Tulane diving duo Claire Jacob, Anise Muir head to Guatemala for service trip

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NEW ORLEANS – Tulane divers Claire Jacob and Anise Muir come from different backgrounds, take different classes and might be on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of civic service on the international scale, but they share a similar passion for giving back and making a difference in the world around them. Before they report back to campus for the Fall 2017 semester, the two will make a trip to Guatemala from August 1-14 for an experience that is everything but a vacation.

A sophomore who joined the Green Wave’s diving program as a walk-on in early February, Jacob will be the veteran on this particular mission trip to the country that borders the southern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. It will come approximately three years since her initial journey as a junior in high school.

During the summer of 2016, Jacob and two others raised $5,000 and made a mission trip to Patzun, Guatemala as part of “Voices of Patzun” with the goal of establishing a sustainable special needs tutoring curriculum for children of all ages at San Bernadino School. The starter program began with three teachers who stayed after school for two hours on Mondays and Wednesdays to tutor approximately 45 children with learning disabilities in their English, Spanish, and Mathematics studies.

Malnutrition is abundant in Guatemala, where many children endure physical and psychological growth and development deficiencies. The result? A high prevalence of children with special needs in Guatemala and a lack in the health and education systems to support them.

There have been an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 diagnosed cases of autism in Guatemala, and with a majority of the population under 18, some experts have said the true amount of autistic people in Guatemala is at least double. Jacob has a goal to bring help to this region of the world, and she will be bringing along here teammate, Muir, and two friends she made during her time at Tulane.

“Even though this is a program I’m super passionate about, I think I’m most excited about having girls on this trip who haven’t been on missions before,” Jacob said. “This experience really shows how a person’s dignity isn’t tied into what they own, what they do for a living or what they’ve accomplished. It’s about how to treat all people with love and care. That’s what I learned on my first mission trip and I want to spend my life helping people.”

Muir’s intrigue in participating in a mission trip grew during a meeting with Jacob and others on Tulane’s campus during the spring. A neuroscience major and psychology minor, she doesn’t currently have a long-term goal related to missionary work, but understands the great value she will be able to take away from the trip.

“I’m so excited and can’t wait, ” Muir said. “I’ve never been on a mission trip before, but Claire invited me and I decided I wanted to be a part of it. I know I will learn a lot through this experience, but I just want to help others.”

While excited, Jacob is well aware of the challenges for the new group. The three basic human needs, food, water and shelter, will be available, but on a much different scale.

“We’ll be living in poverty as we stay in an orphanage while we’re there, so that could be difficult on the newcomers,” Jacob said. “We’ll take cold showers when we wake up in the morning and there might be tarantulas sleeping with us and we will eat what the locals eat.”

Muir has her own thoughts on some of the obstacles she may face, including food and technology, but she maintains her readiness for the experience.

“I received some tips about how the food that they give us is unique and to say thank you because it’s an honor,” Muir said. “I’ll admit that I’m not very adventurous so that part of their culture might be a challenge. It will also be interesting not having a phone or TV around me. Sometimes I’ll go a few hours without my phone around the house and I’ll realize that it was kind of nice to be away from it for a little while.”

Appropriate clothing will also be necessary, where most people wear huipiles, which are fancy, handmade garbs that cover most of the body.

“Their shoulders are always covered and they’re usually in sweaters,” Jacob said. “For example, seeing a woman’s knees is not appropriate there. We’ve gone out and bought cargo pants, long skirts and things like that. There are a lot of little intricacies, but we’re respectful of that.”

Jacob and Muir will travel to Patzun together, and while Muir will spend six days there, Jacob will remain in the village for two full weeks. Among many tasks, Jacob will meet with the Franciscan nuns who manage and operate the school and orphanage for progress reports on the program, while Muir will be painting rooms within the orphanage among other goals the group has set out for themselves.

Jacob already believes she knows what the most difficult part of the trip will be, and it’s probably the final thing they will all do.

“Leaving ends up being the toughest part,” Jacob said. “It’s so, so hard because you grow so close in community with the people who live there, especially with the children we’ll live with in the orphanage. I remember crying on the airplane flight home because I came to love the kids so much in the short time I was there.”

There are many goals and things to be done during the short period of time in Guatemala, but the lifelong experience is what Jacob believes will be the ultimate takeaway from the mission trip. Progress will be made, bonding and new relationships will be established, but the memories are certain to live on.

“I’m hoping they realize that, while the things we go to school for are super important, they are not the end-all, be-all,” Jacob said. “There are things that our society tells us will bring us fulfillment, but we’re made for more than that.”

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