Spring break. Two words that for many mean rest and relaxation. For many UMass Boston students, however, those two words mean a chance to do community service and global outreach.
Since 2008, UMass Boston students have spent their spring and other school breaks doing service in places like Ecuador, Jamaica, Louisiana, and New Mexico through the Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement’s Beacon Voyages for Service Program.
Catriona Grant, a senior from Duxbury majoring in nursing, has led two Alternative Spring Break trips: one to the Dominican Republic in 2011, and another in 2012, to Huacaria, Peru. Grant and 12 other UMass Boston students dug ditches for a water system and conducted a dental hygiene workshop. The students distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children and performed a demonstration on how to brush their teeth.
According to a 2012 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 21 percent of the Peruvian population who didn’t have access to safe drinking water in 1990 now have that access, but Grant says there is still work to be done.
“Of the almost 29 million people living in Peru, approximately 5.3 million people don't have access to safe water and 9.2 million don't have access to improved sanitation services. The opportunity to reduce that number, even if just slightly, is what truly drew me to spend my spring break in Peru,” Grant says.
Breanne Dennis, a senior from Pembroke majoring in operations management and finance, led a trip to Las Marias, Puerto Rico. Working with Plenitud Eco-educative Initiatives, an organization focused on promoting sustainability in agriculture, Dennis and the other trip members helped install a composting system at Las Marias Elder Center.
“There isn’t just one moment that made me grateful to be the trip leader. The moments it really hit me how wonderful and blessed I was for the opportunity were quiet moments when I was able to sit down or work alongside one or two of my team members and share with them our backgrounds and dreams and cultures. It was awe-inspiring to listen to them describe their service experience and the impact it was having on their lives,” Dennis says.
Bret Miguez, a senior from New Orleans double majoring in management and exercise and health sciences, led a group of students on a trip to Birmingham, Alabama, where they worked with the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, a community garden, and the Boys and Girls Club.
“It was great to watch the group work together and have fun. Plus, every person we came in contact with was very grateful for the work we were doing, which was also rewarding,” Miguez says.
Alexander Becerra, a senior from Malden majoring in accounting, is leading a trip to Detroit in May.
“Although it’s a time investment and may be a little stressful, it definitely pays off. It almost allows you to get a taste of what it’s like post graduation. Whether it is juggling bills and work or relationships and work, you learn better time management skills and how to prioritize,” Becerra says.
“I would urge everyone to apply to attend an alternative break trip,” Grant says. “It is such an incredible program to be a part of. The lessons learned on these trips are incomparable to those taught in the classroom. Simply stepping out of your comfort zone, whether it be traveling to the next town over or to a completely different country, offers so many invaluable lessons.”