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In late June, Elk County Catholic High School senior Sara Kucenski, of Ridgway, was one of seven western Pennsylvania youth who took part in a week-long mission trip to Honduras to dedicate a water filtration system in El Jaral, Honduras, which the students had spent the previous school year raising money to construct through an organization they formed called Pure Thirst. Pure Thirst worked in conjunction with The Rice Foundation, which was formed by Dr. Jeffrey Rice, and raised over $25,000 to construct the system.
Kucenski explained that she had wanted to take part in the trip as soon as she heard about it.
"I've been on other mission trips, but they've been in Pennsylvania and around where I live, and I just kind of wanted to do something that was out of the country and where people needed me more," Kucenski said.
During the trip, the students not only dedicated the system, but some also assisted in painting it, while others provided aid in areas related to triage, optometry, vacation Bible school dentistry, and pharmacy.
Kucenski was involved with optometry and vacation Bible school.
"I actually got asked to work in optometry, because I was planning on being in vacation Bible school the whole time I was down there," Kucenski said.
Kucenski trained with an optometrist who had accompanied the group and then had the opportunity to go into the mountains and work with some of the villagers.
"I didn't do anything that you have to go to school for," Kucenski said. "She (the optometrist) had papers for me that told me what power [of glasses someone would need] if they could read certain things."
While the optometrist did not accompany Kucenski, she went with a translator because she is not fluent in Spanish. Translators assisted the mission workers throughout their trip.
"I actually took three years [of Spanish at ECC], but it's different to read it and write it than speak it. I was reading and writing in Spanish I, II, and III, and learning different words, but to go down there and speak it, it was more difficult. It was just amazing," Kucenski. "But it definitely did help that I had Spanish."
Kucenski assisted with optometry for two days and then spent the remainder of her time working with Honduran youth in vacation Bible school.
"I worked in optometry for two days, and then the last day that we worked I was in vacation bible school, and that was really where I found myself. I loved being in vacation Bible school because I want to be a teacher," Kucenski said. "Being with those kids and having that connection with them, even though they didn't speak my language and I didn't speak their language, was just so great because they understood what I was saying without actually understanding."
Kucenski added that, for her, the most exciting part of the trip was being able to work with the children. One particular experience that stuck with her was that all of the children at vacation Bible school would ask her to take their picture.
"They actually kept coming up and asking me for a photo," Kucenski said. So I'd take a picture of them and they'd want to see it, every single one of them. There were a lot of kids and they all wanted their picture taken because they don't get to see themselves."
Kucenski also elaborated on the Hondurans' living conditions and explained why Pure Thirst believed they would benefit from the installation of a water purification system.
"Most of the people needed [the water purification system] because, when I looked at the water, some parts of it were really cloudy and just gray and not like our water, and then other parts of the water looked like chocolate milk. That's how gross it was," Kucenski said. "They'd have parasites in them because of the water. We actually found a lot of cases where the people needed help because the people had parasites because they drank the water."