At UMass Dartmouth, there are always students who want to serve others. During the last several years, students have addressed issues such as hunger, homelessness, and sustainability.
This year, the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement provided up to a $1,000 match, dollar for dollar, as a means to incentivize student fundraising efforts for alternative spring breaks. The center supported three alternative spring breaks that were designed to provide students with an opportunity to give back to the community while learning about themselves in the process.
Students traveled to Guatemala to provide indigenous populations with water filtration systems; the UMass Dartmouth chapter of Habitat for Humanity traveled to North Carolina to build homes in Durham; and a group of students remained local, working with Gifts to Give, the YWCA, and My Brother's Keeper, and clearing nature trails on campus.
Editor's note: These student reflections on Alternative Spring Break 2016 were first published in the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement's Digest: Volume 5, Issue 2.
A Worthy Cause with Worthy Village in Guatemala
By Mabel Tejada ’17, Crime & Justice Studies
Reflecting on my trip to Panajachel, Guatemala, I think about the impact our service has had on the families we were able to serve. Our trip was organized by Worthy Village, a non-profit whose mission is to build pathways out of poverty for women and children in Guatemala by providing economic opportunity, healthcare, and education.
Our service consisted of introducing the indigenous people of Guatemala to water filtration systems for their homes and educating them about the importance of clean water to their overall health. We taught the families how to use, clean, and take care of the water filtration system.
With access to soda and juices easier than access to clean water, we had to educate the indigenous people about the many health issues associated with sugar products, including diabetes and dental issues. Sharing this information with the families was a huge part of the work we did because it really showed the families the effects of what they consume.
On our first day, we visited four families living in the mountains. Experiencing this lifestyle was amazing; although they are surrounded by poverty, the community is extremely rich in kindness and love. This was especially evident when we went to a school and taught the children how to brush their teeth and wash their hands.
Eight more families received filters and training. It warmed my heart to know that families were going to have clean water and healthier lives because of our efforts. The gratitude and love the families showed us was even more rewarding. Access to clean water should be a basic human right, and I hope to continue to be a part of the solution for healthier homes.
Strengthening Communities, Transforming Lives
By Nicole Chahwan ’16, Nursing
UMassD Habitat for Humanity (UMD HFH) worked with Habitat for Humanity of Durham, North Carolina to build homes. Habitat provides low-cost homes to families in financial need. Families put in work hours called "sweat equity hours," where the families themselves help build their own homes. When the home is built, the family pays a mortgage payment to Habitat for Humanity at a reduced price.
Volunteers build the majority of these quality homes. Habitat site leaders teach us the skills necessary to complete certain tasks, and we do the work. It's truly a wonderful organization that changes the lives of deserving families in need.
On our trip, called Collegiate Challenge, we worked on five new construction or repair sites. Our duties included window installation, deck staining, exterior painting, construction of a handicap ramp, framing, exterior insulation sheathing, and other building necessities.
The Habitat team in Durham were some of the nicest people we have ever worked with. The passion these people have for the work they do is unparalleled.
We all had an amazing and unforgettable week. Our Collegiate Challenge alternative spring break trips are always transformative, and this was no different.
Overcoming Differences Through Service
By Emike Momodu ’18, Biology
The Positive Learning Using Service (PLUS) alternative spring break's goal was for participants to move beyond their differences and address selected issues through service.
Focusing specifically on hunger and poverty, racism, gender inequality, interfaith, and community, the PLUS break gathered a diverse population of students from across the campus who worked together to see the similarities and appreciate the differences between us in order to combat bigger issues in society. We were able to experience first-hand through service how specific organizations dealt with these issues by providing aid to people in need, despite their race, religion, and/or sex.
The issue for the first day was interfaith. We volunteered with the Jewish Convalescent Home and Equal Exchange. Both organizations provide service to people of all religions, making them interfaith organizations.
Next, we addressed gender inequality and racism. LaSella Hall, the Associate Director of the Frederick Douglass Unity House, led the discussion on racism while I led the discussion on gender inequality. For our service events, we volunteered with Gifts to Give and the YWCA. At the YWCA, we worked with kids ranging from 5 to 13 and used toys, coloring, and games to have a discussion about gender and racism.
For the topics of hunger and poverty, we volunteered with Mercy Meals and More as a group. Then, we split up for service at My Brother's Keeper or Sharing the Harvest Community Farm at the Dartmouth YMCA. Our final topic was community, and we focused our efforts on the place where we spend a lot of our days—UMass Dartmouth. We worked with the Office of Campus Sustainability to clear the trails on campus.
Finding Our Commonality in PLUS
By Tynayko Melendez ’19, Marketing
I got more than I expected out of being involved with the Positive Learning Using Service (PLUS) alternative spring break. We discussed gender inequality, racism, and interfaith and learned about hunger and poverty. These conversations helped everyone become more educated on the topics and helped us connect to one another. We saw our differences but also our common goal: service.
The experiences I had over this spring break have left me with skills I can use to positively impact our community at UMass Dartmouth. I now understand what race is, what it means to be a racist, and what racism is. I now understand that there is gender inequality in the world, and I know there are things that I can do to help alleviate that inequality.
The only thing I was expecting was to feel helpful, but I also learned how to be more selfless. At Mercy Meals and More, we fed breakfast to those who could not afford a warm, cooked meal and then cleaned everyone's dishes. Doing these acts of kindness showed me that we could truly be selfless.
I decided to go with a group that volunteered at Sharing the Harvest Community Farm at the Dartmouth YMCA later that day. We helped plant seeds for crops that will be harvested and donated to local food pantries. The farm also partners with the United Way to help those with issues of food insecurity.
My experience with the PLUS spring break was exceptional. I do not regret that I spent my spring break in service. Doing things for the greater good helps shape an individual into a leader for the future. PLUS brought a group of service-oriented individuals together and created a hardworking and empathetic team. Now, when I make decisions or encounter situations/issues similar to those in PLUS, I think to myself, "How can I apply what I learned from PLUS?"