already knows.
“Now she’s convinced (about social justice),” Washington said. “There are all kinds of ways to make money, but helping people is far more valuable.”