May 29, 2013
Most college students chose to head south for the beaches over Spring Break, but freshman volleyball player Erin Bies found herself on dirt roads in the slums of Africa.
Erin traveled with her parents and sister Julie, who played volleyball at MAAC member Manhattan, to Ethiopia for a service trip with Operations Hearts and Homes, a non-profit organization that provides orphans with medical and dental care, and the education needed to help live successful lives.
"It's very shocking," Bies said. "There's not a lot of opportunities for the kids when they get out of the orphanage."
After a 14-hour flight to Dubai, a six-hour layover, and a six-hour flight to Ethiopia, Erin was physically and mentally drained. She was so ill that she was forced to check into a hospital in Ethiopia twice, but her sickness did not distract her from the mission.
"During the day, I put a smile on," Bies said. "I knew I was sick, but being with the kids took my mind off everything. Seeing the kids smile once they saw me changed everything."
The hotel she stayed at was not surrounded by much activity: there were no nightclubs, no beaches, just a girl on a mission to help brighten a couple lives. "I did not regret anything about the trip," Bies said. "The kids have so little, but they're so happy. They're just thankful for the time that you give them. They tell you they love you when you spend just a day with them."
Erin comes from a family that focuses on service and the benefit it can bring others, and this was not the first example of their desire to give back. Erin's family hosts Alina, a girl from the Ukraine, every summer as part of Operation Hearts and Homes, and this past summer they hosted a boy from the orphanage they visited in Ethiopia. Erin calls Aliana her best friend.
Erin loves playing volleyball at Siena, and like most college students, hanging out with her friends, and reading the Hunger Games. She eagerly anticipates her next three years, and plans to prepare for next season by working out and becoming mentally strong this summer.
Erin appeared in 27 games for a Siena team that won 21 games and advanced to the MAAC Championship in the fall. She figures to see an increased role in the Saints' back row next season after the graduation of seven seniors.
She's also already thinking about the next place she wants to make a service trip, having identified Kenya as a great opportunity, because Julie visited and had an amazing experience.
"Anywhere that needs service and help, that is the place I want to go," Bies said.
~ Jarrel Harris is a junior English major at Siena