Melissa Stunkel, a senior in theology and religious studies, was featured in a Sept. 8 Fairfield County (Conn.) Catholic article about her service trips around the world. Her most recent trip was to Peru where she worked in an orphanage. See her comments in the story below.
Catholic University senior heads to Peru
"My faith fuels a desire to serve"

From: Fairfield County Catholic Date: Sept. 8, 2007 MONROE - Have you ever taken a trip that changed your life? For young people, a visit to a foreign country can often have a profound effect on their plans and leave a lifetime of impressions.

Twenty-year-old Melissa Stunkel of Saint Jude Parish has had several life-changing journeys, with school mission trips to Belize, Haiti, and Hawaii. She has also helped Habitat for Humanity build houses in Texas, Alabama, and Washington State.

But her most recent five-week stint in the mountains of Peru has confirmed the Catholic University of America senior's interest in a life of service.

The popular Mission Service Program at Catholic University has helped many students like Stunkel see the world, while also helping others in need. Working in the small village of Chuquibamba, Peru, with the Sisters, Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará (the same order of nuns which serves at Saint George Parish in Bridgeport), Stunkel understood the direction she wanted her life to take.

"From the first day we arrived at the orphanage, I knew a piece of my heart would always remain there. Each of us is born to serve those in need," she says.

During her recent trip to Peru, Stunkel, a religious studies major, traveled with two young women. She will never forget her first impression upon arriving in the village.

Instant Connection

"When we stepped off the bus after a five-and-a-half hour ride, we were greeted by masses of kids. Our luggage was instantly out of our hands and carried by kids half the size of our suitcases. We were hugged and kissed by those we considered strangers. It was an instant connection; these children became our mission."

Working with "Las Madres," as the Sisters are affectionately know by the children, Stunkel and her friends did such things as cleaning, cooking, helping with homework, and anything else that was needed to help care for the 43 children and three infants in the orphanage.


Throughout her five weeks, Stunkel was constantly struck by the gratitude of the people, their warm-hearted acceptance of visitors, and their generosity.

"The simple gifts we brought such as marbles, religious books and videos, pipe cleaners, shoes, coffee, and chocolates were greeted with enthusiasm you could hardly imagine," she relates.

Stunkel says it's easy to become guilty about having many possessions when you see how little others have and how grateful they are for the little things. It made her proud to be an American, but also eager to help others achieve a better life.

Born to Give Back

"My faith gives me the strength and the passion to do this," Stunkel says. "I think I was born with something inside me to give back. Faith fuels that desire to serve. With the mission trips it's great to be with people who share that vision, to reflect on it, and practice it."

At this point, it seems likely Strunkel will join the Peace Corps after college as a way of continuing her travels and paying off her loans. She also plans to return to the Peruvian village and help the children there.

"I felt empty in leaving, but determined to come back," Stunkel concludes. "As I was boarding the bus to go home, the kids asked repeatedly when we would return. My heart gave them the answer they deserved."

(To learn more about Melissa Stunke's travels and how to help the orphans in Peru, e-mail her at .)