With spring break starting this weekend, the HWS Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) is gearing up for the Alternative Break Trips. CCESL is coordinating service trips to the states of Louisiana, Virginia, and North Carolina, as well as abroad to Nicaragua, and here at home in Geneva.
While many of the domestic service trips, such as those to Pocahontas State Park, Va. and Mariam Boyd Elementary School in Warrenton, N.C., are annual staples of the HWS service community, the trip to Nindiri, Nicaragua is an HWS first. CCESL is taking a group of 9 students to Nicaragua to work on projects such as housing and educational facility. The office is working in coordination with Bridges to Community, a non-profit cultural exchange organization which aims, through volunteer service, to create a world where basic needs (i.e. shelter, nutrition, education, healthcare and employment) are treated as human rights.
The student volunteers will be accompanied by Director of Intercultural Affairs Alejandra Molina, who has been working to provide them with crash-course preparation in Nicaraguan culture and community, as well as classmates Carl Ranieri ’11 and Hannah Stoll ’11, both of whom have previously participated in the program and helped plan this trip. The student volunteers include first-year Kitwan Billy and sophomores Kirby Benjamin, Anna Giangregorio, Marjorie Maxwell, Chris Nelsen, Martha Beltz and Chloe Pedalino.
The trip, which begins this Friday, March 13 and ends with the return to campus on Monday, March 23, is an expensive one, and the group is in its final efforts of fundraising.
The trip to New Orleans will be similar to the January trip to the Gulf in terms of the type of service undertaken -rebuilding houses and clearing debris-but it differs in that it is an encouraged component of this spring’s Politics of Disaster course, which examines the myriad social, cultural and political issues surrounding the cleanup and rebuilding of southern Louisiana.
“The first time I went to New Orleans was out of sheer curiosity,” says Dale Watkins ’09, for whom this will be the eighth service trip to New Orleans with HWS. “It was three months after the storm, and I wanted to see firsthand what was going on and what the conditions were like in the area. The trip showed me that any of my expectations could not have been further from that actual situation and showed me the value of learning beyond the classroom.”
While most of the group will be doing housing reconstruction with Operation Helping Hands and Phoenix of New Orleans (PNOLA), there will be opportunities for other types of work with PNOLA as well, depending on community needs and student interest. Students will be asked to participate in nightly reflections and keep a service journal for the stint of the trip, which runs March 13 – 22.
“It was very easy to read newspaper articles and books about the storm and the resulting political and social problems,” says Watkins, “but the actual experience of being in the city and talking to people directly involved in the storm and the recovery effort has brought the entire situation into sharper focus.
“I’ve really developed a passion for this place, and I want to see the city come back. I’ve talked to people who see it as pointless to bring back a city below sea level but there’s much more at stake here than a city. This is why I keep going-to have a stake in this city and in this culture and to see that the recovery effort is actually making some improvements, and I’m happy to say that it is.”
In Geneva, students will volunteer with the Community Lunch Program, Catholic Charities, American Cancer Society, and also travel to nearby Waterloo to work at Beverly’s Animal Shelter.
For more information on any of the trips, visit the CCESL website.