Service, fellowship, and community they’re not the words you usually hear describing college student’s spring break. For some University of Georgia students, though these words are guiding their alternative spring break.
From March 5-12th, students who sign up will leave their communities in hopes of impacting another corner of the world. These trips are organized by a variety of groups throughout Athens and give students the opportunity to make a difference and participate in activities bout which they are passionate.
One organization sending students to Peru is MEDLIFE at UGA. The mission of MEDLIFE (Medicine, Education, and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere) is to provide students a chance to help families achieve freedom in Athens and abroad. This year, MEDLIFE will send around 40 students to Cusco, Peru where they will shadow doctors, assist with medical stations, and help teach public health habits such as teeth brushing.
According to MEDLIFE Co-President, Alexi Adams, many of the families they will help have never even seen toothbrushes.
“It’s amazing because some of these children have never seen a toothbrush before,” Adams said. “So when we’re putting fluoride on their teeth it freaks them out a little bit but it really helps in the greater scheme of their health.”
Adams won’t go on the trip this year but she had the opportunity to go to Lima, Peru on a previous trip through MEDLIFE. On her trip she was able to assist in dental clinics, triage patients, and work with local villagers on different developmental projects.
For Adams, alternative spring breaks give students the chance to be an active force in propelling the pursuit of sustainable global health, not just a bystander.
“Service through MEDLIFE is a big passion of mine because what we do isn’t just sticking a bandaid on a problem,” Adams said. “It’s really focused on the sustainability. We provide life long care to these patients that we see.”
The IMPACT Service Break Program is another organization that will send students on a week-long service learning project focused on pressing social issues. IMPACT service breaks have sent students across the United States since 1994. More than 3,000 UGA students have had the chance to travel with IMPACT and this spring break around 500 students will participate in 20 different service projects.
Some of the IMPACT trips include addressing affordable housing in Ashboro, North Carolina, children’s advocacy in Clinton, South Carolina and food justice in Durham, North Carolina.
This year, Sehar Ali will co-lead an IMPACT trip to Ashboro, North Carolina. Ali’s group has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for one specific family and will focus on the social issue of affordable housing.
Ali has traveled with IMPACT on two previous trips to St. Louis, Missouri for HIV/AIDS awareness and Clinton, South Carolina for children’s advocacy. For Ali, the trips provided social education in a new way and that fueled her passion to become a site leader.
“I didn’t realize how many intersections there were between all the social issues you see today,” Ali said. “Along with HIV/AIDS awareness, I was also learning about homelessness and poverty because HIV medicine can be so expensive that sometimes that takes away from other resources. That’s when I really started to get interested in it and that’s why I wanted to get involved with it again.”
The cost to go on an IMPACT trip is around $155, which includes housing, food, and service. Each site leader must develop a budget and plan to accommodate their cohort. Through IMPACT, Ali has gained skills in relationship building, fiscal planning, and overall serving others. She believes that the take away is greater than any beach trip and helps to chisel away at the innate stereotypes we carry with us.
“UGA sometimes becomes a bubble, you’re kinda sheltered from everywhere outside of UGA,” Ali said. “I love these trips because it makes you step outside your comfort zone and really get to know people that are so different than you.”
One student hoping to change her perspective is Anna Sherry. This spring break Sherry will join 7 other students on a trip to Cuba through The UGA Catholic Center. Sherry was first inspired to seek an abroad experience after she traveled to see The Pope in Philadelphia this fall. After talking with her youth group leader she decided that the chance to go to Cuba was a once in a lifetime experience and opted out of the mundane beach trip.
“I made an impulsive decision to go for it,” Sherry said. “I figured, how many times do you get the chance to go to Cuba? Since it’s not really open to anyone yet. I’m definitely excited.”
Sherry has sat through many meetings to prep for the journey. While in Cuba, Sherry will stay in a friary with priests that haven’t encountered outside communication for about 20 years. The group will be taking the priests supplies to hand out to locals and ultimately just helping in whatever capacity they can.
While the students participating in alternative breaks won’t be partying on the beach with their friends, Ali is confident that a break serving is never wasted.
“Maybe postpone that beach trip for the summer,” Ali said. “And then do this for one week and see how much change can happen.”
By Natalie Roe