“In the end, you’re not who you were before. You’re different. You’re changed. You may even feel like your old values have been, in a sense, ruined by this new worldview. As confusing or as difficult as that may sound, it’s a good thing.”
The above quote by writer Jeff Goins describes the feeling one gets following a truly meaningful experience. This quote sums up quite well the sentiments expressed by the Alternative Spring Break participants in attendance at this Wednesday’s Alternative Break Return and Reflect.
Return and Reflect is hosted yearly upon the return of CofC students from foreign and domestic Alternative Spring Break service learning trips. The event offers the Alternative Break participants a chance to share what they learned during their experiences, as well as to reflect on how they can bring their new knowledge and experience back home in order to make a difference in their communities. This year, Return and Reflect was held in the Avery Research Center, an upgrade in venue from the usual spot of the Lightsey Center floor.
The Alternative Break program is a nationwide program which includes 140 schools and 17,804 individuals. College of Charleston’s Alternative Break program is run through the Center for Civic Engagement. Alternative Break offers domestic Fall Break and Weekend Break trips, as well as both foreign and domestic Spring Break and Maymester trips focusing on a wide range of social issues.
This year, six separate Alternative Spring Break groups, which included a total of 70 participants, departed Charleston for various destinations. These included New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. During Return and Reflect, each group showed a video documenting their trip to give the other Alternative Break participants, as well as any guests in attendance, a glimpse of their weeklong adventures.
The group which traveled to New Orleans deemed their trip “Agricola NOLA”. This group’s focus was urban agriculture and sustainability, and the participants worked with such initiatives as a farm-to-table restaurant and efforts to replace traditional light bulbs with more environmentally friendly CFL bulbs. Along the way, they also got to experience the excitement of New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
The group focusing on healthcare access and policy braved the snow during their trip to the Nation’s Capital. This group worked with such organizations as The Ronald McDonald House; Food & Friends, which provides meals for people with life-changing illnesses; and PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. In addition, they had the chance to meet with Lindsey Graham’s Legislative Aid to discuss healthcare policy.
Sustainable agriculture was the concentration of the Costa Rica group, who worked throughout the week on various farming projects at La Gran Vista Agroecological Farm.
Another group that focused on sustainable agriculture was the group which traveled to San Miguel Escobar in Guatemala to work with a sustainable coffee farming cooperative called As Green as it Gets.
A group focusing on healthcare was nearby in Antiqua, Guatemala working with Maximo Nivel Intercultural Center. Throughout their trip, they taught hygiene practices such as hand washing and teeth brushing to young children, as well as helped with vitamin distribution to the people of Antigua, 51 percent of whom live on just two dollars a day. During the week, the group also got to explore their beautiful natural surroundings, including a hike up a volcano which had erupted that very morning.
The sixth group travelled to the Dominican Republic where they worked with Outreach360, a children’s education program. During their stay, participants planned and taught lessons for Kindergarten, second, fourth, and sixth grade students, as well as experienced Dominican culture such as merengue dancing.
I spoke to one of the Dominican Republic break participants, Kaitlyn Kaufman, about some of her favorite parts of the trip.
“I just really liked experiencing all the different parts of the culture” she said, “talking to the locals…they’ll teach us Spanish and we’ll teach them English.”
“They looked to us more as friends and students than teachers,” Kaufman said of the children with whom the group worked, “we were teaching them the parts of the house, so we’d be like, ‘table’ and they’d be like, ‘mesa!’, it was cute, a good exchange.”
Although each Alternative Spring Break only lasted one week, each group expressed during Return and Reflect how much they felt they had learned and grown over the course of their rather brief trip.
Kaufman shared that her experience helped her to realize “some of the things [we] take for granted every day.” For instance, “in the classrooms…every time you wanted to make a worksheet for one kid, since you don’t have copy machines you would have to write it out a hundred times…and even just walking two miles uphill to the school; they don’t have buses.”
Although all the Alternative Spring Break participants are now settled comfortably back in Charleston, Maggie Szeman, assistant director of the Center for Civic Engagement reminded them in her closing remarks to “not let the AB experience end here.”
Judging by the enthusiasm and dedication to service that this hardworking bunch of students appears to have, it seems their active community involvement is far from over.