Some 70 students forewent beach parties, European adventures, and the chance to catch up on sleep for the opportunity to make their mark on communities in need around the world. These are the stories of their Alternative Spring Breaks.
SU CASA DE NICARAGUA
On this year's only ASB trip outside of the United States, student volunteers worked to construct long-term homes for Nicaraguan families.
"At the dedication ceremony for the house, the matriarch of the family, at the end of thanking us for our help, said, 'And I would like to welcome you to our home.' This sense of immediate ownership that they felt as a result of our hard work together was amazing. In four days, we had not just constructed a new house, we had built a home. That was pretty amazing," said co-leader Alden Karr '07.
The trip not only provided a home for a family in the community of Ticuantepe, but it also helped Bowdoin students meet each other, and broadened their visions for service in the future.
"ASB trips are a great opportunity for students because they provide us with opportunities to really break out of the 'Bowdoin Bubble' and begin to truly work for the common good. They also provide students with an opportunity to acquaint themselves with students whom they might not otherwise know. ASB trips build bonds among students, provide a great learning experience and truly broaden our perspectives on both Bowdoin and the outer world," Karr said.
In an effort to tackle the issues of hunger and homelessness, students teamed up with local organizations to provide service and advocate on Capitol Hill.
"I was impacted most of all by a workshop panel entitled 'The Faces of Homelessness.' We listened to currently and formerly homeless men discuss their lives. They completely broke down the stereotypes of homelessness for us, and their stories allowed us to realize how human the homeless are, and how we need to treat them as such," said co-leader Torin Peterson '07.
"We were also shown a '60 Minutes' segment on 'Bumfights,' which is a disgusting movie that pits drunken homeless men against each other for prizes. The homeless are completely devalued in our society, and I learned that only by valuing them can we start to fight poverty. I did not reflect on this topic deeply enough before I began preparing the trip, but now that the trip has passed, I can't seem to take this topic off my mind. The workshop was very, very effective in that regard," he said.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN NEW MEXICO
Students lived as guests of the Navajo tribe in the Native American community of Gallup, New Mexico, where they worked to address public health issues during their week of intense service.
"By working with Navajo children, I discovered incredibly bright, fun-loving kids who just did not have great living conditions or family life. Because children in this environment did not have opportunities for an advantaged lifestyle, many partake in a lifestyle that encourages obesity and alcohol abuse," said Nicholas Selden '09.
According to co-leader L.D. Lord '08, members of their host community were excited to see that the student volunteers were interested in their culture.
"The teachers and clinicians we had the chance to meet all thanked us for our interest in the American Indian culture, which is unfortunately fading away due to a weak, and recently emerging written tradition. The children of Chee Dodge Elementary take culture classes teaching them the basics of Navajo language, but that is simply not sufficient and most have come to the sad conclusion that it is already too late to avoid cultural extinction. It was both surprising and scary to learn that such ancient and rich cultures aren't, after all, immune to the phenomena of cultural selection and assimilation over time," he said.
Participants teamed up with local volunteers to install foam insulation and siding, build interior walls, and shingle the roof of a new home with Habitat for Humanity in rural Pontotoc, Mississippi. Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit organization that uses volunteer labor to build affordable houses for low-income families around the nation.
Co-leader Tim Bourassa '08 had been a participant on the same trip the year before and had found himself very affected by the people with whom he had worked.
"The people we had a chance to meet were extremely warm, friendly, and grateful for our time, which made the whole trip worthwhile. So the chance to share that experience again with a new group of Bowdoin students was one of the main factors in my decision to lead the trip. Also, beyond the chance to help the less fortunate, what I like about ASB trips is the quality time I got to spend with the other people on the trip, without all the homework, meetings and stress that is a part of the academic year," he said.
William Donahoe '08 agreed. "The community really appreciated the work we were doing and we really enjoyed creating a tradition of volunteer work in Mississippi. If the community service aspect isn't fulfilling enough, living and working with a group of Bowdoin students you may not know for a week was amazing," Donahoe said.
TAKE ME HOME, WEST VIRGINIA
Student participants ventured to the Appalachian community of Oak Hill, West Virginia, for a week of hands-on construction work. Students worked through the Southern Appalachian Labor School (SALS) under the direction of Global Volunteers to renovate a number of homes throughout the rural community and lend a hand with children enrolled in after-school activities.
SALS is a community development program that looks to empower and educate working class and disenfranchised people in the Appalachian region.
"I was most surprised and impressed by the youth we worked with at SALS. Their life experiences and opportunities have been far less than desirable and most have had to overcome significant traumas with limited support from parents, teachers, or friends," said Suzanne Heller '09.
"Although it was easy at first to consider them underachieving (none of them had graduated high school), by the end of the trip I grew to respect that they are now attending SALS with the hopes of bettering themselves and their life chances. Even in the face of such adversity and stigmatization, these youth still have hope for a better future and are taking the initiative necessary to get there," Heller said.
SEEDS OF CHANGE
Members of this green ASB trip journeyed to Puerto Rico to volunteer on an organic farm in an effort to promote sustainable agriculture in the U.S. territory.
"Sustainable agriculture is something that is important especially in Puerto Rico but also here in Maine, so it was a good topic to bring back to Bowdoin," said co-leader Holly Kingsbury '07.
"I think that is one of the really important parts of a Spring Break trip for students to see something totally different from Maine and bring it back so that other people, in a way, can experience it and learn from it as well. Overall it was fascinating to see how sustainable agriculture is developing rapidly in Puerto Rico?right now the demand is greater than the supply for organic products?and so there really are a lot of opportunities for whole communities to get involved," she said.
For participant Becca Spiro '09, the best part of the trip was her interaction with the children. "Motivation can only come from the kids themselves. Therefore, I believe that the only way to truly motivate kids, is to get them to really care. By somehow making students feel that they have an ethical responsibility or personal connection, you will gain their support," she said.