Imagine going half way around the world and back in nine days and getting a taste for the kind of service work done in the Peace Corps. Imagine five days spent building a real, sturdy house for a family in a country where there is heavy seismic activity and 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, without dependable housing. When you’re done, kids will want to play soccer with you, there will be traditional dancing and elders will be eternally grateful for your service to their community.
This is what you’ll find in Nicaragua if you participate in the first International Alternative Spring Break, offered by the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) in partnership with Bridges to Community (BTC), one of three hundred microfinance organizations in Nicaragua. Community leadership, self-awareness and sustainability are the long-term goals of BTC.
BTC’s Interim Executive Director, Rusty Pedersen P’12 visited the Colleges recently to speak to students about this opportunity. Pedersen shares the Colleges’ philosophy on service learning, “One thing is to think you know; another to know you know. Get down there and figure it out. Educate yourself. There are millions of people doing civic work and it’s not necessarily their day job.”
According to Pedersen, before the trip people always wonder what they are going to do, where they are going to sleep and if there will be mosquitoes. “Once there, they always realize what they’re doing is more important than that. The poverty stares you in the face; hopefully it becomes an agent of change for you.”
March weather in Nicaragua actually promises to be hot and dry without mosquitoes. The group will stay at a series of churches and community centers, drink bottled water and have meals prepared for them. Most of the time is spent building a house for a family chosen by the community. In order to connect with the native people and culture, students also have opportunities to participate in local agriculture, accompanying community members into the fields and learning some traditional homeopathic remedies. At the end of the week, there is always a house dedication and a fiesta.
The new home owners will pay back about half the cost of the home ($ 1,400 USD), at $10 a month. Pedersen expressed that the benefit of microfinance is the sense of ownership it gives to members of the community. With conviction, Pedersen says, “We need to give authority and power to the community.”
The trip will begin on Saturday, March 14, 2009, when the HWS contingent will drive to LaGuardia Airport in New York and begin travel to Nicaragua’s capital. Monday morning the group will arrive at the service site and work until Friday evening. The weekend is spent sightseeing, reflecting on the experience and celebrating. The cost of the trip is $2,000 including airfare, meals and accommodations.
Although it’s a while away, it’s never too early to start thinking about life-changing opportunities. More information will be provided as application deadlines approach.