Students try to better the world through Alternative Spring Break

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Building homes

Claire Neary

FINALLY, NEW ORLEANS IS GETTING HAMMERED AGAIN. For Alternative Spring Break, Western students helped with various projects, including building houses in Louisiana.

This past Reading Week, over 100 Western students participated in four different service-learning experiences through Western’s Alternative Spring Break program, offered through the Centre for New Students and the Residence Life program.

From 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. tonight in London Hall, those students will share their experiences with the Western and London community and encourage others to consider the program next year.

The four trips let students take their learning outside the classroom and “be the change” they want to see in the world.

Students of varying ages and disciplines applied to the program in November and participated in biweekly planning meetings, discussing topics like poverty, international aid and their personal-service learning goals.

Every night during the trips, students chronicled their experiences through reflection discussions and individual journal writing.

London, Ontario
Twenty students stayed in London and worked with various agencies, ranging from Habitat for Humanity to the Ark Aid mission.

Fourth-year political science student David Simmonds, a team leader for the group, said the week made his members more conscientious about incorporating service into their daily lives.

“A lot of students talked about how they no longer see volunteering as a one-day or one-time thing, but more as a chance for them to get to know who they are or what service means as a community, more so than just a one-to-one interaction.”

Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic
In addition to teaching English at local schools, the 35 students travelling to Monte Cristi conducted a work-study project at a local orphanage.

While performing both initiatives, the team built a rapport with local children in the area.

“Throughout the week, even during our work study projects, they would come out and help out with our projects,” said Chloe Hau, a third-year medical science student. “They were really fun to be with.”

Hau said the group’s nightly reflections brought the trip into perspective for her.

“It helped me slow down and see other people’s perspectives of the day and what they had learned.”

Cuernavaca, Mexico
Students volunteered at the Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development and worked on environmental sustainability through composting and recycling programs.

They also visited an orphanage and learned from organizations that help indigenous peoples learn valuable skills.

Kevin Doyle, a second-year psychology student and residence advisor, said the trip taught students a lot about Mexican culture and the social needs of working-class Mexicans.

“Our trip was less about outright serving and more learning about social issues so we can bring those lessons back to Western and our own communities,” Doyle said.

Slidell, Louisiana
We Gazette staffers, along with 34 students, worked with Habitat For Humanity on constructing houses, all at different stages of development. Students who were comfortable with heights or wanted a personal challenge worked on roofs, while others did jobs like siding and installing cabinets.

Though many of us had never done construction before, daily reflections helped us understand how the people of New Orleans and its surrounding communities depend on volunteers.

Several of us were lucky enough to meet the families who were going to live in the houses we were building. All the families expressed their gratitude and many students were inspired by their ability to move on after great personal tragedies caused by Hurricane Katrina.

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